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The State of AAA’s Publishing Program

Calling all AAA members, “The State of AAA’s Publishing Program” is now available on the  Anthropology News website. Find out what is going on in the AAA publishing portfolio, the evaluation of intended and unintended consequences in adopting new publishing models in the future and the measures AAA’s Executive Board has taken to ensure financial sustainability in the publishing program.

In  the article, authors Alisse Waterston and Ed Liebow begin:

We’ve got some good news and some worrisome news about the state and future of AAA’s publishing program

The good news: At this time, publishing sections are financially healthy…. The worrisome news: Scholarly publishing is undergoing enormous change.

Profile in Publishing

The AAA publishing program operates in an ever-changing technological and market environment. The Executive Board (EB), an elected membership body charged with making decisions that tries to best represent the interests of AAA’s 38 sections (including 22 publishing sections) and its 11,000 members, takes seriously its charge to: (1) develop and maintain a diverse publishing portfolio; (2) make responsible, thoughtful decisions that support the long-term needs and interests of sections, members, and those who produce, access and reference anthropological knowledge and content; and (3) facilitate the adaptation of the publishing program to ongoing changes in publication conditions, promoting both sustainability of the publishing program and broadest possible dissemination of knowledge. At times, it is difficult to bring these multiple goals into agreement; our ideals don’t always match up with the competitive economic environment within which we all operate. AAA decisions involve balancing compromise in the context of real life contingencies and weighing consequences for the collective good.

But we are anthropologists, capable of understanding complexity. The publishing program is complicated, involving various players, 24 publications and sections of different size that produce and distribute a rich array of anthropological content in a way that does not break the bank of individual member households, sections, and AAA as a whole…

The authors look to the options of the publishing future:

CFPEP is currently evaluating alternative publishing models in a consultative process with AAA section leaders, editors, members, association officers, the EB and the AAA publishing director to develop five- and ten-year plans for AAA publishing, including but not limited to open access models…

Unanswered questions remain about how open access publishing might work for AAA, which represents a discipline distinct from others in terms of how, what and how much it publishes. The consultative process takes time to think through the consequences—intended and unintended—of such a significant transformation.

And identify the progress the AAA publishing program has made to meet the needs in this ever-changing technological and market environment:

The association has taken several specific steps towards opening up access to its publications in a way that balances fairness and equitability at the same time it makes financially responsible decisions. These steps include income-based membership dues; free access to qualifying institutions and under-resourced countries; green open access author access, among other policies (see next section). In the meantime, CFPEP and ACC continue to engage the consultative process, exploring, examining, discussing, and considering the state of AAA publishing and its future. Despite the difficulties and the obstacles, we feel a path has been cleared for AAA leadership to act responsibly while confronting challenges with open-mindedness, enthusiasm and optimism.

Get all the details by reading the entire article on the Anthropology News website.

Alisse Waterston is chair of the AAA Anthropological Communication Committee and professor of anthropology, John Jay College, City University of New York. Edward B Liebow is AAA treasurer and director of the Seattle office at Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation.

Haven’t clicked thru to read the article yet? Click here to read it now.

Gray Is The New Black in Scholarly Literature

The Resource Development Committee raised funds to support AAA members and anthropologists in sharing their research faster and more efficiently. With donations for the Gray Literature Portal, AAA has partnered with the Social Science Resource Network (SSRN) to create a new tool – the Anthropology and Archaeology Resource Network (AARN).

What will the Anthropology and Archaeology Resource Network do?

The AARN will give anthropology scholars access to distribute their technical reports, gray literature, preprints, and other scholarly contributions that might not have other outlets to become widely accessible and distributed across disciplines. The goals of the network are to help anthropological ideas and data be widely distributed.

How will it help me?

With AARN, you can create your own account and author page to publish your work – making it free and accessible to everybody. While the research is not peer-reviewed in the traditional sense, at SSRN each work goes through three layers of review to ensure the quality of scholarly discourse, the appropriate classification and the objectives of the specific network are met. Once your work is uploaded and reviewed it receives a digital object identifier (DOI) and a permanent URL for easy reference.

You can also utilize AARN to conduct tailored searches to find what you are looking for swiftly without wading through hundreds of unrelated resources that traditional search tools provide. The cross-discipline tags permit work to be shared in non-traditional; however, relevant fields.

Why Social Science Resource Network to do this?

AAA partnered with SSRN in part because it is the leading digital repository of scholarly work and ranked in the top 10 publications by Google Scholar. As scholars evolve in the digital era, the Resource Development Committee is ensuring that AAA members have the needed tools to successfully share their grey literature in a reputable, open and freely accessible network.

The contract has just been signed this week and AAA members will be able to utilize AARN by this fall. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting open access opportunity in the coming months.

AAA Publishing Program – FAQs

Have you found yourself wondering what steps AAA has taken to facilitate access to its publications, if there’s a plan for the future of the AAA publishing program and how U.S. federal legislation may impact the program? Check out the new Publications Frequently Asked Questions  page on the AAA website.

What steps has the AAA taken to facilitate access to its publications?
While still in the process of examining optimal scenarios for ensuring the broadest possible access to publications and the sustainability of a diverse range of publications, the AAA has already taken the following steps:

  • Sliding scale membership:  Access to AAA’s digital, online literature is available to individuals on a fair and reasonable sliding scale annual fee structure that ranges from $30 to $306 (http://www.aaanet.org/membership/membershipcategories.cfm).
  • Free Access: Access to AAA’s digital, online literature is available free of charge to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, and qualifying institutions from less developed countries (http://www.aaanet.org/issues/AAA-Gives-Back.cfm).  In addition, AAA participates in four philanthropic programs to provide free access to our content in under-resourced countries. These programs are administered by agencies with presence on the ground in these areas, such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the International Council for Science.
  • “Ungating” back issues of journals: Access to back issues of AAA’s journal American Anthropologist (AA) is available free of charge 35 years and longer after publication. That means that in 2012, all back issues of AA are available free of charge from 1888 to 1977; in 2013, the year 1978 will be “ungated.” Sections are encouraged to follow the same plan. To date, three sections have agreed. CFPEP is charged with assessing the success and costs of this arrangement.
  • Anthropology News online is open access for two months before content is gated and archived within AnthroSource.
  • Grey Literature Hub. With funds raised by the AAA Research Development Committee (RDC), AAA endorsed and is working towards the establishment of an “Anthropology” category on the online open access Social Science Research Network (SSRN) for the purpose of disseminating grey literature, anthropological content that is otherwise not available.
  • Author Rights and Permissions: In the author agreement for AAA journals, the author reserves the right (among other rights) to post his/her article on the author’s personal or institutional website, and to post the article on free, discipline-specific public servers. Because of these clauses, AAA’s author agreement is rated green by SHERPA/RoMEO, a project designed to help facilitate green open access.

What is the AAA plan for the future of the publishing program? How does open-access (OA) fit into it?
CFPEP is evaluating alternative publishing models that support broad dissemination of knowledge (including but not limited to open access) while taking into consideration discipline- and subdiscipline-specific concerns, the needs of a diverse anthropological constituency as well as AAA’s  commitment to supporting smaller publications, to ensuring a sustainable publishing program and to the financial viability of the association and its sections. CFPEP’s process includes discussions with sections, members, staff and relevant consultants to develop five– and ten–year plans for the future of AAA’s electronic and print publications. It will make recommendations to the ACC through 2012 and 2013.

For background information, see CFPEP annual reports (http://www.aaanet.org/about/Annual_Reports/committee_reports.cfm; see also http://www.aaanet.org/membership/CFPEP-sectionliaisonreport-Apr2008_appendix.pdf; http://www.aaanet.org/membership/ForFurtherConsiderationCFPEPReport122008.pdf; and Waterston in Anthropology News October 2009: 21).

What is the AAA position on U.S. federal legislation that may have an impact on the publishing program?
The AAA is particularly concerned by any proposed legislation that aims to limit dissemination of research, and that may disproportionately protect private over public interests. At the same time, its role is to be vigilant about the specific needs and interests of our publications program, anthropology as a whole, and individual anthropologist-authors.  Acknowledging the Association’s commitment to “a publications program that disseminates the most current anthropological research, expertise, and interpretation to its members, the discipline, and the broader society,” but also the need for a sustainable publication strategy, and building on the Association’s support for a variety of publishing models, the AAA opposes any Congressional legislation which, if it were enacted, would impose a blanket prohibition against open access publishing policies by all federal agencies.

To whom should I address questions regarding the AAA publications program?
You can contact AAA Director of Publishing Oona Schmid, who will direct you to the right person if she cannot answer your question herself.

What to learn more about the AAA Publishing Program? Click here.

American Anthropological Association Position on Dissemination of Research

The AAA’s role is to be vigilant when it comes to proposed legislation that aims to limit dissemination of research, and that may disproportionately protect private over public interests. At the same time, AAA’s role is to protect the sustainability of our publications program, for anthropology as a whole and for individual authors.  We continue to investigate models that both support broad dissemination of knowledge and a sustainable publishing program.

To this end, the Executive Board has adopted the following motion:

Acknowledging the Association’s commitment to “a publications program that disseminates the most current anthropological research, expertise, and interpretation to its members, the discipline, and the broader society,” but also the need for a sustainable publication strategy, and building on the Association’s support for a variety of publishing models, the AAA opposes any Congressional legislation which, if it were enacted, imposes a blanket prohibition against open access publishing policies by all federal agencies.

Rethinking Peer Review

Running parallel to discussions about toll access vs. open access in academic publishing is a debate about whether it’s time to replace the venerable practice of (mostly anonymous) peer review with something more open, democratic, and dialogical. Web-based publishing software makes this technologically feasible–easy, in fact–and a number of journals are experimenting with it. A fine example of a new journal whose selection process is based on open reviewing is the World Economics Journal. The WEJ‘s description of its reviewing process is a model of clarity. (A hat tip to Rachael Tackett, a student at USF-Tampa, for pointing me toward this example.) As in many such endeavors, though, the proof is in the pudding, and it is by no means clear that such systems are sustainable in practice, especially for journals that receive hundreds of submissions annually.

As we saw in the first discussion of this series, plenty of anthropologists question the wisdom of fiddling with a system of peer review that underlies recognized quality standards, which are of course linked to retention and promotion reviews at academic institutions. But there are other reasons why we might pause before jettisoning peer review in favor of some version of open- or crowd-sourced review. The crucial role of blind reviews in teaching young professionals how to write and argue more effectively has recently been considered by the historian Zachary Schrag in a blog piece worthy of consideration. If you’re in the anthro business long enough, you’re likely to be burned by wrong-headed peer review. But for every instance of negilence, I’m reminded of five in which reviewers and editors provided frank, critical and, above all, useful thoughts about how to strengthen a submission or find it a more appropriate home. How confident are we that such advice would be forthcoming in an open-review system?

Given the nature of the theme, I thought that it would be fun to crowd-source this post. What follows are three observations from members of CFPEP or, in Richard Handler’s case, someone who was recently involved in a CFPEP-sponsored webinar.

From Deborah Nichols, CFPEP chair:  “Nature, among others, conducted an experiment in open review of articles but found that most submissions received no comments or only one. Such an open approach would need to overcome the Lake Woebegon effect with its illusory superiority and the chilling effect of possible recriminations, retaliations, and lawsuits, not unknown in the academy.”

From Oona Schmid, AAA Director of Publishing: “Under the current system (blinded closed pre-publication review) almost all authors who submit relevant work to a journal can anticipate an editorial letter summarizing the comments of several reviewers. However, herding scholars to submit comments can take a long time; and of course these reviewers are uncompensated and don’t get credit for their anonymous contributions. An open system might greatly accelerate the time of publication (possibly reducing as much as 12 months from the process) and of course credits reviewers. I think the tradeoff might be that a large number of worthy ideas might not receive any feedback.  Nature experimented with open review and found that some 11% of the papers received 53% of the comments; 42% received one comment; and 47% received no comment.

From Richard Handler:  “Anthropologists should know that in human life, based as it is in language and culture, there can be no such thing as transparent communication.  Every message, every communication, is culturally and linguistically particular, and ‘thick,’ also.  So the idea that jiggering with the rules of peer-review will lead automatically to greater transparency is misguided.  In a peer-review process, allowing more people to comment, with gate-keeping envisioned in terms of mass society instead of specialized guilds, might lead to some interesting intellectual exchanges.  But it will not yield ‘results’ that are more transparent, more rational, or fairer than the conventional processes by which we currently operate.”

None of these quibbles and objections necessarily preclude experimentation with post-publication crowd-sourcing, although it may take a fair amount of editorial oversight to referee such discussions–yet more work for overworked editors and their staffs (if they have them!).

What do you think?

More on AAA publishing: The matter of costs

Let’s pick up the expanding thread on AAA publishing by considering costs.  Coming up with a single figure for the AAA’s large publication portfolio is frustratingly difficult. There are complications such as sunk costs, various ways of calculating overhead, the complexities of the W-B contract, and the like. I’m an anthropologist, not an accountant, so I’ll stick to basics:

  • Production costs (2010): about $1 million. This includes copy-editing, layout, relevant IT work, printing, mailing of journals and Anthro News, and marketing of journals. Keep in mind that we’re talking about 31 different serials, albeit including a few that aren’t publishing actively at present.
  • Salaries and related overhead, i.e., AAA Publications staff (2010): about $1 million for salaries/benefits/equipment/offices.
  • Editorial offices (2010): about $300,000. In addition there is in-kind support from the journal editors’ home institutions.  Whether cost-conscious universities will continue to provide this level of in-kind support in the future is anyone’s guess.
  • Total annual cost (2010): roughly $2.3 million

At this point, I’ll bet that some readers are thinking: “What’s with this crazy huge budget? With open source software and a digital-only model, using cheap server space for hosting, I could reduce the cost of publishing each AAA journal to a couple of thousand dollars a year.” That was my thought prior to joining CFPEP.

Unfortunately, I’ve since learned that conversion to an OA, digital-only publishing model (i.e., one that abandons paper and toll-collection) doesn’t cut costs as much as one might hope. Sure, you lose the cost of printing, mailing, subscription management. That’s not trivial, but it’s not totally transformative either. It is liberating for new, modest-circulation journals, but more selective, large-circulation ones still cost money to administer and produce, and they are saddled with certain legacy costs (warehousing back issues, etc.) that will take time to wind down.

Skeptics may want to consult the many pro-OA publications that estimate such costs. Here’s one, a 2010 article in ArsTechnica.com, “The Economic Case for Open Access in Academic Publishing.”  Relevant quote: “For example, the estimated first copy costs for Nature and Science are $10,000 to $15,000 [per article], while the first copy costs for highly field-specific, low-selectivity journals is closer to $2,000.” That’s sobering for anthropology because our articles tend to be longer than STEM articles, meaning that they cost even more. Another study computed per page estimates: “Cost per page published in 2007 ranged from $184 to $825 (aver: $526). When the variable costs of print are removed these costs fall to a range from $90 to $652 (aver: $360).” For a dissenting view on costs and related variables, check out this.

Even if one discounts these estimates as inflated–and I find myself doubting the validity of such high figures–it means that the AAA would need to cut costs drastically to shift to OA mode. And with subscription revenues dropping to zero, that means that membership dues, plus the occasional grant, would pay for everything.  In 2010 AAA used $900K of membership dues to cover the costs of the publishing program. If AAA were to eliminate subscriptions, keeping the membership subvention the same, we would need to eliminate $1.4M in costs.  About $500K could be shed to eliminating print copies, but the membership subvention would still need to grow to twice its current size.

Are AAA members prepared to take on that cost?  I have no idea.

That’s not an argument against OA by any means. OA might still be the best alternative, especially given its ethical merits.  Yet it’s important to keep in mind that any proposal for changing the AAA’s publishing model has to contend with unforgiving economic and logistical realities.  The same is true for the status quo, which many feel is unsustainable.  Tough choices all around.

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?


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