What a cooperative proposal means for the AAA

Social media was a-twitter (see what I did there?) today with an important statement about the future of anthropology publishing posted at both Cultural Anthropology and in the latest number of HAU. But what precisely is this post about? What are the broader politics that form its context, and what is its point?

The basic idea is this: We have long known that the American Anthropological Association is unable and/or unwilling to innovate on its own. Most of the developments in open access anthropology have happened outside of the AAAs structure. Sure, the AAA has tried various things such as a faux-open access journal and open access book reviews. But its core business model has been to throw in its lot with a large corporate publisher.

Our recent proposal to the AAA marks an important watershed in open access anthropology because it represents something new. Now, open access is not only growing outside of the AAA’s auspices, it is actually feeding back into the AAA itself. Instead of just going its own way, the open access community is now saying to the AAA: “You can’t develop a robust open access business model on your own. But what if we developed one for you? What if we could prove to you that there is a financially sustainable way for you to run your publishing unit? If we build it, will you come?”

My guess is that, no, the AAA will not endorse the model. The AAA has published American Anthropologist for over a hundred years, and their fundamental goal is to make sure that it continues for another hundred years. In the past couple of years the AAA has done a good job of building capacity, but it is still a conservative institution which is very risk averse.

But we can hope. And hopefully the cooperative proposal we have set out will receive lots of pushback from the AAA and people in the publishing industry to tell us that It Cannot Be Done, You Don’t Understand The Numbers, and so forth. This will only lead us to sharpen our argument, gather more data, and make an even stronger case. And — if you don’t mind my saying so — I think the open access movement deserves a lot of kudos of continuing to press its case with an institution that it very easily could have walked away from. In the end, the only way to test the business model is to actually try it, and I hope that someday we can prove to the AAA that our proposals are indeed feasible. If we do not, it will not be for lack of trying on our part.


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 rex@savageminds.org

3 thoughts on “What a cooperative proposal means for the AAA

  1. As we have recently discussed (http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2015/09/23/aaas-publishing-partnership/), AAA is planning to issue a request for proposals to qualified publishers, rather than simply renewing our W-B partnership. We will make sure the Public Knowledge Project / Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition is aware of this bidding opportunity. If this consortium chooses to respond, I am sure that their proposal will be considered carefully, along with other proposals we receive.

  2. Ed, for the sake of clarity, our text is NOT about presenting the PKP / SPARC “consortium” as a viable alternative publishing partner for AAA. Not sure how you came to read the article in that light. Ours is an invitation to AAA to join us in modelling an alternative publishing scenario, where publishers, AAA, and libraries work together.

  3. I don’t see why we need to bother with an RFP when this could all simply be solved with an iron cage match between Ed and Alberto. Perhaps the AAA could plow some of its profits from Wiley back into pyrotechnics, or perhaps a solid gold championship belt.

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