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Free Journal Access as a Public Issue

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 bdavis@aaanet.org.

21 Responses

  1. Author Pays is a relatively recent discussion topic. Since there is little of this model available currently, I expect adoption would take a considerable length of time, with for-profit publishers lagging.

    Then for some time there would be both author-pays and subscriber-pays models coexisting side-by-side. An author who could target either camp would surely want to work in a subscriber-pays environment unless an author-pays world would have considerably wider distribution That might even things out (ie. trade off money for prestige and citations).

    Personally, as an author, I would be willing to pay if the perceived + real rewards/returns were satisfactory.

    will brennan

  2. Concerning strategies for funding the publishing of gold open access journals, Peter Suber makes the following points on his Open Access Overview site.

    “OA journals pay their bills very much the way broadcast television and radio stations do: those with an interest in disseminating the content pay the production costs upfront so that access can be free of charge for everyone with the right equipment. Sometimes this means that journals have a subsidy from the hosting university or professional society. Sometimes it means that journals charge a processing fee on accepted articles, to be paid by the author or the author’s sponsor (employer, funding agency). OA journals that charge processing fees usually waive them in cases of economic hardship. OA journals with institutional subsidies tend to charge no processing fees. OA journals can get by on lower subsidies or fees if they have income from other publications, advertising, priced add-ons, or auxiliary services. Some institutions and consortia arrange fee discounts. Some OA publishers (BMC and PLoS) waive the fee for all researchers affiliated with institutions that have purchased an annual membership.”

    “A common misunderstanding is that all OA journals use an “author pays” business model. There are two mistakes here. The first is to assume that there is only one business model for OA journals, when there are many. The second is to assume that charging an upfront processing fee is an “author pays” model. In fact, fewer than half of today’s OA journals (47%) charge author-side fees. When OA journals do charge fees, the fees are usually paid by author-sponsors (employers or funders) or waived, not paid by authors out of pocket. This misunderstanding is harmful because it makes authors wonder whether they can afford to pay the fees and gives OA opponents a chance to spread FUD. In fact there are many reasons why OA journals do not exclude the poor.”

    To find these quotations in wider context, see: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

    Speaking for myself, I would just note that very few of the current gold open access journals in anthropology and neighboring fields charge author-side side fees. Such fees occur in areas that bridge into the biological sciences, such as ethnobotany and (I presume) human biology.

  3. As a librarian turned anthropology graduate student, I would add that I think it is misleading to invoke the specter of “author pays” without providing some additional clarification or context. Otherwise, readers are left with the impression that individual anthropologists would asked to shell out $3,780, out of pocket, to publish a journal article. No one is suggesting this.

    Under the current model, academic libraries across the country are paying out a substantial amount of money each year for subscriptions to AnthroSource and other databases of electronic journals. What if, instead of paying out this money year after year, academic libraries helped to underwrite the author-side cost of publishing in an OA journal, perhaps in conjunction with the author’s home department?

    In this way, universities with professors who publish a great deal help to underwrite the cost of scholarly publishing, while being rewarded by the recognition that comes with high scholarly productivity. Meanwhile, teaching institutions (like the rural community college where I worked before starting graduate school) could provide their students with access to cutting-edge research, which they could never afford on a subscription basis.

    Would this model be financially solvent? Would libraries and academic departments be receptive to this new role in scholarly publishing? That remains to be seen. But the conversation should start with those questions, and not with the implication that OA advocates somehow want to restrict scholarly publishing to scholars of independent means. That simply isn’t true.

    • As an anthropology major turned librarian, I can tell you that major research universities, like the one I currently work at are already doing this. Also, researchers in other science fields simply add any possible “author pays” fees directly into their grant application.

  4. I may be naive, but is it really totally necessary for it to cost $5-$7 K to publish these articles? Why is that cost ten to twenty times higher than it is in other disciplines? I don’t see anywhere the question being raised whether it’s the most efficient publishing possible, other than that some savings could be had if journals were distributed electronically.

    Keeping the current model may not discriminate against authors who are not able to cough up thousands of dollars to fund publication, which an imaginary and inflexible author pays model might do, but it discriminates against anyone who needs access to research but is not able to pay for it or is not affiliated with an institution that pays on his or her behalf. That’s, like, most of the world.

  5. The per article costs being cited and discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the hard cash costs being totaled into these numbers there are a great diversity of in-kind contributions that are made along the publication chain that make these articles both possible as works of scholarship and profitable for those organizations that publish them. The funding of the research, the employment of the authors, the time spent doing and writing the work (as opportunity costs) are all kind of nebulous, but peer-reviewer time, editor time, copy-editing time, editorial office space (at a host institution), locally funded graduate student assistants, student tuition waivers, student fee waivers, course releases, office furniture, software, computers, and locally provided tech support are all part of the expensive and expansive bundles of support that local institutions have often provided to the scholar-editors who edit journals in this and other fields. They now very often provide these inputs to the benefit not only of not-for-profit, public interest scholarly societies but also to their for-profit partners. These beneficiaries of university (and thus student tuition) support then sell the final product back to the same institutions whose subsidies made it all possible.

    Anthropologists have been pioneers in commodity chain analysis but few have shown little interest in reflecting upon the workings of the system operating closest to where they live and work. A full accounting of the costs associated with publishing articles in the current system would be staggering.

  6. Because Bill cites numbers I’ve provided him, I felt I should outline the 2009 direct costs on American Anthropologist. Jason comments on indirect systemic costs. He is right to point out that AA–and all AAA publications–benefit from the largess of unpaid editors, unpaid reviewers, and unpaid authors. The $5,000-plus per article cost includes no donations or inkind support.
    • 33.39% – editorial operations (an online submission site and a managing editor)
    • 31.74% – production costs (copyediting, typesetting, xml coding)
    • 18.96% – distribution costs
    • 13.50% – AAA staff overheads
    • 2.41% – marketing

    If AAA members agreed that they did not wish to receive print copies, the average cost per article would have dropped from $5,000-plus to $4,000-plus.
    I’d be interested what evidence Barbara has for citing anthropology journals cost more than the peer-reviewed highly selective journals of other disciplines? According to the study done by Mary Waltham, AA’s costs represented the midpoint of our cohorts journals’ publication costs (see: http://www.nhalliance.org/news/humanities-social-science-scholarly-journal-publis.shtml).

    Publishing is expensive. Publishing at AAA does not net a surplus; in the time of myself and prior three directors, membership dues have subsidized the program. I have no reasons to think previous to Rick Custer’s leadership the Association’s finances were any different; I just have no documentation.

    You might ask, what accounts for such high costs? One reason stems from the nature of humanities and social science journals, which do not restrict themselves to research articles. AA includes reviews of visual materials, museum exhibits, printed materials, syntheses of the literature, commentaries, and obituaries. I think many would argue that reviews comprise an important function of the journal. A second reason for high costs is because of selectivity of content. High volume of submissions and low acceptance rates are only possible with the help of a managing editor and an electronic submission system. AA also manages this tremendous labor with the help of an editorial assistant that the Association and its members do not pay for, but whose host institution funded in 2009.

    I want members to understand the costs of the program, to support informed decisions about what is meaningful to the discipline and to our members’ lives? Is peer-review important (as many indicate for hiring and promotion in the academy, and for the development of ideas, even for authors whose papers are rejected)? Are print copies important (as many members indicate to me)? Publishing exists as a service at AAA and as such it should be serve the members and discipline.

  7. I don’t understand these numbers, and I’ve said before that I don’t trust them, since the report commissioned by the AAA, was not itself peer reviewed, as far as I can tell, and uses data that is available only to AAA publications staff.

    Regardless, this whole discussion continues to relentlessly and intentionally miss the point, and the point is: the AAA needs to re-assess it’s ENTIRE BUSINESS MODEL, not just the question of who pays for publications costs. The problem, if it isn’t exceedingly obvious by now, is that the society can no longer go on if it expects to earn all of its revenue from toll-access sale of publications–whether through membership costs, library sales or individual subscriptions. I’m delighted that this business model sustained the AAA through decades of its existence (I am a beneficiary of this success), but it is not a reasonable expectation for the future.

    I don’t know where the option of an “author-pays” model ever entered the discussion about AAA publications. Certainly no one advocating open access ever brought it up– so I guess I am glad to read Bill Davis’ analysis and know for sure that the AAA thinks it’s a bad idea. I don’t know who thinks its a good idea, or why it’s necessary to spill so much ink arguing with them, but thank goodness we all agree that charging anthropologists $3000+ a pop to publish is a bad idea. Hooray.

    But as I say… I don’t trust these numbers. Consider the number $5564 for an article in AA in 2008. Well, depending on how you count, there were either about 25 articles or about 235 articles in AA that year. I assume the numer refers to “research articles” but Oona’s comment that AA is expensive because it “includes reviews of visual materials, museum exhibits, printed materials, syntheses of the literature, commentaries, and obituaries” suggests that it is the latter. So either AA cost around 150K in 2008, or it cost around 1.3 million. That’s a radical difference in my book.

    But let’s pretend it cost around 200K, which would cover all the research articles, plus some of the other stuff. And let’s pretend that every AAA publication costs that much, including the small, unfunded newsletters and so on: that’s 30-odd publications (though really, only about 10 of them are major journals). AAA’s website boasts 11,000 members. Let’s say that it’s more like 8,000. How much would 8,000 members have to pay, on average, to pay for 30 publications at 200K per year?

    $750. steep for a membership fee, but not totally outrageous.

    Now if it’s actually true that it costs 1.3 million a year per publication, that number is more like $3500 per person… but can that actually be true? Even if we estimate that the yearly costs of a journal are more like $500,000, but that this is true for only 10 of those publications, the number still comes out at about $650 per person (for 8000 members). And if the AAA really has 11,000 members and the costs really are for the research articles (and not the obituaries, expensive as they are), and that this really only applies to about 10 of the publications, then (25 articles * $5564 = 139,100 x 10 publications = 1,391,000 divided by 11000 =


    Sign me up, I’ll pay $126 extra per year to pay for 10 open access publications.

    But then, I’m pulling these numbers out of my AAAss.

  8. […] recently and magnanimously agreed to re-publish his September Anthropology News article on “Free Journal Access as a Public Issue”. The thrust of the piece seems to be that, after extensive secret analysis, the AAA staff have […]

  9. My apologies. I was reading too hastily and thought all the figures in the post were referring to the cost per article, but it’s a mix of per page costs and per article costs.

    Regardless, I think having these costs covered through tolls does set up a discriminatory system. As a librarian, I’d much rather the money I’m pouring into supporting access to research for my community be used to make it available to all. At the moment, one library after another is turning out the lights on parts of their digital collection, forced to subscribe to a smaller and smaller pool of research materials (because prices go up and our budgets don’t) and the investment we make only allows us to rent a year’s worth of access at a time; if we have a bad year, all of that investment is lost. And the pool of people who can get their hands on this valuable research gets smaller and smaller.

  10. […] American Anthropological Association is underway in a small way on the AAA’s blog, where an editorial by AAA Executive Director Bill Davis (“Free Journal Access as a Public Issue”) has been posted. I have made a couple of […]

  11. […] Davis, the executive secretary at the AAA, spent most of his piece focusing on the AAA’s failed business model, describing a number of things that won’t keep the AAA’s financial boat afloat: […]

  12. […] As I noted in discussing Bill Davis’ recent post, most journals edited by employed scholars benefit from some kind of subsidies. Usually a rich and diverse array of subsidies. As with my earlier editing of Museum Anthropology, Museum Anthropology Review has benefited in a variety of ways from my being employed at Indiana University Bloomington. As things stand in 2010, the most important subsidy for the journal is the remarkable-super-awesome support provided to the journal by the Indiana University Blooming Libraries (and Librarians!) through the IUScholarWorks program.  The IUB Libraries are now MAR‘s publisher. They make this possible with the use of an amazing open source software program called Open Journal Systems (it does editorial work flow and publishing) and, very importantly, significant (but not insane) amounts of technical (and librarian-skills) support.  Set this wonderful background aside because it is not relevant to the source of the 42 cent thing. […]

  13. I am writing principally to endorse Jason and Christopher’s comments. The only thinkg I can add to what has been said is to point to another, larger issue.

    We are living at the time of the confluence of two crises: first, a crisis in higher education – this involves the shift from viewing students as “students” to viewing them as consumers, the general move towards a business model and the bloat in administrator salaries. Signs of this have been appearing for decades – the scandal back in 1991 when Stanford, which charged 74% overhead on research – had to refund money to the US Government and pay back $180,000 it had charged a funder in order to buy the president (I think) a yacht … Bill Readings insightful The University in Ruins; a more recent book, Frank Donoghus’s The Last Professors. Some universities are exploiting the labor of talented athletes in order to maintain basketball or football teams that are increasingly more professional than amateur, others are increasingly reliant on donations from or investments in the private sector. These are just symptoms.

    At the same time, there is a crisis in academic publishing, I do not mean the specific matter Bill Davis raises but a bigger crisis discussed here in the Chronicle: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i36/36a01201.htm
    as well as Robert Darnton’s “Google and the future of books.” New York Review of Books, 56:2, Feb. 12, 2009; Anthony Grafton’s “Apocalypse in the stacks? The research library in the age of Google,” Daedalus, winter 2009. and Anthony Grafton’s “Digitization and its discontents,” New Yorker, Nov. 5, 2007.

    These two crises add up to a profound crisis in the production of academic knowledge. While each of these specific crises perhaps needs to be analyzed independently – and Jason is right, these are the kinds of things we should be funding doctoral candidates to research, or post-docs, or organizing sessions at annual meetings to discusss – their effects should not be. We cannot turn back the clock, but can’t we have some influence over what new system emerges?

    I do not like the idea of the state auditing our research, and I hope that the cultural wars of the 1990s, and attempts by members of Congress to dictate what kinds of research projects – or works of art – deserved support and which did not, but our society must come up with better ways to finance research, from funding for graduate students, funding for research projects, and funding for publications.

    Authors should not have to pay for their publications – that is going backwards, to the days of the gentlemen scholars when one had to be independently wealthy to finance one’s own forrays into natural history or experimental science.

    But a freely accessible database is not a bad idea either. Barbara is right that our work shoud be available to anyone interested (and in the long run this is probably to our advantage).

    The thing is, if the state is going to mandate a free database of publications, it ought to be willing to subsidize them. And you can bet they will demand transparency of finance that the AAA – and private Universities – are not used to.

    I do not mind subsidizing publications through my membership fees, but remember too that these publications work because many members of AAA (and some non-members) provide a considerable amount of labor-time by reviewing manuscripts and by reviewing books, without compensation. And I am not asking for compensation, I just want to know, when I do this work for free, where DOES the money go? Who is really being threatened by open access? The AAA? Or maybe it is Wiley-Blackwell and Elsinor’s shareholders?

    I simply cannot believe that 6,000 PhDs cannot figure out a way to cut the costs of academic publishing while increasing accessibility. But I think this is part of a much larger problem, and we may not be able to figure this out without also looking at how Higher Education is financed, and why it is that some departments are closed down while university presidents and vice presidents live like kings.

    I increasingly feel a great disconnect between myself and my students. It is NOT because they come to university in order to drink a lot and screw around … hard as it is I stil remember being young. But I do sense an increasing lack of interest in what I do, and lack of pleasure in study. I believe that professors enjoyed much more prestige in the 1940s and 1950s, and I don’t think it is because they were paid so much but rather because society valued their work more – even if it was a scam, just try to imagine that time when a college professor was actually a star of a TV game show BECAUSE of what he knew …

    President Obama is working his way down a long list of big problems this nation has to address. I know what we are discussing is not even close to the top. but if we as a nation ever seriously address global warming, and perhaps even do something to bring peace to India and Pakistan, maybe then we can turn to a national conversation on the value of free (I mean, undirected) research and higher education, a conversation that includes discussions of the best way to finance education, research, publication, the dissemination of knowledge.

    More transparancy in AAA finances is a no-brainer. That authors ought not to pay to be published is a no-brainer. That we want more people to have easier access to our work is a no-brainer. Bill Davis is having trouble juggling these and maybe some of us can help. But there is a bigger problem lurking behind this discussion.

    Right now, the rules of the game make students, professors, publishers and librarians all opponents when we should be allies. Until we understand how this came to be and what sustains it, and find time to discuss how to change this game, I think the kind of problem people have been discussing here will keep popping up.

  14. […] special attention to the discussion in anthropology that has been prompted by Bill Davis’ recent commentary on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. She makes a nice parallel to another area […]

  15. […] the same way that a official letter, memo, or other communication ideally should. The headnote for William Davis’ August 31, 2010 post to the AAA weblog says: “If you have any comments, you are welcome to post them below.” […]

  16. Perhaps it is wise to take a look at some of the ongoing discussions on this issue to be found on Savage Minds, an excellent anthropology blog?

    A great post here (http://savageminds.org/2010/09/02/gourmet-vs-all-things-considered-the-anthropological-edition/) demonstrates that, at least in one case, a high-quality, peer-reviewed, & open-access journal hosted primarily online through a great university library cost 42c per article, as compared to $200 a page for a comprable high-overhead, profit-driven journal.

    By looking at the ‘open access’ tag on this blog, you’ll find extensive discussion on all aspects of this subject over the past few years. I definitely think that exploring the lower production costs and greater public benefit of open access is something that the AAA needs to be seriously considering.

  17. Oh, and there’s a fuller comparison of the above cost quotes here: http://jasonbairdjackson.com/2010/09/03/42-cents-really/

  18. My goal is to set up my personal activity since there aren’t any decent jobs out there.

    Can someone provide any recommendations or sites as to how to get government grant money to start my own small business? I have been looking over the internet but each and every site demands for money and I have already been told by the unemployment office to avoid the websites that want cash for grant info because they’re rip-offs. I’d personally be sincerely grateful for any assistance.

  19. This is huge information. Thanks for the benefit of sharing.

  20. […] I had just been reading statements by executives working for scholarly societies explaining why they are worried about the possibility of the Federal […]

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