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The future of AAA publishing: Opening a conversation

The Committee for the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing, better known as CFPEP, has invited me to start a discussion thread about how the AAA can best manage its diverse publications in response to a publishing environment undergoing radical change.  CFPEP invites your thoughts on strategies for keeping AAA publications as widely accessible as possible while maintaining a sustainable business plan.  We plan to continue the discussion for three months–after which we’ll see how it goes.

By way of introduction, I should say that I’m a relative newbie to CFPEP.  I’m playing catch-up with an accomplished group led by Deborah Nichols of Dartmouth.  For the past decade I’ve studied and written about how the world’s intellectual property regime affects indigenous peoples, but I also have a strong interest in the publishing industry’s struggles to adapt to the digital revolution and the growing power of the developed world’s IP regime.  During my term as director of the Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences, I was able to bring to campus a number of leading thinkers in this field, including Chris Kelty, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Madhavi Sunder, and Peter Suber.

The fashionable adjective “overdetermined” has long struck me as pretentious, but it clearly applies to the business of publishing academic serials today.  I came to CFPEP favorably disposed to Open Access models and skeptical of for-profit approaches to journal publishing. I remain so but have since learned the following:

  • Publishing academic journals (even digital-only ones liberated from the cost of printing and moving paper) entails significant expense, including administration, copy-editing, type-setting, web development, hosting and archiving.  Revenues to support this must come from somewhere.
  • Many anthropologists, especially untenured ones, are fearful of any dramatic move that could damage the standing of AAA journals in established hierarchies of professional accomplishment.  Publishing strategies, in other words, are inseparable from metrics of productivity and academic impact.
  • Many people oppose the predatory practices of some for-profit publishers.  They are passionately committed to OA models for reasons both pragmatic and political.  Often, however, they don’t realize that a significant number of OA journals are based on the “author pays” model, requiring the author of accepted papers to pay for the costs of publication.  (Database with details here; developing ideas about OA’s business models here.)
  • The transition to digital-only publishing, which increasingly seems inevitable, raises difficult questions about how published work will be conserved/archived for posterity.  This is particularly complex for online publications that include time-limited ancillary material.  Digital archiving isn’t as easy or as cheap as many of us assume.  Think about it: printed books can be read centuries after their creation, whereas digital documents are quickly made obsolete by software changes.  Digital data need to be regularly migrated and converted to readable formats.  All this costs money.
  • The fiscal integrity of our principal professional organization, the AAA, today is inseparable from the financial health of the journal portfolio.  Unwinding the two will not be easy and shouldn’t be done precipitously.

CFPEP is exploring these issues this year and beyond.  We’ve just held the first of several planned webinars to which all members are invited to participate.  (The webinar, which considers the links between the changing publishing landscape and promotion/tenure, is well summarized in Tobias Denskus’s blog.  The webinar is fully downloadable for those who couldn’t catch it live.)

With CoPAPIA, we’ve also organized a double session at the annual meeting in Montreal.  This is intended as a discussion session for members, and the diverse presenters will be making only brief, informal statements.  If you’re interested in these questions, come and share your thoughts.

Or open the discussion now, by electronic means.  What questions should CFPEP be asking?  Where should the AAA publishing wing be in five years?  Ten?  How can we make attractive, academically rigorous journals available to the widest possible audience without committing financial suicide?

24 Responses

  1. Dear Michael,

    Thank you Michael for your work in this area and for your generous invitation. It is tempting to go right to the heart of the matter and discuss such things as the relative proportion of author-pays versus community-supports models in the publishing of gold open access journals (which is not the same things as the green open access circulation of pre-prints). Almost no open access journal in anthropology or a neighboring field operates on the basis of an author-pay’s model and I know of no one who is presently advocating for this. While author-pays models are crucial in some fields, they are largely an imagined threat in anthropology, one that seems to stifle rather than facilitate conversation on workable paths forward.

    Rather than tackle the vital center of these discussions, I propose to address here a smaller matter at the edge of the domain. I am rehashing proposals made elsewhere but hope is to illustrate a wider matter of strategy.

    In a May 19, 2009 posting on the weblog Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman reflected upon a then-current AAA survey designed to assess the desirability and feasibility of making the AAA Annual Meeting abstracts available online. I believe that such availability would be of major benefit to those working in the field and to those (including the subjects of anthropological research) who would like to know who has worked on which topics over time. Professor Friedman’s post is available here: http://savageminds.org/2009/05/19/dear-aaa-can-i-have-my-back/

    The questions that we were asked in that survey were reflective of a very heuristic distinction that can be made in such undertakings. The questions that the membership were asked in that instance presumed that the only way of achieving the potential goal was through the creation of a large and complex new digital resource, one that would certainly have a rich array of design features and functionalities and one that would have significant costs in terms of infrastructure, labor, and human maintenance work. In terms of the now classic heuristic, what was being explored was the possibility of building another cathedral. In the metaphor propagated by Eric Raymond, a cathedral is a large, elegant, all encompassing project that must be slowly and carefully built according to a unified plan. Its opposite is the bazaar, something that grows up quickly, organically, and opportunistically out of a diversity of ready-made and accessible parts. Bazaars are quick and cheap (and collaborative), cathedrals are slow and expensive.

    There were 22 comments on Professor Friedman’s Savage Minds post. Some were, of course, more helpful or relevant than others. They all at least speak to interest in the question of making the published record of the AAA annual meeting more accessible.

    In my own comments to that post, I explained how the AAA could, for an insignificant sum, easily and quickly make its program and abstract books freely and fully available in open access form through the HathiTrust Digital Library. Much of the relevant content has already been digitized and is already searchable online. All that is lacking to make this AAA content freely viewable and available is the consent of the AAA acting as an organizational rights holder. I am only over-simplifying slightly when I say that for the cost of an email message, a significant proportion of the AAA meeting program/abstract corpus could be made freely available in one of the most robust digital access and preservation repositories that we have. My comments on Professor Friedman’s post, particularly the final one, address this strategy in more depth.

    I bring it up here, because it is an example of working around the edges and thereby making progress now without having to first fully solve the more difficult revenue and sustainability issues that you raise in your post. While we could imagine going to great efforts to monetize the AAA programs and abstracts online, they are not presently a digital revenue stream and it would hardly be worth it, in my view, to try to make them such. On the other hand, if making them openly available in some form costs next to nothing and would be a valuable new resource for members and the larger world community, it is hard for me to figure out why we would not do it.

    Doing this in the manner that I propose would entail more of a partnership ethos and more of a bazaar strategy than we have had to this point. My reflections in this regard are not abstract idealizations, but are based on my work over the past two years on the Open Folklore project. The American Folklore Society in partnership with the Indiana University Libraries has worked to make almost all of its section journals freely available in just this manner via the HathiTrust Digital Library. The results are not yet perfect for a host of reasons, but they have also cost next to nothing and they are being valued by the community. In the conference programs/abstracts realm, the AFS is now nearly finished providing full and open access to the published record of its annual meetings going back to 1889. While real in-kind costs can be identified and described, this was done through informal partnerships and a relatively small amount of sweat equity investment. It did not rely upon the writing of a grant proposal, the raising of additional dues monies, the hiring of consulting firms, or the building of new digital infrastructure.

    I describe the bazaar structure of the Open Folklore project in a seven-minute video available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBUfYuVlBZE

    News of the availability of AFS annual meeting programs, abstracts, and reports is available in the most recent Open Folklore project report, available here: http://openfolklore.org/news/open-folklore-news-and-portal-enhancements-announced-project-enters-its-second-year-october-7-2

    I appreciate the AAA’s invitation to participate in these scholarly communications discussions at the upcoming meetings and I am thankful for this opportunity to share these reflections on the crucial matters raised in your post.

    Sincerely,

    Jason

    Jason Baird Jackson
    Associate Professor of Folklore and American Studies
    Indiana University

  2. As your director of publishing, I want our program to speak meaningfully to our members lives and needs. Here is one kind of dimension across which the association could move:
    * I am very impressed with a newly launched journal called Sensate (http://www.sensatejournal.com/). While supporting peer-review and non-linear multi-media publication, the journal is not archived currently.
    * Do members want a dynamic multi-media rich environment for publishing or are authors and members better served with high levels of reliability to that content over a very long time-horizon? (Imagine conducting research and stumbling over an epidemic of 404 errors.)

    I share Michael’s invitation that we hear from you and where you picture the program.

  3. I am so happy for the opening of this forum. Anthropology has a desperate need to open its resources beyond the selected few in academe.

    The second problem listed in the post concerns credentialing by publication. The implicit misunderstanding is that a change in publication availability or editorial processes will cause administrators and colleagues to question the value of contributions to the Association’s journals.

    This seems like a rather simple collective action problem. We need our colleagues and universities to accept the future mode of communication as minimally the equivalent of the current one. A strategy might be:

    1. The new mode of publication completely replaces the old one, with no overlap so that no confusion is possible about their equivalency.

    2. The AAA releases a clear statement, approved by vote of the membership, about the future of AAA open publications as standards for publication in anthropology.

    3. All archives are released simultaneously under the same licensing and electronic availability as new contributions, so that they are clearly equivalent and continuous as productions of the association.

    4. It may be useful to emphasize the ethical components of open publication. In a world where anthropologists depend on the cooperation of many people, and serve as custodians of cultural resources, it is unethical for the results of anthropological research to be hidden from participants by economic barriers.

    The coin of the realm in academic publishing is citations. At present, the AAA journals are miserable in their citation ranks. For the AAA to improve this situation will require either a massive improvement in the perceived value of anthropological papers (unlikely), or a radical move to open access, open archives, and a concerted effort to advertise our work in ways that reach beyond anthropology into other academic disciplines.

    • Don Brenneis, also a member of CFPEP, sent me the following response to the post by John Hawks. Don has studied citation metrics, their flaws, and their significance for anthropology, and he speaks from a position of considerable knowledge. This is posted with Don’s permission.

      Don Brenneis writes:

      If citations constitute the coin of the realm in academia, they at times provide a gold standard and at times a debased currency. It is clear that citation rates and their associated impact factors work very well in some fields such as high energy physics, a goodness of fit attributable to a range of factors such as disciplinary citational practices (physicists tend to cite early and often, in the manner of apocryphal Chicago voters), well-developed and easily searchable subject repositories (such as Arxiv), and highly focused yet large scale research communities. It is also clear that for other disciplines the standard Web of Science based citation count works very badly – and produces highly misleading results. Here the limiting factors include the range of journals that are and aren’t included in the citational database, the fact that only journals (and not monographs and edited volumes) are represented, and the modal length of time, often disciplinarily quite specific, to citation.
      Several years ago it was proposed that the Research Assessment Exercises central to academic assessment in the UK be replaced, at least for the sciences, by bibliometric measures as the coin of the (literal) realm. Not surprisingly, this led to considerable lively response. Perhaps more surprisingly, the international associations in mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics led the critical charge; they jointly produced a particularly acute, well-documented, and devastating working paper. In a recent article (Brenneis 2009) I’ve both outlined key limitations of such quantitative measures and, perhaps more usefully, provided citations to relevant critiques in other fields. Citation counts may provide the fiction of clarity, objectivity, and comparability in some academic markets, but they don’t merit the credit they might appear to command.
      I’ve just completed two years on the UCSC campus-wide personnel committee, so I thought I’d note the care with which such committees generally regard such measures. Collegial discussions often focus on cross-disciplinary translation, acknowledging from the beginning that different disciplines (and interdisciplines) have different standards and routine ways of marking value, and that norming any metric to local practice is critical. Impact factors may at times figure in such conversations, but they end up at most as a minor element in the ultimate decisions. The trading zone within which citations constitute definitive coinage is more complex – and ultimately more heartening – than one might expect.
      This isn’t to say that anthropologists and the AAA can’t make changes that make our work more accessible. As one example, I’d stress the ever increasing importance of search engines in shaping research reading and ultimate citation. Shaping our abstracts more strategically and with an eye to relevance rankings could make a real difference, as, if feasible, could be the development of a more open archive.

      For additional information, you may want to consult the relevant article: Brenneis, Don. 2009. “Anthropology in and of the academy: globalization, assessment, and our field’s future,” Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale 17 (3): 261-275.

      • Thanks for the very thoughtful reply.

        This amounts to an argument that the AAA membership should not worry about the low metrics of the journals.

        Personally I am interested in placing articles in journals where they will be read. It seems incredible that American Anthropologist has so many fewer readers than biological anthropology-specific journals, but that is my experience placing an article there. Within anthropology, there’s no doubt that AA has name recognition, but its visibility outside the field is minor. Citations may not reflect value, but they do reflect relevance and accessibility.

        I think that the physicists in this case are doing something right by publishing preprints on an open platform and expecting new researchers to cite prior work. If anthropology can improve its accessibility and relevance, why wouldn’t we do that?

  4. I’m grateful for the comments from Jason, Oona, and John, each of which considers a different facet of the problem.

    Jason makes a valid point: the “author-pays” model doesn’t seem likely to become prominent in anthropology, mostly because few of us are in a position to meet its conditions. I mentioned it only because many people making blanket statements in favor of OA don’t seem to realize how common it is in the OA universe. (In late spring 2011 I reviewed a spreadsheet of OA journals kindly shared by Peter Suber, and it looked like about half of the journals were based on some version of author-pays. That number may well have changed since then.) I agree with Jason: author-pays is DOA for us. Other approaches to OA are far more likely to get traction in anthropology.

    The bazaar metaphor is appealing but has implications worthy of consideration. For one thing, cathedrals are still around, while most bazaars are moved at will and leave no trace. Do we want our scholarship to be similarly evanescent? Moreover, bazaars typically pay rent and taxes for the space they use, and they are oriented to realizing a profit. It seems that academic publishing needs to move in the direction of a gift economy and away from the negative reciprocity that increasingly afflicts it. That said, though, I’m drawn to Jason’s notion that the AAA should encourage and support at least some spaces in which ideas can be exchanged swiftly, flexibly and at little cost to contributors. My understanding is that medieval cathedrals often had bazaars on their doorsteps. Perhaps we need that, too.

    John’s point about effecting a unified, highly publicized, carefully orchestrated shift in publishing strategy that would inspire continued faith in anthropology’s quality standards is convincing. Frankly, I think that it will happen eventually because every other discipline will move in the same direction. (It is already happening in physics and the life-sciences.) In a few years it won’t look radical at all. The thornier question is how to disentangle this from the economics of publishing–from publisher revenues, licensing fees, membership dues, subscriptions, etc. There’s a fear factor here: How does the AAA make this transition (and to what, exactly?) without imperiling the fiscal health of the organization in the process. Do we want to be on the bleeding edge of this transition? Perhaps we do.

    Goes without saying–but I’ll say it anyway–that these are my personal opinions and not those of the AAA or CFPEP. Caveat emptor.

  5. On the issue of ephemerality, the HathiTrust Digital Library is one of only a handful of certified trusted repositories credentialed by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) through its rigorous Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification (TRAC) assessment program. Even if we do nothing along the lines that I have described, AAA members should be very pleased to know that the content that I mentioned is already being preserved in such a context. The HathiTrust library partners are paying for this preservation environment on behalf of their constituents, including anthropologists. These are the same entities whose regular payment of subscription fees support the publishing programs of societies such as the AAA.

    Preservation is a vital concern. Separate from what libraries do on our behalf, what is our preservation infrastructure?

    My evocation of a bazaar was intended to evoke partnership, plurality, cooperation, and off-the-rack solutions, but certainly not inattention to preservation. Librarians are the most trusted preservation partners that we have had. As they increasingly lease rather than purchase our content, they are less and less able to assist us in that work.

    For HathiTrust’s TRAC status, see: http://www.hathitrust.org/hathitrust-certified-as-trustworthy-repository

  6. Apropos of Jason’s helpful information about the HathiTrust Digital Library, I discovered only today that a short online article I wrote in 2003 at the invitation of the Center for Arts and Culture in Washington, DC–an essay that was paired with a terrific piece by the Smithsonian’s Richard Kurin as a mini-debate about UNESCO’s approach to heritage protection–has completely vanished from the Internet. The organization apparently disbanded in late 2005, and its website disappeared with it.

    This small loss won’t rock the foundations of Western civilization, but I see it as a cautionary tale about the risks of online publishing.

    • I note this individual-specific reply in public as a further example of process in this sector.

      Michael–Because I used it regularly in courses, I preserved a copy of your valuable essay (as well as Richard’s) and can work to get it posted in the Indiana University Bloomington institutional repository (IUScholarWorks) if you would like. If this were done, it would be preserved in a relatively robust preservation environment and the associated metadata would be harvestable for discovery and access via the Open Folklore portal, Google Scholar and other OAI-PMH based services. Did you retain your copyright at the time of publication? Feel free to write to me offline. Jason

      Michael’s point is a good one and the focus of my remarks on green open access at the AAA meetings this year will be on the vital difference between posting our work online (on run of the mill websites) and depositing it in responsibly managed institutional, subject, or funder repositories.

      Michael’s point also addresses the need, when we publish in any digital-only journal (whether toll access or open access), to know something about its institutional base and its preservation strategies. Toll access can be done well, or it can be done poorly. Open access can be done well, or it can be done poorly.

      Copies of Michael’s essay, as well as Richard Kurin’s companion piece are already being preserved by the Internet Archive, and interested readers can find them online here, at the Internet Archive:

      http://web.archive.org/web/20060427114622/http://www.culturalcommons.org/comment-print.cfm?ID=12

      http://web.archive.org/web/20060504044000/http://www.culturalcommons.org/kurin.htm

      We have to recognize though, that I could only find them easily in this way because I had preserved a record of the original URLs. That means that the classic “Way Back Machine” provided by the Internet Archive is mainly good when we have a citation and, ideally, an “accessed on” date.

      For those interested in an even more robust approach to the preservation of ephemeral website content (as opposed to classic publications), I would point to the Archive-It “tent” in the Open Folklore “bazaar.” Recognizing the importance of, but also the ephemerality of, scholarly websites, our project has begun working with the Archive-It project of the Internet Archive to make preservation copies of key websites for folklore studies. Unlike the materials gathered in the general Internet Archive, these Archive-It preserved sites retain their rich media, including video etc. We were too late for the Cultural Commons organization (publishers of Michael’s web essay), but in a similar situation to the one that Michael describes, OF has preserved the websites (media and all) of two cultural policy/public arts organizations prior to these sites being unplugged. Ex:

      Community Arts Network
      http://wayback.archive-it.org/2077/20100906194747/http://www.communityarts.net/

      Institute for Cultural Partnerships
      http://wayback.archive-it.org/2077/20110218182428/http://www.culturalpartnerships.org/

      Working, for instance, with the Internet Archive on one front (websites) and HathiTrust (monographs) on another, is what I was aiming to evoke with the bazaar metaphor. These are extant organizations with whom the AAA and other organizations in our field might choose to partner. I feel certain that they would be thrilled to work with such a major scholarly organization as ours. Even using Archive-It just to preserve a robust copy of the AAA website each year (and such work is the main function of the service) would be a value to the field.

  7. I wanted to add my thanks as well to Michael for starting this conversation which is, in my opinion, among the most important conversations AAA needs to have today. I confess that I am strong OA advocate and think that the AAA membership should not fear being on the bleeding edge of the transition. I do not think that commercial publishers are the right partners for AAA publications and that by working with them we are only delaying an inevitable stock-taking about how AAA funds its organizational activities. As has been mentioned before, moving out from behind commercial paywalls and opening our research to the greatest audience possible is both professionally pragmatic in terms of enhancing our communicational reach outside the discipline and ethical in terms of allowing our research partners access to the texts that in most instances they helped to co-produce. Of course, funding quality journal production and archiving will require significant financial support. However, there are other potential partners AAA can and should search out, including foundations, universities and research libraries who are themselves seeking to reinvent themselves for the digital era. AAA should be exploring new alliances now so that we can divest from commercial partnerships as quickly as possible.

    But, let me also go one step further and suggest that we not think about this at the level of national associations and monolingual research communities. AAA should seek international partnerships as well. Our long-term goal should be the constitution of an archived, searchable database of all major anthropology journals in all languages. Such a database would quickly become an international standard, help to create new international ties and communication, and very likely represent the only such database that any of us would use. Of course, this is ambitious. But if anthropology, of all fields, is not committed to nurturing international, cross-cultural conversations and learning, then I don’t know who will be.

    • Dominic Boyer’s comment cuts to the heart of the matter. I find myself (again, speaking only for myself) in substantial agreement. But here’s the reality check:

      –Current toll-access arrangements, including all advertising and licensing fees, generated about $1.4 million for the AAA in 2010. That covered much but not all of the total costs of producing the AAA journals and Anthropology News. Most of that revenue would be vaporized by a conversion to full OA. Presumably, in-kind support (e.g., when universities donate released time to journal editors) would not be affected.

      –There’s no question that librarians are way out in front with respect to promoting OA. (Next week, by the way, is Open Access Week (http://openaccessweek.org/), and events related to it are being organized across the US and Canada.) But even if libraries put together an ambitious plan by which they provide direct financial support to OA publishers such as the AAA in lieu of today’s for-profit packages, it’s not clear whether this funding would make up the shortfall. And I believe there would always be a free-rider problem, especially in parts of the world where toll-access subscriptions and downloads are experiencing dramatic growth. Think: China.

      –The gnarliest part of the financial puzzle is the so-called “benefit of membership” question. CFPEP hasn’t yet been able to get good information on whether, or to what extent, conversion to OA would affect the willingness of anthropologists to pay annual dues to the AAA. I don’t have data on the membership trajectory in recent years, but anecdotally I can say that I’m shocked by the number of friends and colleagues who aren’t members. In many ways that’s understandable. Dues are high, times are hard. For all I know, conversion to OA would increase, not decrease, the willingness of anthros to pay annual dues. CFPEP is seeking ways to get at that issue. It’s difficult, though, because almost by definition the AAA has a hard time accessing non-members.

      We hope to produce a new main post with more details on costs and revenue sources in the coming days and weeks.

  8. [...] there’s already a unequivocally sharp-witted contention going during a AAA’s blog during The destiny of AAA publishing: Opening a conversation that has some flattering estimable comments on a pivotal issues that accompany online publication, [...]

  9. I think we need not be afraid of prices and should not let commercial publishers dictate how we approach open access e.g. we must follower their price guidelines and what they would spend money on.

    The creation and upkeep of a website cost peanuts. There are free in-site search engines that are decent, better then Jstor’s at least. Storage and download is really cheap if we do not follow the commercial publishers guidelines. For example do not host the PDF’s on the site but have links to a storage site were you do not have to pay bandwidth fees. $795 per year for 350GB of space on dropbox and only $125 more a year for per 100GB beyond that. How much space do AAA journals take up? Even at a terabyte that is only roughly $1700 a year that includes domain name and website hosting. What is there 7000? 12,000? members of the AAA. So14-25 cents per member to host all of the journals online. These are the prices we could do open access for. You can buy a drive with a terabyte of storage for less then $100. Buy two or three drives every five years to backup the documents offline and there is no need to worry about the cloud.

    Typesetting can be done with free software by a two year old.

    Admin- we already do 95% of journal publishers’ work for free. I do not think it is too much to ask for an editor to put page numbers or content listings on a document.

    Copy editing- what are we in kindergarden? These are people with PhDs they should be able to spell and create a sentence. So what if there are the occasional spelling or grammar error. For 25 cents I am ok to have one or two errors. If a piece of writing is so bad then have the editor ask the author to pay $50 to have someone to correct it and be done with it.

    If the AAA wants I can put all their journals online for less then $2000 a year, I assume all of the journals take up less then a terabyte (2 TB would only be $4000- 50cents a member). I wouldn’t even charge for my time to do it. Also, assuming all of the journals are in digital formats. (A brief look through and most of them do have all the archives in a digital format.)

    Even if we have to digitize them ourselves the price is not going to be that bad. Lets get creative and get things open. It is not as expensive as publishers would have us think. I would ask anyone to point out any hidden costs I have not thought of.

    • While the costs of getting information up on line are not immense, the costs of citation linking and other interface and functionality improvements do mount. However, the largest hidden costs of the AAA program lie in following areas:
      1) AAA has elected to have a diverse program, publishing a breadth of content, sponsored by over 20 different sections. Such a program does not run itself. Much of my time as your Director of Publishing is spent on collaborative decision-making, reporting, and editorial management of our titles. AAA has also created an ambitious newspaper, produced internally with a managing editor and a production editor on staff. The five staff positions of the publishing program cost salary, overheads (rent, equipment, G&A charges) and benefits (retirement, health care) and this total comes close to $1M in 2010.
      2) Selecting content through peer-review is expensive, because we review virtually all manuscripts, even if only some small fraction end up in the final publication. Some 200 manuscripts submitted in a year may amount to some 500-600 reviews. In 2010, AAA and its sections spent over $300,000 on peer review. The overwhelming majority of the expense was managing editor salaries and fringe benefits. These instrumental editors identify reviewers, answer their questions, and help collate their responses to retain their anonymity.
      3) Whether or not we should typeset and print our publications is a legitimate question. If members and authors feel these processes are important to the publications, these efforts are not inexpensive. In 2010, AAA published the words of some 800+ different authors in more than 500 “articles.” The production costs for our journals came to $578,107 and in addition the Association paid $503,052 for print member copies of our journals and Anthropology News.

      I personally think you raise interesting questions. There are publishing models in which publishers like SSRN (http://ssrn.com/) publish PDFs of manuscripts without any peer-review, typesetting or copyediting. Is this a model our members feel reflect their needs?

      • I should probably clarify that I was thinking in terms of journals and not as much about the newspaper aspect. I have no doubt that the costs of such a program is great.

        I think mike says it best in that it all depends on needs. This is not a criticism of the current managing editors but are they really needed? I do not mean this as a statement but as an actual question, I would like to know if they really are needed?

        Many, many journals work with volunteer editors (or paid close to volunteer wages). Would a system with a volunteer editor, or three, for each publication not produce the same results? Not that I would like to see people become unemployed but it seems to work well with many other journals.

        Print is tricky- I do prefer print to online myself but if I had to choice between OA and print I would take OA. The advantages with OA is that people can still print off the articles on their own. It would save paper as most people only print off what interests them instead of whole journals. Also, the rise in mirco print shops might make it feasible for members to simply have there copies/PDFs sent to a printer and then have a printed version delivered to themselves on their own tab.

        Which raises another question, how many members actually keep their old print issues? Going all digital at production might not be that much of a strain on people. If print copies get thrown out anyways a all digital product will be saving trees.

        Side question- out of curiosity when you say citation linking is that inside a paper e.g. links from citations to the corresponding entry in the biblo or something else?

    • I’m occasionally mistaken for an adult, yet I greatly value the contribution of copy-editors who work for the AAA and other publishers. They make dodgy prose readable and good prose memorable. Furthermore, if AAA publications want to be welcoming to anthropologists who speak English as a second language, professional copy-editing is essential.

      There’s no question that the AAA will have to look hard at the cost side of the publishing equation. There are doubtless many ways that costs can be cut–with tradeoffs, of course–although I don’t think that copy-editing is one of them.

      One of the things I hope we’ll talk about in a future post is the problem of scalability. It’s now amazingly easy to launch an OA journal using open-source software packages such as OJS and a basic hosting service. But the AAA portfolio includes such a range of journals, such a deep back-list of legacy issues, such a big basket of serialization and licensing and marketing contracts, that it can’t easily be poured into the fast, cheap, and out of control model of post-print publishing. My hunch is that it will come to look more like that in time, but a responsible transition strategy requires considerable thought.

      • As a horrible writer myself I do appreciate anyone who is willing to go through my writing and make sense of it all.

        Thank you for bringing up English as a second language as I had not thought of that. At the moment I can not think of a cheap and easy solution for this. A volunteer helper program could do this but I think it would be very hard to get something like that going.

        It might be that copy-editing will need to stay for those cases but I am not sure keeping it for native speakers is such a good idea. Would/does it not act as a crutch? I do believe good writing is key to good communication but is that not expected of people who would like to publish or do research.

        Again, I speak as one who would suffer greatly if I was told an article was not well written and I must improve it. Yet, I think it should be on us for both personal and professional development to try and become better writers or work out a system of working with someone else. Many universities provide courses to improve ones writing for their students and I do not many boundaries in the way of staff using those services.

        Maybe I am asking to much of researchers? Is it too much to ask that people try to improve their writing? At the very least if writing is just not your think getting someone else to make it readable.

        I guess I come down on the side that yes bad spelling and poor grammar is not ideal but not being able to even view the poor grammar because it is behind a paywall is much worse. I could be on the minority on this though.

        Maybe if we opened up all of the AAA journals to the world we would find that the public do not care to read it. Maybe being locked behind a paywall makes no difference. I would hope it would and that by making our work available to the world we will not need to justify our existence to governors of Florida because people will know what we do but I could just be a romantic

    • On behalf of Janet Dixon Keller:
      From my years as a former editor of the American Anthropologist and currently as an editor of Ethos, I find value in copy editing and typesetting. The copy editor provides a second set of professional eyes and contributes well beyond the occasional semi-colon or citation format (although these in themselves are helpful). This professional can raise thoughtful questions regarding content and style, assures consistency in presentation over time, and often has reference information at hand to augment or repair authors’ listings.

      Spelling and grammatical treatments are also important. Scholars who read the same journal over time are advantaged by a consistent style of presentation. Even punctuation can be critical to smooth reading; consider the useful illustrations in Eats, Shoots and Leaves. With so much reading to be done today, the more we as editors and copy editors can improve the reading experience, the more pleasure our audiences will take in what we can publish.

      There is something to be said for pride in product too. Astute content doesn’t just speak for itself. The package in which it arrives can enable or befuddle, create or break trust. Communicating academic advances effectively can promote the adoption of ideas in debates and dialogues that shape future research agendas while poor communication undermines understanding and may hamper circulation. Presenting ideas in strong and readable prose can facilitate incorporation into political or civic arenas.

      Improved clarity is especially useful when we reach out to publish the work of nonnative English speakers in English language journals or when native English speakers seek to publish in second or third languages. Such work benefits tremendously from the combined efforts of reviewers, a developmental editor, and a copy editor.

      Copyediting is not something authors do well. It takes a special skill and focus on detail. It requires a fresh look. The author and content editor are thoroughly engaged in substance while a copy editor steps back and provides a view from elsewhere in order to present a polished and accessible contribution. I think this is worth our investment, yet as increasingly agile systems or new practices emerge we should adopt these.

      I would also stand up for responsible typesetting. Again, we should use the most advanced technologies and if these are as simple and straightforward as Doug suggests then perhaps page composition could be handled by an editorial office. But as with copyediting, typesetting is a useful part of presenting scholarship. Consistency in format, inviting presentations, and facility in reading or skimming are positive outcomes of good typesetting.

      We have more research and experimentation to do before we define new publishing trajectories. The next steps can improve or compromise the processes of sharing ideas within the academy and of taking research beyond the academy to address urgent human needs.

  10. [...] pick up the expanding thread on AAA publishing by considering costs.  Coming up with a single figure for the AAA’s large publication portfolio [...]

  11. Any open access model requires a host for the journals. As has been pointed out, if the AAA sponsors it, the cost is high because of both editorial and managerial costs to be borne without non-member income to subsidize them. The other major long-term possibility would be college libraries, who would be most interested in the job. But given the uncertainty of their funding stability– and the likelihood that future budget cuts would eliminate support for anthropology journals before cancer journals– I wouldn’t be so sure of this as a long-term solution. In Perpetuity is a long time.

    The paywall has its detriments, as a publisher, I know that better than most scholars do. But with this large a group of publications, AAA should have the clout to make the kind of deal with a publisher that addresses the chief concerns of the organization, which might not be economic ones.

  12. Michael has also posted more details about cost: http://blog.aaanet.org/2011/10/25/more-on-aaa-publishing-the-matter-of-costs/
    I just wanted readers of this chain (assuming people get this far!) to see that conversation too.

  13. [...] to the first of two posts by Michael F. Brown. The first (on which I commented) can be found here and a second post, dealing with the expense picture for the total AAA publishing program, is [...]

  14. [...] we saw in the first discussion of this series, plenty of anthropologists question the wisdom of fiddling with a system of peer review that [...]

  15. [...] there’s already a unequivocally sharp-witted contention going during a AAA’s blog during The destiny of AAA publishing: Opening a conversation that has some flattering estimable comments on a pivotal issues that accompany online publication, [...]

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