More Inertia! in AAA publishing

AAA has sent out another survey (all members should have received it), this one ostensibly about AAA’s relationship with Wiley-Blackwell and your satisfaction with that lovely partnership. Sadly, the survey asks no questions (well, half of one, maybe) regarding the Borg that is Wiley-Blackwell, and a number of irrelevant questions about Anthrosource and your satisfaction with the print publications that WB/AAA distribute.

SM reader Celia reminds us that Jason B. Jackson has written an excellent post about how to opt out–well worth re-visiting early and often as you rise in the ranks of the discipline.

What we really need at this point is not another survey about member satisfaction with the AAA publications program, but a survey about what members really want from the AAA, full stop. Three points:

  1. We are stuck with Wiley-Blackwell, there is no use asking members how they feel about it. If you thought the sunk costs of developing Anthrosource were huge, well, they have nothing on committing ourselves to WB. WB uses its own proprietary software and business logic to organize, manage, publish and monitor the AAA’s publications, and even if the AAA membership wanted to jump ship to another publisher, the costs of converting everything from WB’s system to some other mega-publisher’s system would thoroughly bankrupt the society. Welcome to the future, we saw it coming. (And btw, dismantle Anthrosource now–it has become nothing more than a non-working, user-unfriendly, feature-poor interface to WB’s Interscience system. Give up the ghost).

  2. The AAA needs to stop talking about publications as if it is a minor component of its problems: it is the rotten core of a huge problem of sustainability and governance. The AAA has run for decades on the promise of revenue from publications. It sells memberships to anthropologists by promising them copies of section journals + American Anthropologist. It’s whole business model is built around toll-access publication, which has in the past, i’ve been told, provided as much as 75% of its operating budget. Unless the AAA gets in on the ground floor of the iPad right now (like tomorrow), this is a majorly losing business plan.

  3. What we really need is a survey that asks honest questions about what members expect to get from a scholarly society. Questions like: would you even bother to pay dues if you didn’t get a copy of American Anthropolgist? (yes!); would you pay dues if you knew they were being used for purposes you could monitor and respond to? (yes!); would you pay dues if AAA promised to make all AAA publications open access? (doubleplusyesyesyes!); would you pay dues if all you got for it was reduced registration fees at a yearly conference? (even so, yes!); would you pay dues for career counseling, job listings, and news from the field (yes!)… and so on until it can be made clear what exactly membership in the society means, beyond a print copy of American Anthropologist (I can already prop open my door in extremely heavy wind, thank you very much, I really don’t need any more of those).


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

19 thoughts on “More Inertia! in AAA publishing

  1. I share these sentiments, but there is another way to look at the issue of AAA and open access. This was pointed out by Stevan Harnad’s comment on Publishing Archaeology when I trumpeted Jason’s column from October 2009. Opting out will not bring about change, whereas self-archiving can bring about immediate changes in access. Why doesn’t the AAA set up an institutional repository for anthropology publications? Harnad is much smarter and more eloquent than I am, so check out his piece (scroll down to Harnad’s comment):

  2. The AAA is an fully and unambiguously RoMEO green open access publisher, so Stevan Harnad would, I think, celebrate the AAA as having done all that it needs to do for the cause of promoting access to anthropological writings. My strange positions come in for his criticism on these matters because they are (seen as) a confusing distraction, but I suspect that he would also criticize not the AAA but (1) its publishing authors for not using their green rights and (2) their home institutions for not mandating repository deposit.*

    I support green OA and institutional policies for its promotion, but I also share Chris’ sense that this line of discussion and effort is not the only one at issue that matters. Chris’ post returns the discussion to society governance and the functions that will be served by any scholarly society in the current moment (and future ones). It is a specialized version of the problem that Clay Shirky discusses at a popular level in his 2005 TED talk on “Institutions vs. Collaborations.” We tried to raise these issues in the 2008 Cultural Anthropology paper that Chris led. While that paper is now showing up as a citation in library science MLS thesis and it is being discussed in campus scholarly communications collaboratories, I am unaware of any consideration of it (even dismissive) within the association itself. I know firsthand that it has been discussed in at least one neighboring scholarly society concerned about these issues on the governance and publications policy level. Michael–as you discussed very well in one of your own posts–it is discouraging when an article-based invitation to debate a crucial issue goes unnoticed, but it also says something about the state of the journal article as a genre.

    Regarding a AAA-sponsored disciplinary repository. There was a moment (brief actually) when a past AAA publications director began pursuing the (at the time) mandate issued by the (then) AnthroSource (/Publications) leadership to find a university with which to partner in the building of the repository-side of what was to be a different-than-what-we-have-in-practice-now AnthroSource. These conversations had not really started or gone anywhere by the time that the financial tidal wave overtook the sections and the association as a whole. (This was a consequence of AnthroSource uptake/revenues not matching expectations while hard costs/risks were being born fully by the sections and association.**) This was always going to be a place for gray literature, including things like archaeological site reports. There have been some indications that such a project could be undertaken again, but once AS became a journal bundle (either to be sold to institutions or, as now, mainly a member bundle as membership benefit), it became sundered from the wider goal of a disciplinary portal with repository functionality. If pursued, this would probably be treated as separate from AS, especially because AS is now wired into (as Chris notes) the WB digital infrastructure, which is about to become even more proprietary (as the note [“AnthroSource and New Wiley-Blackwell Platform”] on the AAA website recently announced).

    At a structural level, it would be counter to the current business model for the AAA to establish a repository into which AAA publications content could be placed (even in the technically allowable pre-print and post-print form) for wide OA access. The logic of the enterprise would suggest that this would (be understood to) just cannibalize revenue opportunities and to duplicate the service being provided in the core publications program. As more and more non-AAA anthropology journal content comes under WB control, the chances for such a thing (never strong) grown dimmer. If a university were to take up the challenge of building a disciplinary repository on its own, then that would be a game changer, but most universities would wish to do this in partnership with a leading society. With its long investment in Anthropological Literature and its campus commitment to OA, Harvard/Tozzer is probably the best candidate, but it may be too late to start on such a thing.

    Steven Harand may comment here himself. I just want to say preemptively that I believe in green OA, I use green OA, and I am working (today even) toward green OA policies. I hope that it is o.k. that I (and others) care about other considerations relative to the ecology of scholarly life as well.

    Thank you Chris. Thank you Michael.

    * Being a green OA publisher does not mean that you can post AAA/WB-produced PDFs on your website. The SHERPA/RoMEO website explains clearly what a pre-print and a post-print are.

    ** Contrary to the perceptions of some, the UCP arrangement was a fee-for-services one, not a profit/risk sharing one. Thus we paid them a la carte for the work that they did for us.

  3. This should absolutely be a conversation about societal governance. Thanks Chris and Jason for putting it in that light, something I tried to do as well in a Feb 2008 Anthropology Newsletter (“Organizing for Access”). Beyond just governance in a general sense, there needs to be a frank discussion about the societies’ business model – a term I find many around the discipline to be squeamish with. But a frank consideration of what the society does/should be + what resources are required to do/be that + (re)consideration of options of ways of getting access to those resources + plus how to sustain that is needed. (If we prefer not to call that a business model discussion, so be it). In my view this is not a conversation framed at the outset by OA or not OA, unless in the strictest sense the membership decides that above all else that is what is important, but it is impossible for me to imagine how you have that (non-business model business model) discussion without OA being an significant factor in the discussion.

  4. It’s a census year here in the US, so perhaps that would be a good model for people to keep in mind when they speculate on the motivation for this latest AAA survey.

    This effort is part of regular AAA interaction with its membership. I’m on the committee (CFPEP) that generated this particular item, and we are honestly very much interested to learn the current level of satisfaction with AnthroSource and AAA journal publication.

    We need to know whether our publishing efforts, including our latest partnership with Wiley-Blackwell are being effective.

    We have also sought similar information from sections, and will continue to regularly interact with the membership, holding to our promise for more transparency in decison making.

    We always welcome constructive suggestions for improving AAA publications or member services. If you are uncomfortable speaking directly to AAA staffers, I certainly welcome your feedback.


    Hugh Jarvis

  5. Thank you Hugh for your continued labor in service of the publications program. I appreciate your openness to hearing from interested members. The new issue of AN announced that the survey was forthcoming and situated it within a broader and regularly-timed information gathering process. I do not think that Chris was criticizing the idea of such fact-finding in general. I think (and he can correct me if I am wrong) that he was discouraged by the specific questions that were asked and the way that they are asked. As an information gathering instrument, the actual survey did not make addressing the kinds of concerns that Chris raised (or various others) very easy to do. It seemed likely to me that the survey was going to generate very favorable results vis-a-vis the status quo and that this was going to be the consequence of both actual feelings in the membership and an artifact of the instrument.

    The governance questions are separate from the specifics of the survey and of the next round of decision making relative to a publishing partner. I hope that Chris and I are being too pessimistic about all of these issues (including the way that we are now wired into the WB digital infrastructure for the long haul), but nobody in the association has said anything to address these concerns, which leaves me feeling confirmed in the analysis.

    “Anthropology in/of Circulation” was intended as a constructive engagement with the future of the association and its publications program. Even if it had no effect on the discussion, perhaps a similar document could be authored by the current publications leadership with the aim of addressing the kinds of concerns that Chris has raised in various places. For instance, is there evidence that we are not locked inside of the WB infrastructure? Is there a case to be made for cash-strapped Departments, Colleges, Universities, and Museums subsidizing editorial offices at the levels that seem to be expected by the current system? Do we really feel that university library budgets [=undergraduates] (rather than dues) should be funding such (vital) non-publications activities as lobbying/advocacy, meetings, and association management? [Like Chris, I’d welcome paying more if the means and ends were clear.] Do we really feel comfortable transferring so much valuable labor and content and profit potential to any of the major multinational corporations? Are we concerned about the effects of our approach on the university presses that we rely upon to publish our books in a book-centered discipline? Does the steady consolidation of anthropological publishing with a small number of ever larger firms pose no risks for us? Many fruitful–if stressful–questions could be posed. I think it would be wonderful if such questions could be addressed in print by CFPEP members or other principles. I know that nobody has all the answers and that there are surely differences of opinion in the leadership just as there are outside of it. I respect the members of CFPEP and know how much they care about the cause. I wish that it were possible to engage with the group on these kinds of questions.

  6. @Hugh, I mean no offense to the hardworking members of CFPEP, and despite the strange customer-service-y sound of your comment, I do know that I can speak to AAA staff members, though I always feel as if I am talking to a peculiarly friendly brick wall. As Jason says, I have no issue with surveys in general, only with unnecessary surveys that do not ask the right questions, In this respect I suppose I would have advised CFPEP to ask harder questions if they really want to know whether “publishing efforts are effective.” As both Jason and Melissa point out, the problem we face is that the AAA is not talking about its business model, of which publications are a core and extremely problematic, aspect–rather, they are charging CFPEP and the publications staff with asking narrowly defined questions about whether the print copies arrive in good condition or not. Really? Is this really what CFPEP needs to know? No no, put the deck chairs over there, by the lifeboats, arranged just so.


    It’s too quick to see my relentless insistence on the priority of Green OA self-archiving by authors as monomaniacal!

    The reasoning is this (and it’s partly practical, partly ethical):

    I think an AAA publications manager would be perfectly entitled and justified in saying:

    “If authors who purport to care so much about OA to their work do not even bother to provide OA by self-archiving it — despite the fact that AAA has given them the green light to do so — and their institutions and funders don’t even bother to mandate it, then why on earth is the finger being pointed at AAA at all (and why should we regard their cares as credible)? Is AAA supposed to be the one to sacrifice its revenues to provide something that its authors don’t even care about enough to sacrifice a few keystrokes to provide for themselves?”

    As long as we keep focussing on where the key to providing OA isn’t (i.e., the publisher-lamp-post) our research will remain in the dark.

    We have to get the priorities straight. It is not enough to be ideologically “for” Green OA self-archiving and Green OA self-archiving mandates. It is not even enough to do the keystrokes to self-archive one’s own work (though that’s a good start, and I wonder how many OA advocates are actually doing it; the global rate hovers at about 5-20%). One has to make sure that one’s own institution adopts a Green OA mandate. Then, and only then, can one go on to the next step, which is to try to persuade one’s publisher to go Gold (though persuading one’s funder to mandate Green would probably help more; Gold OA will come of its own accord, once we have universal Green OA).

    But perhaps the most egregious misconstrual of OA priorities is not authors impugning their publisher for not going Gold before they and their institutions (and funders) go Green. That dubious distinction is reserved for institutions (and funders) who commit pre-emptively to funding Gold without first mandating Green!

  8. PS No need for yet another central repository either! Institutional repositories are enough. Fill them. Mandate filling them. And central collections can then be harvested from them to your hearts\ content. Fussing about central collections, like fussing about publishers going Gold, or about finding funds to pay for Gold (or, for that matter, fussing about copyright reform, peer review reform, publishing reform or preservation) are all all an idle waste of time, energy and attention when institutional repositories are still gapingly empty and authors’ fingers are still idle…

  9. I accurately anticipated and fairly presented his objections but still get hassled. As I have noted elsewhere, I have devoted the past year to working on the cause of a strong green OA policy at my university, whose library committee I chair. Others here are doing the same at their institutions. I wish that OA had not been woven into this conversation, which had the chance to be about social organization rather than scholarly communication. If the recent survey had been about satisfaction with meeting locales, Chris’ larger points would still have been relevant.

    Regarding institutional repositories, it is not the case that most anthropologists have access to them. Most do not. Most anthropologists work outside academic settings. Those in academic settings more often work in smaller institutions that have not yet (and may never) establish institutional repositories of the durable, robust sort now present at large research institutions in the west. Not being at a research institution does not mean that these folks do not produce research, they do. I hear regularly from folks who are uncertain where to deposit their work. This is a problem that can be meaningfully addressed in a variety of venues. My only point was that, in light of Michael’s suggestion, there are reasons why the AAA is unlikely to take the lead on this.

  10. Not hassling you, Jason. Admiring your work for an OA mandate at IU, and hoping it succeeds soon. Just fleshing out the priorities, so it does not look as if I’m just trying to suppress the blooming of 1000-minus-one flowers on a whim! Anthropologists’ plans for AAA’s publishing revenues would gain a lot more credibility if a lot more anthropologists were self-archiving their accepted papers.

    Institutional Repository (IR) software is free, set-up and maintenance costs are negligible, and most institutions already have IRs (but they are mostly empty of OA’s target content, just as IU’s is, except at the still-too-few institutions with mandates). So maybe what institutions need is not IRs of the “durable, robust sort” but a durable, robust source of OA content (i.e., a mandate). Institutions with no IR can mandate deposit on the author’s institutional website. (I assume that the anthropologists at those smaller institutions without IRs still have email and websites!) And if they don’t even have that, there’s already the international, pan-disciplinaryDEPOT repository. So no need for a special one in Anthropology. (Once there’s more OA anthropology content, however, it would be useful to have an anthropology-dedicated harvester site.)

  11. I agree with Steven Harnad’s comments here. If one does not have an institutional repository (my case, in spite of lobbying, etc.), here are three easy ways to do your own self-archiving:

    1. Set up a page and post your papers. The format is awful and clunky, but it is possible to post papers. is somehow tight with Google, and things posted there turn up high on google searches (they provide statistics on this).

    2. Selected works (Berkeley Electronic Press). Their main model is to sell their service to institutions, but they do accept (free) individual memberships. Apply for one (I have no idea how restrictive they are). Papers get good exposure and lots of downloads (they send monthly reports; I am always amazed at the large number of downloads of my Spanish-language papers, much more than my English papers). The interface is much cleaner and easier (on both authors and downloaders) than

    3. Set up your own webpage and post your papers. It’s not that hard, even for a technological luddite like myself.

    If there is anyone reading this who has published anything but does NOT post their papers: What are you waiting for? Get going. As Harnad suggests, don’t wait around for the AAA to go OA (they won’t). We should all be posting our papers.

    Worried about copyright issues? One solution is to stay strictly in compliance: sometimes you have to post your final manuscript, not the final pdf. But today many publishers allow you to post your pdf on your own website (but not on 3rd party sites). Another solution is to take the moral position that one owns one’s intellectual output, regardless of what some journal contract says, and to act accordingly.

  12. PS I think I agree with Jason completely on learned societies’ publishing revenues, “good works,” and members’ interests: But I still see providing Green OA as the only credible way to put our muscles where our mouth is… The rest will all follow as a natural matter of course.

  13. Just to be clear about “durable, robust.” What I mean is one (an IR) that is set up properly (interoperability, metadata, stable URLs, etc.) and for which an institution has a commitment for the long haul. Such concerns are why I urge colleagues not to rely solely on their own personal websites and why I am also a bit nervous about Michael’s #1 and #2. Much anthropological literature has a very long half life. (Lucky to have one,) I trust my institutional repository and the outstanding librarians that care for it more than I trust the preservation commitments of various publishers. These issues matter more and more in a (no paper) digital environment and they relate to the concern that Chris and I have about publisher digital infrastructure. Preservation concerns are another motivation for author deposit.

    Just to reiterate with the goal of clarifying things. The AAA is an OA publisher. It is such because its author agreement provides for pre- and post-print deposit. Distinguishing green OA practices from gold OA journals is important.

  14. Jason, I agree completely.I regard my various venues with articles posted as provisional and temporary. I would much rather use an IR at my university, but until that happens, I think it is best to get the publications out there, partly in the hope that this will encourage people to push for IRs.

  15. JJ: “Just to reiterate with the goal of clarifying things. The AAA is an OA publisher. It is such because its author agreement provides for pre- and post-print deposit. Distinguishing green OA practices from gold OA journals is important.”

    I hate to keep sounding like such a pedant, but getting the details straight is devilishly important in this controversial and much-misunderstood area:

    A publisher that endorses Green OA Self-Archiving is not an “OA publisher.” Nor is there any such thing as a “Green OA publisher.”

    The only kind of OA publisher is a Gold OA publisher.

    Green OA means that the author provides the OA and Gold OA means the publisher provides the OA.

    A publisher that endorses authors providing OA to their articles is not thereby providing OA — as is clearly evident from the fact that for the over 60% of journals that have endorsed Green OA, less that 15% of their authors have actually gone on to provide it!

    Indeed, it is because the green light from the publisher is insufficient that funders and institutions have begun to mandate that their authors provide OA.

  16. P.S. It is true that SHERPA-Romeo (in its confusingly and unnecessarily parti-coloured coding scheme) classifies publishers as:

    • Green publishers
    • Blue publishers
    • Yellow publishers
    • White publishers

    But even SHERPA-Romeo is careful not to call them Green (Blue, Yellow) *OA* publishers (let alone “White OA publishers,” which would be self-contradictory.

    There are not classifications among OA publishers but among publishers’ *policies* on OA provision by their authors.

    And the only two policy colors that matter are Green vs. non-Green.

    (This is much clearer in the EPrints-Romeo classiification.)

  17. Ok Stevan, point taken. The AAA has a green OA agreement that allows for author deposit. It is common for anthropologists to speak of the AAA as if it were hostile to OA in all forms. This is not accurate. My only point was to remind anthropologists that they already have the ability to make previously published (AAA) work available through pre-print and post-print deposit. The current author agreement was the result of work by OA advocates within the association. You and I agree, I think, in wanting to promote use of its deposit provisions.

    It is common for anthropologists to say things like “the AAA will never go for open access.” I find this unhelpful and it is a consequence of not only misunderstanding the author agreement but also of the conflation of green and gold approaches that you have worked so hard to combat.

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