Transcript of the March 20 Live Discussion on Open Access

On March 20, 2013, Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) president Brad Weiss, as well as Cultural Anthropology coeditor Charlie Piot and managing editor Ali Kenner, participated in a live chat about the journal's move to open access, which was hosted in the Comments section of a post on the Society's website. What follows are the questions submitted by chat participants and the responses from Weiss, Piot, and Kenner.

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Sam Grace: Many of the goals of open access seem to be shared with anarchist/pirates-with-a-heart-of-gold groups like What lessons can open-access journals take from those models’ success (and failures)?

Brad Weiss: Advocates for open access have lots of diverse goals and motivations, and I’m sure some of them are widely shared with social and political movements like these. But I think there are at least some differences between open access and a project like Journals and books are not exactly the same thing, and for now at least a lot of university presses that are nonprofit need to recoup some of the costs of publishing. For-profit presses that market scholarly journals really do not make the substantive contributions to the content they market in the ways that university presses (and even commercial presses) do for books.

For example: the SCA has a board that selects editors, who read all of the work that is submitted and recruit readers to peer-review these submissions for publication. None of these parties—board, editors, authors, reviewers—is paid anything for this effort, it’s all professional service/unpaid labor. In effect, for-profit presses are charging our home institutions/universities twice: for the work that producers do to create the journal content and for the attachment that consumers have to this content, which drives revenue-producing subscriptions. For me, this makes the political economy of journals much more straightforward to reform than that of university press books. Even as I’m sympathetic to projects like, I think there is a way in which it didn’t recognize that the labor required for book production is not identical to the way scholarly journals work.

That said, I hope the success of open access in journals can provide a model for all of publishing that may lead the way toward much wider access to all of scholarship: who doesn’t want that?

Fayana Richards: What were some of the barriers/obstacles experienced around preparing to make the move towards open access? Any tips for journals interested in making a similar move?

Brad Weiss: The biggest obstacle we faced was the American Anthropological Association (AAA) contract with Wiley-Blackwell, which would not let us go open access. Last summer, the AAA Publications Office agreed to allow one journal to go open access, and the SCA decided the timing was right for us to pursue this option. If you're a AAA journal, there's no way to go open access now. But do lobby the AAA and your section so that when the next publishing contract starts in 2018, open access will be an option for the journals that want it.

Sam Grace: There seems to be concern that Cultural Anthropology doesn’t have a viable plan for a business model for going open access: can you offer any assurances?

Brad Weiss: Good question! Yes, these concerns have been raised, and yes, we can offer some assurances. The first thing to note is that open access does not mean free; funding will certainly be an issue. I’m not sure this kind of chat is the best place to discuss the financial profile of the SCA, but here are some important considerations.

  1. The SCA has lot of reserves at the moment. Not an indefinite amount, of course, but enough to buffer any costs we might have associated with going open access. Even if we make no royalty for the next two to three years of the WIley-Blackwell contract (and that seems unlikely), our fund balance can absorb any loss.
  2. We have invested heavily in our website and web support in the last few years, so that the entire submission and review process is fully automated and controllable by us, and the new website provides a platform on which to release the content of Cultural Anthropology. So we have largely already paid for the infrastructure we'll need to get this going. The AAA was going to charge us for making PDFs and converting XML files for AnthroSource, but we persuaded them that we would provide a model for how publication will develop going forward and so they will pay those (modest) costs.
  3. We've gotten an agreement from the AAA to let us pursue grants to develop open access, and lots of libraries are interested in partnering with us to do that. A great many libraries are also interested in partnering with us to host the journal and its archives and to provide the kinds of web services we’ll need in the long term at very reasonable costs.
  4. All of these are short-term measures. But, in the long term, we are confident (cautiously, but confident nonetheless) that our annual dues will go an enormous way toward supporting our journal and the other programs the SCA offers. We are the biggest AAA section and our dues, for the last several years, have in effect matched our production costs. Currently our best bet, and a realistic one, is that our membership dues will allow us to continue to publish with no decline in quality, no cutting corners, etc. We may have to raise dues slightly, but we do not think we need to; we are considering a small submission fee for non-SCA members, but we definitely do not want to do this. Finally, we are considering offering a print-on-demand version of the journal that could generate a little revenue and might also be a way to attract a bit more advertising. For now, none of these additional revenues is necessary, but they are all being considered.

Tim Elfenbein: Can you give more details about the production of Cultural Anthropology in its open-access version? Is it correct that you will be using the Open Journal Systems platform? What costs and labor is associated with transitioning to this system? What kind of partnership do you have with the Duke Libraries, or with others? Will the journal have a professional staff, or will it rely more on student labor? What kind of license agreements will Cultural Anthropology articles use? Details, we need details!

Ali Kenner: We will be using OJS for review (as we have been) and production as we move forward. In some ways the production costs are going to go down, but in other ways they're going to go up or maybe just shift. Specifically, the managing editor (myself) will have to take on the production labor that was currently provided by Wiley-Blackwell.

Duke Library is ready to partner with us.

The journal is going to continue to have a managing editor and a copyeditor. Students mainly head up initiatives and publishing on the website, but won't be involved in the production of the journal itself: this has always been the case.

As for the license agreements, totally up for discussion still. We have a task force that will be meeting to discuss and flesh out these details. We'd love input from the community on this stuff.

Stratos Nanoglou: Do you think that the move to open access will affect the authority of the journal? Related to that: what are your plans for the printed journal? Will you continue to publish that and will you keep the same format for both printed and online journal?

Brad Weiss: We are completely committed to maintaining the identical editorial standards we have now. That will not change in the least. We anticipate that more authors than currently know about Cultural Anthropology may be attracted to us and so the quality of submissions we receive may change in a positive way. In any event, the review process and the input of the editors to the publication process will be the same. Open access does not mean everything that is submitted is published!

As for the printed journal, we are looking into ways to provide a print-on-demand option at a modest cost for readers who would like a print copy. We don't know yet how that will be implemented, but the print version should cover what is available online.

Jonah S. Rubin: While there is much excitement at the announcement, several people on Twitter also expressed concern that going open access may negatively impact the journal's prestige. Could you speak to the ways open access might change the reputation of the journal, for better and for worse?

Charlie Piot: I don't see open access affecting Cultural Anthropology's prestige/reputation. Indeed, I imagine it augmenting our reputation. The editorial and review process will remain the same; we'll continue to publish the same number of articles a year. And we'll likely have a print-on-demand option for those who still want to receive hard copies.

Leslie Aiello: Is Wiley-Blackwell still involved at all. or does open access mean that Cultural Anthropology will be published now entirely through the AAA?

Brad Weiss: We are still required to keep AnthroSource (the product that Wiley-Blackwell sells to its subscribers) whole, which means that all of our content has to be available to Wiley-Blackwell once we've posted it. However, Wiley-Blackwell will not provide us with any services; we will draw a royalty based on the number of downloads we receive from readers who use AnthroSource.

Darren Byler: Do you see this move to open access as a switch from a traditional journal publishing format to the creation of an article repository? Will the primary goal remain publishing new content or does this mark a shift in focus? In what ways do you envision open access transforming Cultural Anthropology as an archive?

Charles Piot: Aside from financing, the main change will be the move from print to virtual. We'll maintain our own article repository, partnering with Duke library. We don't anticipate a shift in focus or a shift in content. Although publishing online opens up opportunities unavailable in print, like publishing more images, links to the web, etc.

Brad Weiss: One thing that we are thinking about as well is how to make the articles more interactive as they are posted. So going open access could allow us to have links to virtual conversations that address the articles, photo essays, etc. that we publish. But the focus of Cultural Anthropology will remain the same.

Carole McGranahan: Where do you anticipate that the publisher-side breakthrough in open access will come from? In terms of the AAA, the discussion often seems to be posed as an issue with Wiley-Blackwell, but my sense is that many (most?) of the journals published by university presses are also still subscription-only pay models. Is there a movement afoot among university presses to go open access that is not shared by for-profit publishers, or is a for-profit vs. university press sort of conversation not useful here?

Charlie Piot: Great question, and not sure of the answer. I do think that university presses might be squeezed by the move to open access: for example, Duke University Press pays for its books through its journal subscriptions. But universities who now pay commercial presses (like Wiley-Blackwell) will have money freed up to support their own presses, so that might be an avenue to explore.

Jason Jackson: When we speak of keeping Cultural Anthropology "whole" in AnthroSource, this is shorthand (am I right?) for fully present both in AnthroSource (the AAA-branded platform mainly used by members) and Wiley Online Library, the broader (more powerful) platform subscribed to (in many ways) by libraries (more often, I think, than actual institutional AnthroSource subscriptions)? Related too (I suspect) is keeping it whole in other fee-for-access services such as JSTOR. While mainly technical and business issues, these ongoing presences are also relevant to those interested in the status/reputation issues.

Brad Weiss: Yes, I believe keeping AnthroSource whole means keeping Wiley Online whole. There is a product Wiley sells, and we do and must continue to provide it; that was the deal we agreed to that allows us to go open access. The same is true for JSTOR. But we also got an agreement that says we can make the most recent ten years of Cultural Anthropology open, as well. Again, subscribers can use JSTOR, or they can get the journal via the open portals we will be using. This holds for the remainder of the AAA's contract with Wiley-Blackwell, through 2017.

Michal Ran-Rubin: I am interested in whether you have advice for smaller sections (e.g., sections with fewer members and funds on hand) who might want to go open access? Is there a way to be open access if you don't have the kind of large membership that the SCA has?

Brad Weiss: For now, there is no way for a smaller section or any other AAA section to go open access. But we at the SCA are hoping to develop software, platforms, etc. that we can share with smaller sections, so that open access will be a viable option for all of the AAA in the future. And the AAA is supporting our initiative because they want to see if open access can be a viable option for other sections after the Wiley-Blackwell contract is up.

Ali Kenner: Thanks everyone for an awesome conversation! We're going to sign off now, but please keep the questions and comments coming.