Questions on AAAs next publishing program

On November 17, 2015 by Alberto


You may have heard that the AAA’s publishing contract with Wiley-Blackwell’s is coming to an end in 2017. The AAA is preparing the terms of a new publishing contract and to such an effect will be issuing a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) that will guide publishers as to the needs and expectations of the association. You can find more on the RFP here.

During the AAA meeting in Denver (this week!) consultants Kaufman Wills Fusting will be conducting a series of interviews and focus groups on behalf of the AAA to help prepare the RFP. These will be conducted by Cara Kaufman and Fred Fusting.

Perhaps you have been invited to one such interview or focus group. Such a consultation is no doubt great news. However, not everybody is conversant about the stakes of the publishing world today. So I have outlined below some of the issues that I think should be brought to the attention of the consultants and the AAA Executive more amply.

The following points bring to the fore the question of Open Access. Some people, and I include myself among them, think this is the right time for the AAA to migrate to an Open Access future.

However, you do not need to be an Open Access advocate or even understand the intricacies of the publishing world to grasp why bringing questions of transparency and accountability to the fore are important. So please take a look at the following and feel free to borrow as you see fit:

1. Transparency: Whether Open Access or not, it is crucial that the new publishing deal responds to criteria of transparency, ensuring that the financial terms of the contract are fully and publicly disclosed, including how much libraries or other supporting institutions pay in.

There is also no reason why the agreement should not disclose the production costs associated to publishing (copy editing, typesetting, indexing and metadata, archiving, development of impact and alt-metrics, etc.) a well as the payment streams that go into cross-subsidizing other AAA business operations.

Only on the basis of this information we’ll be able to understand the AAAs ecology of publishing, and indeed perhaps help out in modeling a transition to Open Access in the future. We should all demand that “transparency” be right at the top of the list of priorities of the new deal.

2. Double dipping: Gold OA requires authors to pays APCs in the order of $3000 to unlock full access to their articles. Insofar as institutions and libraries have already had to pay subscription fees to access content, the further payment of APCs constitutes a sort of “double dipping” in access fees.

Does the AAA have an estimate of how much its members have had to pay in “double dipping” APCs to liberate content to their own articles? Does the RFP contemplate factoring “double dipping” costs as part of the total costs of OA?

3. Offsetting arrangements: To prevent “double dipping” expenses by authors and their institutions, some publishers are signing “offsetting arrangements” with libraries, whereby institutions are liberated of having to pay APC’s if their faculty publish in one of the journals in the portfolio.

Would there be scope within the RFP to demand an offsetting arrangement for AAA members who publish in the AAA portfolio?

4. What the RFP may or may not accommodate: A recent piece in Cultural Anthropology and HAU describes a proposal to have the AAA portfolio modeled on an OA publishing cooperative. If a proposal were indeed to come up that was premised on providing the same revenue levels for publishing and related activities while increasing quality, control, and transparency, yet it required the AAA to join an on-going effort for mapping out and building such a cooperative (in partnership with other learned societies, journals, libraries, funders, digital infrastructure providers) – if such a proposal were to come up, how would the RFP accommodate it?

In other words, is there room in the RFP to accommodate a proposal that enlists the AAA as a stakeholder (in a cooperative project) rather than a patron (in a commercial relationship)?

5. Data and revenue: The cooperative proposal suggests that it would be able to guarantee the same stream of revenues that Wiley-Blackwell’s guarantees today for the AAA today. To guarantee such level of revenues, however, the cooperative (of which the AAA – remember – would be a stakeholder) would need to have access to revenue data as well as other type of data (cross-subsidies, library subscriptions, production costs, etc.). Would there be scope within the RFP to obtain such data?

Offsetting arrangements and double dipping are examples of the hidden costs of Open Access. It is important that the RFP helps make these visible. A cooperative proposal, for example, would make all such costs visible de facto and de jure.

I hope you have found some of the above of use – and see you in Denver!!

One Response to “Questions on AAAs next publishing program”

  • Excellent suggestions Alberto. Unfortunately, I won’t be at the meeting to participate in these discussions. If I were, I would also ask the consultants about two additional points:

    (6) Usage Data: We should be asking for much more robust and timely readership and usage data, in addition to the revenue and cost numbers you mention. Currently, Wiley sends each journal a short report with a couple of bar and pie charts once a year, six months into the next year. This provides very little illuminating or actionable information for the journals. One of the hidden benefits of publishing Cultural Anthropology on its own website is that the editors have access to constantly updated raw data and analytics, which enabled them to closely track the dissemination of different types of content. This data is what the SCA is relying on to determine the effects of CA’s move to open access. The AAA should be asking our future publishing partner to provide quarterly reports (within a month of the end of the quarter) with some basic analysis along with raw data for our own analysis. Even better: access to the realtime analytics dashboards the publishers themselves use.

    (7) Data and Document Portability: There are lots of overlooked costs in moving from one publisher or publishing system to another. These will be as big an impediment to shifting the AAA publishing program in a different direction as covering the costs of an established publishing operation. Shifting publisher systems requires much more than uploading a pile of PDFs into a new platform. We should be asking publishing about standardized XML data and document files, and thinking about the labor-intensive efforts of updating metadata in many different infrastructure systems. Cultural Anthropology is still working on getting its back issues into its own system, in part because this is much more laborious and technically challenging than imaged. Having to deal with Wiley’s custom XML DTD hasn’t helped.

    I realize that this is diving pretty deep into the minutia but these are among the issues that the AAA (leadership, staff, members) need to start talking about before it starts negotiating with potential publishing partners.

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