(cross posted from Savage Minds )
While the news has not been made official yet, many of us have already heard unofficially that AnthroSource is dropping its contract with University of California Press and moving to Wiley-Blackwell. We don’t know much about the deal so far, but at this point a couple of obvious things jump out that are worth mentioning.
First, the University of California press was very author-friendly and interested in exploring new forms of digital scholarship, including ones that attempted to innovate traditional publishing business models. Wiley-Blackwell, on the other hand, is a newly-minted merger of Wiley and Blackwell in which Wiley acquired Blackwell for 572 million pounds, and altogether the new company will publish over one thousand journals. Compared to the UC’s relatively modest journals program, Wiley-Blackwell is clearly ‘big content’ with a capital ‘C’. Library groups opposed the merger writing letters to the Department of Justice and European Commission.
The original goal of AnthroSource was to do something new and innovative—to find a way to transform a scholarly publishing program. While everyone wanted the AAA’s publishing program to be sustainable they wanted to try new ways of achieving this goal, and this was a goal that the University of California Press was interested in exploring with us. The move to Wiley-Blackwell, then, signals that the AAA has given up this goal and decided instead to get into the business of digital publishing in a very traditional model. It marks, as one commenter put it in a private email, “This is not only a sad day for scholarly publishing, but a sad commentary on the state of scholarly publishing. By going with Wiley-Blackwell, AnthroSource is destined to be just another electronic journal package, and anthropological scholarship will be no more accessible than during the print era, locked behind closed silos.”
Overall, then, it appears that publishing in anthropology is polarizing into large organizations interested in enforcing scarcity in the digital space and smaller groups trying to find ways to allow scholarship to flourish under the new circumstances that it finds itself. It is a bit sad to find that, as the middle drops out of this field, the AAA has chosen to ally itself with Big Content in this regard.
The other major impact of this decision has to do with the internal structure of the AAA itself. The creation of AnthroSource problematized the relationship between individual sections (who actually produce journals), AAA leadership (who theoretically are supposed to be in charge) and AAA staff (who actually are in charge). This was natural—change means rethinking existing arrangements. The move to Wiley-Blackwell, however, might aggravate the tension between these three parties. In the past, political issues in the AAA and the AAA budget were (relatively) separate—issues of anthropological involvement in military intelligence, the ethics of Napoleon Chagnon’s fieldwork, and so forth were important issues that could be dealt with by the sections and leadership while the staff, essentially unsupervised, kept the budget limping along. The politics of publishing, on the other hand, connect anthropological ethics with our association’s budget in a way that inescapably focuses attention on the previously-unthematized role of staff in running the AAA. My fear is that section are, frankly, facing taxation without representation—their bottom line is being affected by decisions into which they have little input.
It will probably be some time before we see any concrete changes in AnthroSource based on this switch. But when we do some of the main issues to track will be:
*Will the AAA publishing program manage to break even? If so, at what price?
*What will happen with the current AAA author’s agreement? The AnthroSource Steering Committee worked hard to create an author’s agreement that preserved the author’s right to archive their work. If we see this agreement change, then I think we should all really start panicking.
*Will sections be able to participate in decisions that affect them? Will smaller journals continue to flourish?
As the AAAs in DC approach, we’ll be talking more about these issues. Personally, I am increasingly happy with the idea of avoiding publishing in AAA journals at all. If it were not for the realities of tenure and my attachment to all of the people in sections who are working so hard to keep their journals afloat and publishing high quality work, I’d be happy to opt out of any involvement in AAA journals whatsoever.