Cultural Anthropology Goes Full-OA!


For years now Open Access news from the AAA has been nothing but one frustration after another, so it is great to finally have some unqualified good news:

The Society for Cultural Anthropology (a section of the American Anthropological Association) is excited to announce a groundbreaking publishing initiative. With the support of the AAA, the influential journal of the SCA, Cultural Anthropology, will become available open access, freely available to everyone in the world.  Starting with the first issue of 2014, CA will provide world-wide, instant, free (to the user), and permanent access to all of our content (as well as ten years of our back catalog).

Well, OK, maybe not completely unqualified… There was this:

we hope that you will continue to access CA by means of Anthrosource. The statistics these downloads generate continue to play an important part in the allocation of revenue, including to Cultural Anthropology, and thus help subsidize this new publishing venture.

If they want us to use Anthrosource they are going to need to make it, you know, actually useful. Otherwise they should find some other way to allocate revenue.

13 thoughts on “Cultural Anthropology Goes Full-OA!

  1. This took a lot of work, mostly by Brad Weiss, the current president of SCA, and it’s a testament to his commitment and to that of the current and past editors of CA (Charlie Piot, Anne Allison, Mike and Kim Fortun) that this happened. It’s great news, and I think everyone should submit their best work to CA from now on– because it will be the only world class open access anthropology journal out there until the others see the light.

    Re: Anthrosource. This is truly a boondoggle– but it is impossible for the AAA to get itself out of this mess easily. But I no longer think it is the AAA’s fault– I think it is Wiley-Blackwell’s fault. They simply cannot imagine providing the services that AAA wants (i.e. that members get access to all AAA publications through a convenient interface)–they want to control what is bundled with what and sell those bundles to libraries.

    One thing that needs to happen, I think, is that the AAA needs to change it’s attitude about the benefits of membership. It should be a benefit of membership that one can *publish* in a AAA journal, not that one can *read* the research– and it should be clear to members that by paying the reasonable dues asked of them that they subsidize a very large range of publications that would not be able to survive in the market without their support. We are anthropologists for God’s sake– we understand the nature of obligation and reciprocity. What makes AAA journals valuable is not the fact that people buy them– they are awesome because people want to publish in them–desperately in many cases. The AAA must start to align its business plan with this understanding of where the value comes from: it comes from the members who want to publish in the journals, not those who want to read it, overlapping though these groups be).

  2. This is excellent news, although “hope” in Anthrosource is not a great funding model. We need to accept that open access is the goal for all scholarly publishing and then think creatively about how to fund it.There’s been a knee-jerk reaction among some editors and former editors of anthro journals that quality simply cannot be maintained without charging for access. Period. End of discussion.

  3. I hope a free online collection of ethnographic and anthropological films is next.

    I read your Chhara article in DNA. Sound anthropological observation and advocacy.

  4. Does anyone know what they are planning to license CA as? It seems a bit vague regarding what OA model they are planning on using..

  5. @Jessica, on what license we’re going to use as we move forward… There are a lot of logistics that we need to figure out in the next six months. Now that we’ve gotten the go ahead to transition the journal to OA, we need to figure out what license we’re going to use, but also where we’re going to host the articles (through OJS as HAU does, for example), what kind of print on demand we’ll offer, if any, and how we might partner with libraries. I’d love to host a forum on the CA site to solicit feedback on all the logistics surrounding the move to OA.

    @Kerim, thanks for this post! I think AAA needs to rethink revenue allocation for sure, but short of that we need to think about how to generate revenue beyond Anthrosource. While those downloads give us some revenue, it falls short of sustaining us and it’s certainly not going to sustain us once we hit 2014. But it is something. We also need to think about how production costs are going to change with the move to OA as well.

    There are a few possibilities on the table for how we might generate revenue to support the journal, although I wish we had more. Personally, I really like the way Chris is thinking about the value of journals and publishing above…

  6. @Ali (and Brad, Anne, Charles) congratulations for this achievement. Just wondering…Am I understanding correctly but it seems you’re saying that CA went OA without a safety net re: funding. So who’s going to pay copy editors, managing editors and other professional collaborators? Did you think about any sustainable model? Also, are you adopting any copyleft model or will works submitted to the journal still remain property of Wiley? Re: OJS, if you’re storing your content on that platform then manuscripts will be automatically indexed by Google Scholars and I suspect people will be likely to access them from links which leads straight to articles without passing through Anthrosource…

  7. Let me say that I have to be a little circumspect in my response here, because I’m not fully authorized to speak on behalf of the SCA, though my comments will undoubtedly be taken that way – I can’t just speak for myself. First, let me note that I am really heartened by the tremendous enthusiasm that this initiative has received. And I want to thank both Chris Kelty and Ali Kenner, and second their comments – each of them has been instrumental in shaping my own views about how we can make open access work for CA, and played major roles in crafting our plans for moving forward.

    At the same time, I know that there is concern, and even skepticism, about the way that OA will be funded. Here’s where I have to be a little circumspect, but I won’t be cagey. First, we all recognize the fact the Open Access does NOT mean FREE. There are costs, significant costs, involved in publishing, and we have to be prepared to pay them in order to maintain the high quality – the “awesomeness” of CA that Chris describes above. That IS the value of our journal, and it takes investments to maintain in it. What I can say is that we are not proceeding without a safety net. The SCA is fortunate right now to have the resources to get this initiative off the ground – indeed, the SCA has already paid for a significant amount of infrastructure that will allow us to go to open access. We do not NEED the royalties from Anthrosource, and we are not depending on them to finance this effort – though there will still be revenues from this, and we don’t see those revenues as incompatible with open access. Our library partners have paid Wiley Blackwell sizable subscription costs, and we will continue to provide them with CA, and we’ll benefit from the downloads that library patrons make. Further, let me point out that the SCA is now the largest section of the AAA, and we have seen our membership grow substantially in recent years. That is not only a comment on the success of SCA programs and publishing; it is also revealing that in the very era when membership in the AAA guarantees you access to ALL of the AAA journals, even if you’re not a member of a given section, people have continued to join and maintain their membership in SCA. That is, even though you can get our journal for “free” with your AAA membership, people still want to pay for the privilege of being a member of a society that is doing (here I’m just citing Chris again) awesome things. We trust that going OA is the kind of thing that our members want to pay to support – this is the NPR model of membership that Charlie Piot talked about in the Chronicle. This kind of support can make a huge difference to ensure and sustain the financing of open access.

    Yes, there are loads more questions about what comes next – print on demand, library partnerships, licensing, archival formats, etc. We’ve got a bit of time to figure those things out in more detail. And we’ve got great, knowledgeable people working on these questions. And the SCA encourages all of you to participate in these discussions in whatever way you can; send me an email – – with your ideas, join the SCA, nominate editors. We’re eager to see what you’ve got to say; and, for my part, I will say that I’m really lucky to have been able to work on a project that I think is tremendously important for the future of anthropology and scholarship more generally.

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