In the September AN, AAA Executive Director William “Bill” E Davis writes on journal access. He shares the text of the article here. If you have any comments, you are welcome to post them below.
Government Mandated Free Access to AAA Journal Content
Over the last five years, a very effective open access lobby has been at work both within the US Congress and the executive branch drafting regulations and legislation to mandate free online access to published scholarly journal articles. These efforts were first focused on medical research and now aim to sweep over the social sciences and humanities.
In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued regulations requiring grantees to submit final peer-reviewed manuscripts to a freely accessible government database within one year of acceptance for publication. Since then, legislation has been introduced in Congress to extend this mandate (with an “embargo period” of one year) to 11 federal departments and agencies including the National Science Foundation, Department of Education, Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture.With the NIH mandate, some biomedical publishers who experienced a loss of subscriptions have been able to shift the costs of publication from subscribers to authors, their grant funders or home institutions. This has come to be known as the “author-pays” publishing model. Concerned that anthropology might differ substantially from medicine, over the past two years AAA has conducted a number of studies to explore the potential consequences of adopting both a twelve-month embargo and an author-pays publishing model.
Financing Social Science and Humanities Society Journals
In 2008, AAA received a Mellon Foundation grant to examine the financing of scholarly journal publishing among eight social science and humanities societies. The study found that per-page costs for humanities and social science (HSS) journals averaged $526, more than double the average $226 to publish in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) journals. AAA Director of Publishing Oona Schmid has calculated, for the six quarterly journals published by AAA, costs per average article in 2008 ran from $4,865 (Ethos) to $6,960 (MAQ), with American Anthropologist being $5,564. Thus, if AAA were to move to a completely author-pays publishing model, authors would have to pay such costs to publish in one of our journals.
Advocates of free electronic access to journal content often argue that journals could be published on an author-pays model if print copies were eliminated and all distribution were by electronic means. This same study found, however, that the elimination of print could reduce the average per-page cost of the HSS journals by approximately 32%. Applying this percentage cost saving to American Anthropologist, the average cost to each author would still be about $3,780 per article. Even without print, few individual anthropologists are likely to be able to cover such costs.
Federal Support for Anthropological Work
Might anthropologists, like their colleagues in the physical and natural sciences, rely on federal grant funding to support journal publishing costs? To investigate the extent to which the work of anthropologists has been supported by federal agencies, Oona Schmid and Dion Dears of AAA’s Publications Department conducted a review of articles published in American Anthropologist during the past three years. For the four issues published in 2007, 31% of authors cited support from a federal department or agency. These rates were 39% and 27% for AA articles published in 2008 and 2009, respectively. If these numbers hold true for AAA’s other journals, we could anticipate that approximately two-thirds of our authors have no federal support for their work and, thus, would likely be unable to offload the costs of publishing in journals that have adopted the author-pays model.
Embargo Periods and Shelf Life of AAA Journal Content
Would an “embargo period” of twelve months provide protection against loss of AAA’s journal subscriber base? One method for seeking the answer is to look at downloads of electronic content by year of its original publication. In 2009, there were a total of 195,186 downloads of content from American Anthropologist. Of that total number of downloads, 90.1% were of content older than the current year, 70.7% were of content older than three years, 50% were for content older than five years, 25% were of content from over eight years ago, and 10% were of content originally published more than ten years ago.
Another method for measuring the shelf life of journal content is to measure the “cited half-life” of that content as determined by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), the publisher of annual Journal Citation Reports. Cited half-life is the median age of articles in the journal that were cited by other journals during the year. Six of AAA’s journals are ranked by ISI, and ISI’s most recent Journal Citation Reports list the cited half-life for AAA’s six quarterly publications as greater than ten years.Clearly, whether measured by downloads or cited half-life, an embargo period of a year would do little if anything to protect AAA’s journals from a loss of subscriptions if content is made available free after such a short period. If librarians can eliminate the cost of a subscription by waiting a year and receiving the content free, with a loss of access to less than 10% of the content their users seek, they have a very strong incentive to drop the subscription.
Maintaining Open Access for Authors
In February 2009, Oona Schmid conducted a survey about anthropological information. At this time, of 2,763 AAA members who completed the survey, 7.6% supported an author-pays model and 69.1% opposed it; about 20% were undecided. Of the nearly 70% who opposed an author-pays model, their comments emphasize a commitment to fairness, and the possibility that an author-pays model will prevent international scholars, younger professionals, adjuncts, underemployed colleagues, and students from being able to publish their research and thoughts. Several pointed out that publishing is an important venue for academic hiring, tenure and promotion, and that unequal access would have far-reaching and possibly unethical ramifications. Others wrote that the diversity of opinion and research is critical and that it is harmful to the discipline to use an author-pays model.
The AAA Executive Board’s May meeting included a half-day series of briefings and discussion of these issues. Both AAA’s Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing and our Executive Board will be addressing potential publishing models to cope with these realities. It won’t be easy, but it is essential that we formulate a strategy to sustain AAA’s traditional journal publishing role as we engage with a world that expects scholarly content to be “free.” I would welcome your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.