AnthroSource sleeps furiously

Savage Minds’ crew has been discussing the future of publishing in the American Anthropological Association recently. Rex Golub compares Open Folklore to AnthroSource:

How has OpenFolklore gotten on the road to success when AnthroSource has fallen so, so far off of it? To be honest, I dont know the answer, but I can make several guesses: the association is much smaller, and probably much less controlled by non-academic executive officers. They probably recognize that they are in it for the love it, and that folklore is always going to be a marginal proposition, budget wise. The result is a small, relatively agile, values-driven group run by academics with their heads screwed on straight and willing to get their hands dirty. On other words, very very different from the AAA.

Christopher Kelty points to correspondence of the committee tasked with the future of publications.

One memo stands out though: the one by Kim Fortun, which she wrote as an advisory member and outgoing co-editor of Cultural Anthropology. [Full disclosure: yours truly and the debates on this site are cited several times within. She sent it to me for review, and I've posted it here with her permission]. Kims memo could be a handbook for understanding the current crisis and politics of scholarly publishing in general, and the promises, fulfilled and unfulfilled, of the AAAs union with Wiley Blackwell, in particular. It is incredibly detailed, well-sourced, well organized and throughtfulfar beyond the call of duty of a memo. I hope all the section assembly advisors get a chance to read it, as well as all the Section Assembly representatives and as much of the membership as possible.

He links directly to the memo (PDF), which is as he says – a document that lays out the current problems with academic publishing as applied to the goals of the AAA.

I don’t understand why AnthroSource had to be so difficult. Any moderately trafficked blog has much more usage than AnthroSource now has. Savage Minds and I together have more than 50 times the AnthroSource usage.

If you make papers open access, you can forget the rigmarole with logging in users, and then all you need is a search function and download links. Heck, I’ve got a bibliography of more than 11,000 papers running on the site now! The back-end could be done on a cloud server for less than $100 a month – maybe a lot less. Same for bandwidth at its present, low level. Replace the dead tree printing of journals and extend open access worldwide, and bandwidth will be higher as will be the journals’ reach.

It takes more to run the journals, handle new submissions, and provide editorial services. Some costs can be reduced by requiring every submission to be e-book-ready, plain HTML with PNG images. “Production” should be proofing and posting. It would have the beneficial effect of making articles automatically accessible for the visually-impaired, through screen-reader software. Marketing the journals as e-book subscriptions could recoup these costs at a much lower price than the current membership model.

It may not be the best solution, but anybody who wants to spend a whole lot more needs to show why the benefits justify the cost.