No Open Access Today, Anthropology: On the latest AAA-Wiley Announcement

No Open Access Today, Anthropology: On the latest AAA-Wiley Announcement

PUBLISH OPEN ACCESS YOU FOOLS - gandalf run you fools closeup | Meme Generator

Last November, it looked like some good things were on the horizon for Open Access and the American Anthropological Association’s publishing portfolio:

At this morning’s #AAA2021Baltimore roundtable on #OpenAccess publishing at @AmericanAnthro, Director of Publishing Janine McKenna announced plans to transition to #OpenAccess beginning in 2023. AND EVERYONE CHEERED.

— Dr. Z (@leah_zani) November 18, 2021

Everyone cheered, including me. After years of back and forth, it seemed that the AAA was finally going to make the shift to Open Access. But, the cheering didn’t last long. According to the recent announcement from the AAA, the move to open access is going to wait a bit longer (again). Why? Because the association has, once again, decided to continue its partnership with Wiley-Blackwell. Here’s the gist of the announcement:

Wiley will continue to host AAA’s portfolio of 20+ anthropology journals, including American Anthropologist, the association’s flagship publication as well as AnthroSource, AAA’s online portal. AnthroSource is the premier database of full-text anthropology articles, serving the research and teaching needs of scholars and practitioners in the United States and around the world.

You can read the full announcement here. So what happened? How did we go from the everyone cheering moment to “We’re just going to stick with Wiley again”? I have no idea, because none of the decision-making here is very transparent. Yes, as the announcement states, there was a process:

During a year-long process, AAA received input from many sources, including the Publishing Futures Committee and the Executive Board to review the requirements for the new agreement, draft a Request for Proposals (RFP), and identify qualified publishers.

Then what happened? This:

The proposals received were evaluated based on criteria that included their strategic alignment with AAA, the editorial support offered, production resources, publication management, and sales/marketing capabilities.

So they took a year, got input from many sources, including the Publishing Futures Committee and the Executive Board, drafted an RFP for potential publishers, and then evaluated those proposals. The result? According to AAA Executive Director Ed Liebow, “Wiley best aligned with the core values of the AAA’s publishing program – quality, breadth, accessibility, equity, and sustainability.”

It is completely unclear how that decision was actually made. We just get the announcement, months later, with the final decision. There’s a lot I’d like to know here about what happened–and why. What were the options? What looked promising? What were the main roadblocks and challenges? Why was this decision ultimately made, and who made it?

Now, I get that these things are complicated, and they cost money, and they take time. I also understand that making a shift to Open Access is not an easy task. And the AAA announcement does explicitly state that “moving toward more open access content is the long-term goal.” That’s good to hear–although it makes me wonder just how long-term we’re talking about here.

Sure, maybe there were no other options and this was the best one for the time being. Again, this stuff is complicated. I get it. That’s not really the issue. The issue here is more about how the decision-making process works, and how such decisions are actually communicated to AAA membership. The long story short here is that communication and transparency about these publishing decisions have been pretty terrible…but that’s pretty much how things have gone with this conversation for a long, long time.

In 2007, Chris Kelty wrote a post about the AAA’s first deal with Wiley. He had plenty to say about the move, but was still somewhat optimistic:

For my money, this is certainly not the end of the world, and I have faith that the new arrangement will actually improve various things about the AAA’s publishing program. I can honestly say that I support the move, and that I think the AAA did the right thing.

What Kelty called out as problematic was the process itself:

Unfortunately, that’s not the worst (or best) part: the process by which it happened has been demoralizing– more evidence that as a scholarly society the AAA does not see any need to communicate with its membership at large, solicit their input or operate in an even quasi-transparent manner that might send the message that they are doing this for the advancement of anthropology as a discipline and as a field of knowledge.

Just to give you an idea, here’s some of the language from that 2007 announcement (much of which Kelty shared in his post):

The AAA Executive Board’s decision to partner with Wiley-Blackwell was the result of a year-long process, centering on a detailed request for proposals, evaluation of publisher submissions, interviews, and reference checks with other scholarly societies. The request for proposals was developed with input from journal editors, authors and members who had communicated their concerns to AAA’s Executive Board, Committee on Scientific Communication, Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing, and staff over the past four years. The RFP was sent to nine publishers. Six responded with proposals, and five were interviewed.

Sound familiar? The year long process, the request for proposals, the input from boards and committees, etc., and then the final decision…with little explanation or communication about how and why that decision was made. That was 15 years ago, and much of the language sounds almost identical. Not much has changed. And so, here we are, in 2022, with another five year contract with Wiley, some promises about making Open Access the long-term goal, and the same old demoralizing process. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not cheering now. Before we can finally clear the way for Open Access, some things need to change in the decision-making, transparency, and communication departments. That would be a good start.

One Reply to “No Open Access Today, Anthropology: On the latest AAA-Wiley Announcement”

  1. Ryan,
    In addition to the AAA’s lack of transparency regarding its new contract with Wiley, there are several other issues (ones you’ve discussed in earlier posts):

    Money. Who pays what to whom and how much? A non-member who wants a pdf of an article must pony up $42; that does mount up if one is assembling a set of references. Does AAA pay Wiley for the privilege of turning its content over for them to profit from? Does Wiley compensate AAA for the hundreds of articles it receives and then sells? “Follow the money” is a good maxim to follow here.
    Exposure. With such a diversity of topics covered in the AAA stable of some thirty journals, one might hope for a wide readership, much of it non-anthropologists. That is sorely limited by the Wiley paywall. The 10,000 members claimed by the AAA don’t generate much exposure for an article – the impact factor of the Amer. Anthro. is an anemic 1.6. Not encouraging, given that the Amer. Sociological Review has an impact factor of 6.4, the Amer Psychologist 10.9, the Journal of Political Economy 9.1. Even a specialist journal of the AAA, Cultural Anthropology, matches the “flagship” journal’s 1.6. (Will the AAA ever retire that tired imperialist metaphor?) A crucial point – Cult. Anthro. is Open Access.
    Open Access. Why did the AAA elect to go with Wiley again when an alternative is readily available? The Open Journals System is fully Open Access and publishes some 1,000 journals. I think Cult. Anthro. publishes through them. Why not jettison the Wiley paywall?
    Open Access / Open Comment. Even Open Access stops short of what is necessary for scholarly exchange and debate. Every journal should welcome and encourage Open Comment for its articles – isn’t that what the intellectual life is about? Sadly, even as a few editors congratulate themselves on going Open Access, they are unwilling to Open things up for comment.
    Sadly, I don’t think we can look forward to that happening anytime soon.