open access advocacy behind a pay wall

Some of this stuff you just can’t make up. Check this out:

Over a week ago I got an email from Wiley saying that the latest number of American Anthropologist was available online. I saw immediately that this issue of the journal had an editorial from Tom Boellstorff, the outgoing editor of AA, arguing vigorously that the American Anthropological Association must move to a true ‘gold open access’ model where all of our articles are free for everyone, everywhere to read. It’s a big, huge, amazing deal that some one so experienced with our journal production, and so prominently placed within our organization, would make a statement like this.

Still, I put off blogging about it. I had read an earlier draft of the editorial, and I knew that getting the piece out into the blogosphere would involve responding to a lot of comments and rehashing arguments that, for me, are now years old. Finally I got an email from some non-americans asking about the editorial and my reaction to it, so I decided to get down to it and get my blog on.

Except I couldn’t download it.

Some of you may remember that over a year ago I complained that Wiley pulls a bait and switch on AAA members, sending out emails announcing that new journal issues are out, but then releasing them first at and then, after a lag, putting them up on AnthroSource. To be clear, I believe this is the result of incompetence rather than malice, and frankly AnthroSource is so broken that I’m not surprised it takes a while for content to make its way on to the service. This belief was, for me, confirmed by the pushback I got from members of the ‘Committee on the Future of the Book’ or whatever it’s called, who argued hat I should have emailed them directly about the problem, since as the committee responsible for thinking about publications they couldn’t be expected to know anything about kinks in the production process unless a blogger alerted them to a problem. 

Well, the system is still broken. So all Wiley subscribers can now read a rousing pro-open access editorial, while the people who actually write and publish these articles will have to wait for sloppy seconds.

Truth be told, I don’t mind if the AAA and Wiley can’t get their act together and there’s a day or two lag between when articles go line on AnthroSource. but a week? After you already know there’s a problem? It’s just embarrassing. 

Luckily, Tom has self-archived a pre-print of his editorial and you can download and read it here.

I’d talk more about the editorial and its contents, but I just had to stop and for a moment and let some of my flabberghastedness spill out onto the page before gathering myself up and continuing. Thanks for reading — I feel better. Happy Weekend!


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

6 thoughts on “open access advocacy behind a pay wall

  1. Feeling your frustration, and the irony of it all. I recently contributed an article about the Indonesian Occupy movement to a special issue of Critical Quarterly on Occupy, the issue includes poetry from the OWS poetry anthology as well as more traditional academic and popular articles written about and by occupiers. Of course, the whole thing wound up behind a paywall – and out of the reach of the occupiers themselves and the “99%.” Seemed especially strange to me that the publisher, also Wiley, is even charging a fee to access the content that came from an entirely free poetry anthology which is available elsewhere for download online. However, none of us, occupiers or academics could afford to pay the fees to make the issue open. I wrestled with the dilemma of publishing about occupy this way – but in the end figured it was better to get the material out. That said, if I post a copy of the article to my web site, I will be violating the terms of the contract Wiley had me sign in exchange for publishing the article. To me, that seems to go beyond trying to recoup the expense of publishing.

  2. Rex: you write

    “Truth be told, I don’t mind if the AAA and Wiley can’t get their act together and there’s a day or two lag between when articles go line on AnthroSource. but a week? After you already know there’s a problem? It’s just embarrassing.”

    Wow, what a difference a generation makes. Wasn’t that long ago that we’d have to wait weeks for our paper issues to arrive, victims of post office delays, and oddly enough the profession managed to live with that — the really scandalous lag was the time between first submission and publication, which could be years. Adding a couple of weeks to that didn’t seem all that awful!

  3. A couple quick notes on these issues with Anthrosource – setting aside OA for a moment.

    The Anthrosource problems go deeper than just the delay in content appearing in comparison with Wiley-Blackwell. For instance, if you go today (Sept 1 2012) to American Anthropologist on Anthrosource and look at the June 2012 issue, you will find that the headers run as follows:

    1) Book reviews
    2) From the editor
    3) Public Anthropology
    4) The year in review
    5) Visual anthropology

    Notice something? They are not in the correct order that they appear in the Table of Contents in the print version, or on the Wiley-Blackwell site. Instead, they have been put in alphabetical order. And in this particular issue, the Research Articles section is missing entirely and those articles have been mixed in with the Year in Review.

    This is really frustrating to me because as an editor, I go to a lot of trouble to decide the order of the content in a clear manner, and it is confusing to readers when things are out of order in this way. This can affect how many people download articles, and thus funding for journals – because this problem is not limited to AA (look for instance at the City and Society from April 2012, most recent issue, where the Introduction to a special issue appears below the articles being introduced, because “I” comes after “A.”

    When I brought this up to the AAA many months ago, they said fixing the problem was on their schedule for Fall 2012. This is upsetting to me because I don’t understand why there is not more urgency fixing this kind of problem, which shouldn’t be that difficult to remedy.

    This is another example of the second-tier treatment of Anthrosource. I think the origin of the problem here is that Anthrosource, if I’m not mistaken, predates the Wiley-Blackwell contract and is now redundant in a sense. I know from experience that it’s really hard to have two websites about anything (two personal websites, for instance) – one always ends up being the default and it’s hard to keep the others up to date. These problems make me wonder if it might not same money and trouble for everyone to just get rid of Anthrosource and link directly to the Wiley-Blackwell website, so long as that is the system we are using.

    So there are some quick thoughts on this problem!

  4. Barbara and Tom both make good points. We don’t deal in paper anymore, and so suddenly things like the order of articles and the lag of a week in receiving them take on a new hue. There are other problems with AnthroSource — like its scandalously long load times — that drive me nuts but are still infinitely more convenient than waiting a month for your paper journal to arrive on the cargo ship.

    We’re paying for a service — and indeed, giving Wiley the ability to make profits — and being treated like second-class citizens in return. At the end of the day, it’s about respect… and service. Service and respect. I’d rather have a home-grown journal with typos, available the minute the editors pushed publish, than an expensive professionally-edited one that Wiley’s other customers get first. The energy put into a small-scale journal galvanizes science and keeps our communities alive. The energy put into Wiley…. not so much…

  5. I haven’t checked it recently, but over the years I stopped using AnthroSource because search was broken. Many articles one could find in Google Scholar just wouldn’t show up in AnthroSource searches. Eventually I gave up and no longer use it any more.

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