How Enclosed by Large For-Profit Publishers is the Anthropology Journal Literature?
It is early fall and that means that it is the season for anthropologists to think out loud about the publishing ecology characterizing their field. As American anthropologists await final confirmation that their national association has renewed its publishing agreement with Wiley-Blackwell, the annual conversation has been renewed at Savage Minds [here] and [here] and elsewhere. Anthropologists have been reading and circulating George Monblot’s essay in The Guardian “Academic Publishers Make Murdock Look Like a Socialist” and the essay has, it seems, awoken some new interest in the anthropology publishing debates that have have been ongoing for many years now.
A number of issues are entwined in these conversations.* Gated [toll] access versus open access [in its so-called green and gold forms] is only one of these. Another set of issues has to do with media consolidation [a smaller and smaller number of entities controlling anthropological publishing] and enclosure [private, for-profit firms assuming control over both legacy content and the many public inputs that make anthropological publishing possible]. Another set of issues, linked to these, but somewhat distinct, has to do with the ethics of various publishing regimes. The relationship between changing publication regimes and the financial health of university libraries, universities in general, and the public sector as a whole are also in the mix, as are questions of technological change, changing evaluation schemes for scholars, and the overall state of knowledge production. This note is not about all this important stuff.
How enclosed is anthropological journal publishing? That is my question. A quick answer can be derived in the following way.
The journal rankings developed by Thompson Reuters are little known to many anthropologists but are closely watched by some [especially where they are tied to annual evaluation and tenure and promotion decisions] and are roundly criticized by others. Thompson Reuters, through its Journal Citation Reports database, provides the means by which scholars can compare journals in discrete fields (of which anthropology is one) according to a range of bibliometric data. Among these datapoints is a calculation called “Impact Factor.” (If you are interested in this, you can research it on your own.) Ranking the 75 anthropology journals tracked by Thompson Reuters by Impact Factor is one way to produce a hierarchical list of anthropology journals by significance to the field (many caveats apply). Another way to think about the Thompson Reuters data is to just see their list of 75 journals as a key subgroup of journals in the field. (Many journals are not included, but many of the important ones are.)
I looked tonight at the 75 Journal Citation Report-tracked journals and investigated who publishes them. My primary interest was the split between not-for-profit publishers and for-profit ones. For purposes of this analysis, a journal is coded as a for-profit journal if a for-profit publisher makes a profit from its publication regardless of its official status as an organ of a not-for-profit scholarly society. Thus the for-profit category includes both journals wholly owned by for-profit publishers and those that they are publishing on behalf of other parties (such as the Royal Anthropological Institute vis-a-vis Wiley-Blackwell). Similarly, a journal is counted as a University Press-published journal even if the copyright holder is a scholarly society partner (as is the case with the American Society for Ethnohistory whose journal is published by Duke University Press). The question is thus, what portion of the 75 “ranked” anthropology journals tracked by JCR/Thompson Reuters are published for a profit by commercial publishers? (Alternatively, what portion of these journals are published by not-for-profit organizations?)
As can be seen in Figure 1, 64% of this journal group are published for-profit by private firms. 36% are published without the involvement of for-profit publishers. The five most dominant commercial publishers (Wiley-Blackwell, Elsevier, Sage, Springer, Taylor and Francis) now control or manage slightly less than half of the journal group (49.3%). Through its aggressive efforts at entering into partnerships with scholarly societies in anthropology, Wiley-Blackwell is now the dominant publisher in anthropology, with 20% of the ranked journals held in its portfolio. Given its business model and recent history, it is easy to imagine that Wiley-Blackwell is making, or is likely to be making, compelling arguments to the leadership of the few remaining scholarly society publishers still outside its orbit. Prominent targets on the list of 75 include: American Antiquity (#14) (self-published by the Society for American Archaeology), Human Organization (#44) (self-published by the Society for Applied Anthropology), and Plains Anthropologist (#68) (self-published by the Plains Anthropological Society).
While University Presses remain absolutely essential to the book-publishing work of anthropology, their role as publishers and co-publishers (of journals on the list of 75) is not prominent. (This is largely an artifact of the mechanics of the impact factor tracking process at JCR/Thompson Reuters. Numerous significant journals that are not being tracked are published by University Presses (as well as by other kinds of publishers.) Of the 75 journals being tracked, two are associated with Duke University Press, two are associated with Cambridge University Press, and one each for University of Wisconsin Press, University of Chicago Press, and Wayne State University Press (N=7). Excluding the university press associated titles, twenty other journals are published by different kinds of not-for profit publishers.
A pattern associated with this group relates to journals published by academic departments. Three venerable U.S.-based journals are self-published by academic departments of anthropology–Ethnology (at U Pittsburg), Journal of Anthropological Research (at U New Mexico) and Anthropological Quarterly (at George Washington U). These journals survived the period in which self-publishing was so impossibly difficult and have arrived at the happy place in which they are able to partner with JSTOR and/or ProjectMuse, thereby providing both a not-for-profit digital publications platform and associated revenue streams that can be deployed to support both the journal and local initiatives in these departments.
Another pattern observable in the not-for-profit group is the recent (it seams to me) addition of several journals to the tracked list. A number of Latin American journal titles are now being tracked as part of the 75. These include Mana from Brazil and Intersecciones en Antropologia from Argentina. Even more noteworthy, some of these new Latin American additions to the tracking list are gold open access titles. [Its win-win for anthropologists working in Latin America.]
So, how enclosed by corporate publishers is the journal literature in anthropology? Two thirds closed if you take the whole list into view. If one focuses just on the top ten titles, the field is 80% closed, with just two not-for-profit titles appearing in the top ten. Of these two, only one, the four-field title Current Anthropology, is likely to be considered by social or cultural anthropologists. Because of the different citation practices and journal frameworks found across the subfields, the top of the impact factor list is heavy on biological anthropology relative to social and cultural anthropology.
Recent commentators in the anthropology publishing discussions have wondered whom they should be publishing with in light of their concerns over the state of publishing in the field? If avoiding commercial publishers was a priority but, at the same time, an author wanted to be published in journals being tracked for impact factor, here is the overall not-for-profit journal list. The higher a journal appears on this list, the higher its impact factor as calculated by Thompson Reuters. (Readers should consult the database themselves for the actual ranking of these journals. I do not wish to provide more information here (in front of the Thompson Reuters pay wall) than I may be allowed to provide.)
Journal of Anthropological Sciences
Annual Review of Anthropology
Archarology in Oceania
Comparative Studies in Society and History
Collegium Antropologicum [OA]
Journal of Anthropological Research
Chungara-Revista de Antropologia Chilena
Journal of the Polynesian Society
Australian Aboriginal Studies
Intersecciones en Antropologia [OA]
Mana-Estudos de Antropologia Social [OA]
For social or cultural anthropologists working in English, the not-for-profit list might look something like this: Current Anthropology, Public Culture, Africa, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Anthropological Quarterly, Human Organization, Collegium Antropologicum, Journal of Anthropological Research, Arctic Anthropology, Oceania, Ethnology, Ethnohistory, Anthropos, Plains Anthropologist, and Australian Aboriginal Studies.
I will discuss the implications of corporate publishing’s dominance in the circulation of anthropology’s journal literature later this fall (in connection with some conference presentations and other events). Here I just wanted to get my head around how far the process had proceeded. Using the impact factor-tracked journal list is problematic, I know, but it provides a fixed list not-of-my-own-making and it does represent a population of journals that more and more anthropologists feel pressed to engage with.
[Winking] So…. Wiley-Blackwell, you have much to be proud of, but there is still much work to do. Buying Sage, if this could be arranged, would go a long way not only in anthropology, but in all the social sciences. Down in the trenches, there are still the 27 not-yet-enclosed journals to be gathered up one or two at a time. Hard work, I know. Some, like the gold open access journals from Latin America or Central Europe, may not hold much promise, but there are still a few big fish left in the pond. Current Anthropology will be a tough nut to crack, but American Antiquity (and the unranked Latin American Antiquity) and Human Organization are still on the table! For goodness sake, don’t let Routledge/Taylor and Francis get them! Oh, and what is taking so long with L’Homme? British, American, and French flagships under one digital roof! That would provide the critical mass needed to close the deal with all these strays. (You’ve already gotten the Australians!) Who would want to be left out of one-stop-shopping? Who would want to look that foolish not making a “best practices” decision like partnering with the global leader? We know you can do it! Three cheers for hegemony! [done winking]
* I care about open access issues and I believe open access issues are linked to other questions in the realm of scholarly communications. That said, this post is not about open access and I hope that the fact that I am writing here about the enclosure of one of my two scholarly fields will not necessitate my being taken aside for a scolding about how the profit/not-for-profit status of a publisher is irrelevant to the achievement of green OA. I am support green OA and support institutional and funder mandates for green OA. This is a contribution to a different conversation. No one is obligated to care about the same things that I care about and I reserve the right to care about more than one thing.