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?