January 21, 2006
AAA: sections & publications
This is Dan Segal, posting as a guest here on John Norvell's blog. This is a response to the discussion of section finances and AAA publishing on Savage Minds:
I will try to briefly convey my understanding of the finances of AAA journals and AAA sections with journals, based on my experiences as a former editor of a Section journal (Cultural Anthropology), a past Section president (of SCA), and as the current convener of the AAA Section Assembly.
First, let me note that one thing that makes it difficult to assess the financial well-being of journals per se is that such Sections have at least two primary sources of income: (i) institutional subscriptions to their journal and (ii) membership dues. Without question, the income from institutional subscriptions is journal-derived. The difficulty is that income from membership dues to some extent results because scholars want to receive the journal (since the journal is a benefit of Section membership); even if the journal is not the sole reason, someone joins a Section, it is part of why members are willing to pay higher membership dues, for instance. Yet there is no way to know what proportion of income from Section dues should be treated as “journal-derived.” Economists typically try to model such things, but anthropologists should know better. What the AAA does, in its book-keeping, is count income from Section dues as external to the finances of each Section journal. Given this, it often appears as if Section journals are running at a deficit, but this is because they depend on funds that are from Section dues that are not counted as “journal income.” That is nothing more than an accounting artifact. It is not a real deficit. The real issue is when a Section runs at a deficit, particularly if it does so for several years.
In terms of increased costs, it is the case that electronic publishing of current and back issues of Section journals in AnthroSource has involved significant one-time costs (though these are lower than they would have been had the AAA not had support from Mellon). However, the expectation is that as AnthroSource revenues increase in the next few years, these one-time costs will be “paid back” by the new income from AnthroSource. Thus, the primary problem produced by the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource is one of financing a transition. This has been a problem for a small number of Sections.
However, in terms of recurring or operating costs, my understanding is that the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource has not involved a significant increase in expenses for journals. What must be clarified, however, is that before the time of AnthroSource, the AAA itself produced the Section journals, and Sections were then charged by the AAA for this work. But at the same time as the advent of AnthroSource, journal production was also outsourced to UC Press. This outsourcing is coincident with but distinct from AnthroSource, and it involved a change in accounting procedures, but not, as best I can tell, any material increase in costs to Sections for producing their journals. Indeed, the argument for outsourcing was that the costs of producing journals were increasing, particularly when production was done on a relatively small scale (as was the case within the AAA); and furthermore, that the most likely route to controlling cost increases was through the economies of scale that could be attained through outsourcing AAA journals to a bigger operation (e.g., a major university press). When all is said and done, of course, it is very hard to compare the actual rate of increases in production costs that have occurred since the outsourcing of the journals with the hypothetical rate of increases in production costs that would have been incurred, had the AAA continued to produce its journals internally. Nonetheless, I do not think there is evidence that the outsourcing to UC Press has backfired and produced higher costs than we would have otherwise had, and I myself lean toward the view that outsourcing to UC Press has been more beneficial, financially, than not having done so. Moreover, one of the hoped for benefits of outsourcing was better marketing to institutions, as well as cost control through economies of scale. Here too, I lean in favor of the argument for having outsourced, in terms of finances at least.
So far, what I have said should be taken to convey that neither the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource nor the coincident but distinct outsourcing to UC Press have been a source of significant financial difficulty to Sections or Section journals.
But there is in my view another dimension to or aspect of AnthroSource, which has been much less recognized and which is potentially a very serious threat to the financial stability of the Sections and indeed to the AAA as a whole.
In addition to outsourcing to UC Press, and in addition to electronic publishing, a third aspect of the recent transition was the decision to market the journals in AnthroSource as a bundle, rather than market electronic access to each journal on an “a la carte” basis. The key fact here is that all AAA members now get electronic access to all Section journals in AnthroSource, without paying dues to all those Sections. Recall moreover that a major component of Section income is Section dues, which to some unknown extent is motivated by the benefit of receiving a subscription to a Section’s journal. Surely it is plausible that if AAA members get AnthroSource, and thus electronic access to all of the journals, that some AAA members will henceforth be less likely to join Sections that they joined in the past or would have joined without the bundling of journals in AnthroSource. So the real threat to Section finances is not the cost of electronic publishing in my view, but the loss of Section dues income because of the bundling of journals in AnthroSource.
Now, AAA rules do require that each AAA member join one Section, so what is threatened by the bundling of journals in AnthroSource (note, not by the electronic AnthroSource per se, but by the bundling aspect of AnthroSource) is membership in second and third and fourth Sections. The AAA has statistics which show how many Sections AAA members belong to on average (and the degrees of overlap in or correlation in membership between Sections), and these stats do indicate that many Sections will have problems if AAA members exhibit a decreased propensity to join more than one Section.
Finally, two further aspects of this are worth noting.
First, if a Section loses members and thus dues revenues, because their journal(s) are now bundled in AnthroSource, then that Section will thereafter not have sufficient funds to produce its journal, and if the journal declines or even ceases to publish, then the value of AnthroSource will also decrease—and AAA will be less successful in marketing AnthroSource. Thus, AAA as a whole has a vital interest in insuring that the emerging revenue stream from AnthroSource be distributed in a manner that supports Sections that publish journals that are in AnthroSource. But there is a genuinely tough politics in just how this should be done. Here’s why:
The costs of electronic publishing of a standardized page of a journal is the same for all Sections, and this would argue for a flat revenue distribution scheme: each journal would get revenue proportionate to the number of standardized pages it publishes. But on the other hand, journals with higher citation rates and so on are adding more value to AnthroSource than journals with lower citation rates and so on—specifically in terms of driving institutional subscriptions to AnthroSource. So from this perspective, there is an argument that revenues should be distributed by a formula that is weighted for “value added to AnthroSource.” Thus, there is a nontrivial difference in the material interests of different Sections, and the AAA and its Sections need to deal with that difference through an open and deliberative process.
Second, the current structure insulates and treats uniquely better one AAA journal, above all others. All AAA members receive AA and AA gets revenues from AAA dues. AA is not published by a Section that has to get people to join AFTER paying the AAA dues. And yet, now that AnthroSource, with its bundle of journals, is a benefit of AAA membership, part of the very value of AAA membership is electronic access to Section journals—and in that sense, the Sections are contributing in a major way to the value of AAA membership, and thus driving AAA income, even though the Sections and their journals (unlike AA) do not get any income from AAA membership dues. Thus, in a nontrivial sense, the Sections that produce journals are to some extent subsidizing AA, at the expense of support for their own journals. (To be fair about this, it is important to note that the Sections do get services from AAA that are probably not fully charged to the Sections, but this was true before the transition to AnthroSource, with its bundling of journals, so the point remains that with the advent of the “bundling” of journals, the Sections are newly contributing to the worth of AAA membership, and to the support of AA, and not getting comparable new revenues from AAA membership dues.)
For me, two points unfold from this second observation. First, the Section journals are disadvantaged by the AAA relative to the AA. And I myself do not see why the AAA as an organization should operate to treat AA (and the distinctive flavor of “general” anthropology it offers) as more important than the Section journals (with their equally distinctive flavors of anthropologies). Second, the future of the Sections may require some revenue sharing from AAA dues, as well as revenue sharing from AnthroSource income.
In conclusion, AnthroSource, because of its bundling of electronic access to journals, does pose a significant unknown problem to the finances of Sections that produce journals. Solving that problem involves a difficult political choice about the principles that will be used for distributing AnthroSource income and possible AAA membership dues derived income. A second difficult political decision is whether the AAA should continue to privilege AA, and in effect use revenues fueled by Section journals to subsidize AA.
Posted by dan at January 21, 2006 2:18 PM
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There's a response from Chris Kelty here, and a bit more discussion.
(No trackback was sent to here, so...I'm just saying.)
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