You should pay $$ for open access. Help the AAA figure out how.

AnthroNews at the AAA has a post about the challenges facing it’s publications program. It doesn’t suck. Here are five things to think about:

  1. Would you pay higher membership fees if you knew that what you were paying for was a robust open access publishing program? You should, and not out of altruism, but because it will cost you less than it would to buy all the subscriptions your library is going to cancel in the next year or two.
  2. What exactly does the AAA pay Wiley-Blackwell to do? What besides “improved ISI impact factor rankings” do they give us, and can we buy the same services elsewhere for cheaper?
  3. Folks at AAA keep asking “Who is to bear the costs of Open Access”? Why is this so hard to answer? Given that there are no “customers” for AAA publications other than academics, the answer is dead simple: the people who already pay the costs of closed access must choose to pay the costs of open access. Remember that the money we get from WB (“royalties! hooray!”) comes out of your other pocket while you are not looking–i.e. your library, which pays the ever-increasing subscription costs. Or not.
  4. Why does 50% of the royalty revenue from Wiley Blackwell go to Anthropology News and American Anthropology, while the other 20 publication get the other 50%? Shouldn’t we rethink this allocation? Why is it so hard to find out where this money goes?
  5. “Posting comments is a benefit for AAA members”? Really? Honestly? I’d love to leave a comment–even a supportive one in this case– but apparently one must “leave your name so we can verify your membership and approve your comment.”

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.

11 thoughts on “You should pay $$ for open access. Help the AAA figure out how.

  1. Where is the “open” of the access if you charge for it?. What´d be the difference with the current system?. Cheaper fees?. Why is it too expensive to afford? Authors don´t charge for their articles, referals don´t charge for their services either. This two “costs” are already crowdsourced for free.
    How does Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online services function without charging the user?. Offer additional premium services for a fee, sell advertising, make agreements with other companies. Finally, think about the alternative that this can be a public service, not a business. In fact there can be two systems: a public system subsided by government where access is totally free and articles are peer reviewed and a private free access system where where authors pay to have their articles published without peer evaluation. The last one can be a business, overtly.

  2. Pablo, come on: this isn’t a profitable business at all– the point is that there is a small pool of money that is used to pay for publications: the money that libraries and other institutions use to subscribe. Individuals for the most part do not pay for subscriptions, other than what they pay in membership to the AAA. There is no reason that money can’t be used to support open access publication rather than closed access subscription, except that WIley Blackwell will make less money trying to charge every library in the world over and over again for access.

    Government subsidy? Really? But seriously, the government subsidy (in the US and EU) is already there in the form of federal and state research dollars and public university salaries. There is no reason the government needs to give Wiley Blackwell MORE money.

    And this isn’t about vanity publishing– this is about making peer reviewed highest-quality work available for free to everyone in the world. read up on the subject, my friend.

  3. 1. Ya, even as a broke grad student I would consider this, especially since this would theoretically mean that accessing all AAA journals would be a LOT easier. Of course, the actual increase of the membership is an issue too.

    2. I’d like to see a breakdown of exactly what WB really does too. And why this justifies the fact that they basically control the distribution of the content.

    3. Good point about where the royalties actually go. If we’re going to look at the costs, then we need to look at the system as a whole, not just piece by piece.

    4. Hmmm. Interesting revenue split.

    5. You know, I am REALLY glad that I’m not the only one who noticed that policy they have. What’s up with that? I have almost written a post about that more than once. It’s ironic that the AAA is talking about OA while still restricting comments to members only. What’s the point of putting things online if more people can’t make comments?

  4. @Pablo Gustavo Rodriguez
    ‘Where is the “open” of the access if you charge for it?’

    I am reminded of some of my undergraduate students who argue along the lines of, “My taxes shouldn’t have to pay for services. The government should pay for them.” Your taxes are how the government pays.

    It’s open access, not magic access. Paper and ink have to come from somewhere. Shipping and logistics must be paid for. And most importantly to my mind, designers, copy editors, and printers need to earn a living wage.

    As Chris says, these things need to be paid for, and they are paid for, mainly by libraries, partially by AAA members’ dues, and perhaps a tiny bit by people who pay those per-article download fees. These (at least the first two) are the same people who would and should pay the costs under an open access regime.

    The question is, can a system allow and even encourage free riders while still convincing libraries, universities, individual scholars etc. to pay the necessary costs? I’m optimistic about the possibility.

  5. A couple quick comments to your five points:

    Would you pay higher membership fees if you knew…

    >> This is exactly the kind of question to be asking, and it’s a question about the place of anthropology in the world.

    What exactly does the AAA pay Wiley-Blackwell to do? What besides “improved ISI impact factor rankings” do they give us…

    >> Another good question. They giveth and taketh and it’s important to talk about those pluses and minuses. But in terms of improved ISI impact factor rankings and such, while they do help with marketing and that’s valuable, not to pat my own back and those of other editors & former editors, but I think it’s the editors above all who improve impact factor by the work they do and anything we can do to support editors is in my view a highest priority.

    Why does 50% of the royalty revenue from Wiley Blackwell go to Anthropology News and American Anthropology, while the other 20 publications get the other 50%? Shouldn’t we rethink this allocation? Why is it so hard to find out where this money goes?

    >> The brief answer for this is that AN and AA are the two AAA publications that are not “under a section.” That is why there is this byzantine formula. There is information available about how all this works but it’s complicated and a bit capricious. For instance the section publications get allocation based partly on page downloads (not article downloads), which confers an advantage to journals with smaller page formats so that articles have more pages (even if the word count is held steady). All of this is worth rethinking or at least further discussion to be sure.

    Okay, those are some quick thoughts!

  6. Are you people talking about anthropology or are you talking about getting ahead in the academic world by publishing (or perishing) in “peer reviewed” venues? If it’s anthropology that’s most important, I have news for you. You can publish to your heart’s content freely on the internet or via a service such as CreateSpace without benefit of either Wiley or AAA. And everyone else in the world can have “open access” to whatever you write if you so choose.

  7. @Victor your point is well taken, though your news is not news. I already publish freely on the internet (see / … oh wait…) and I also publish through createspace (see… but a billion people publish what they had for breakfast on teh internet every day. Just because we can, doesn’t make it good, nor does it help anyone determine what is good or what is bad. You can trust or not trust the existing journals as you please, but you do so at your own peril. We need reputations and authorizing institutions, or else all we have are Victor’s opinions.

  8. Yes, ckelty, which is precisely where blogs such as Savage Minds can step in. What’s needed is not “peer review,” which can mean almost anything, depending on the circumstances and the various interconnections among people and institutions, but a clearing house where new writings and ideas can be brought to our attention, evaluated and discussed.

    Peer reviewed articles and books published in established venues also get lost in the shuffle — there are far too many, and peer review is not, as we all know, sufficient to assure anyone that anything is worth taking the time to read.

    If I see a reference in Savage Minds, or Open Anthropology, or some other blog I’m following, and it looks interesting, and is readily available, I may well check it out. And if I see a blog review or discussion of someone’s paper or book, that, for me, is more helpful in determining whether it’s “good” or “bad” for my purposes, than acceptance in a peer reviewed venue. Especially when that venue is guarded by a hefty pay wall or takes the form of an absurdly overpriced book.

  9. Victor Grauer can be forgiven for believing that publishing is intended to disseminate information, insights, and ideas, without considering that publishing is also — and depending upon one’s career stage, may be primarily — about advancing a career. Peer review might mean “anything” in a Pittsburgh high school, but generalizing such a claim to other educational settings ignores a lot of work that goes into evaluation of promotion cases, annual performance reviews, etc. and the realities of competition for positions, grants/fellowships, etc.

    @Tom Boellstorff: “The brief answer for this is that AN and AA are the two AAA publications that are not “under a section.”’ Sure, but that only explains why the AN and AA get some money, but not why they get 50% — after all, the AA and the AN are supported by my basic membership dues, which are now substantial, the minimum being $135 a year, and I pay over $300 annually, being pathologically honest about my obscene lawyer income. Prof. Kelty’s real question remains unanswered.

  10. Well, for starters, I don’t have access to an academic library, and I would gladly pay for open access.

    Further, I see the need for separate journals on a variety of subjects. Our anthropology journals have a history and each one has a purpose, or should have a purpose, that is brought to bear through an editorial board. I would like to see a more expansive roster of lively and energetic journals emerge (Limn being just one example, Hau is another), and I think Deepa Reddy et al’s current series of blog posts could inspire many other new journals outside of but adjacent to the academic anthropology world. New journals should emerge and flexibly join our existing inventory of journals.

    Each journal can represent a kind of community. That’s what great magazines do, from the New Yorker to The Believer to N+1, even the National Review.

    Where would this new open access arena exist online? Who would make it happen? And most importantly, could it work better than the current system? I would really like to use Anthrosource, but it’s really so poorly done.

    In general, it seems that Wiley-Blackwell can’t get this job done. Fantasy idea, but could AAA hire McSweeney’s? Now that would be an ideal source for expertise.

    And here’s one very telling issue with Anthrosource: I’ve never noticed a new journal added to it. Not only that, the list includes journals like Nutritional Anthro, which apparently hasn’t been published since 2003. What kind of community is that?

  11. @Michael:

    “In general, it seems that Wiley-Blackwell can’t get this job done. Fantasy idea, but could AAA hire McSweeney’s?”

    Now that’s an idea.

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