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42 Cents? Really?

When Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Education published an article about Museum Anthropology Review (MAR) on February 28, 2008 he cited roughly the same costs comparison that Alex (Rex) Golub has  noted in his September 2, 2010 Savage Minds post. At least a few commentators on the IHE story in 2008 questioned the validity of the ridiculous figure that was being attributed to (and by) me as the (then) cost of publishing MAR.  I should have explained it then but Golub has given me a second chance. (thanks!)  Here goes as quickly as I am able.

As I noted in discussing Bill Davis’ recent post, most journals edited by employed scholars benefit from some kind of subsidies. Usually a rich and diverse array of subsidies. As with my earlier editing of Museum Anthropology, Museum Anthropology Review has benefited in a variety of ways from my being employed at Indiana University Bloomington. As things stand in 2010, the most important subsidy for the journal is the remarkable-super-awesome support provided to the journal by the Indiana University Blooming Libraries (and Librarians!) through the IUScholarWorks program.  The IUB Libraries are now MAR‘s publisher. They make this possible with the use of an amazing open source software program called Open Journal Systems (it does editorial work flow and publishing) and, very importantly, significant (but not insane) amounts of technical (and librarian-skills) support.  Set this wonderful background aside because it is not relevant to the source of the 42 cent thing.

It was the launch of the OJS-based, IUB Libraries-published instance of MAR that the IHE story was profiling/discussing. In other words, that story was about the version of MAR that exists today. In the IHE story I was quoted (accurately) as saying I spent “about $20” last year to publish a journal reaching many more people [than were being reached by Museum Anthropology].  What this meant literally, was that I spent about $20 out of my own pocket in 2007 to publish the content issued during 2007. This was the first year of a thing in the world called Museum Anthropology Review. What were the these costs?  I would have to take more time than I have now to figure out what went into the $20 figure, but I think that it was only a single expense (getting an ISSN is free, btw).  It was to purchase the domain name http://museumanthropology.net and to map it onto the free WordPress.com site that was used to get MAR up and running on the cheap.

That was it.  All other costs came were Indiana University Bloomington supports (thanks IU!).  For doubts and grouchiness as well as a fruitful discussion from IHE commentators on the economics of open access see most of the 19 comments that appeared in the wake of the IHE story. All I want to say about these comments now is that I never tried to suggest that the total cost of publishing a gold OA journal was $20 per year. I think that I have been completely obsessive about endlessly flagging for notice the important subsidies that host institutions provide to the publishing processes as hosts to academic editors. I discussed this issue in AAA editors meetings and I have spoken and written of them often. It is why I try to say thank you to the IUB Library staff at least once a week. (thank you!)  Put most simply in the MAR case, for the period from 2007 to 2010, those (library, department, college) subsidies (combined with a free blogging platform in 2007 and an open source software program in 2008-2010) were (together with the generous help of an authorial and peer-review community and a great editorial board) all that was required to publish MAR. It is likely that MAR‘s subsidy model will change and new partners will be hopefully be recruited in consortial fashion to help extend and expand the work we are doing, but what we have now is very stable and (I think) very successful. The IUScholarWorks team and I have plans to do a careful cost analysis of how much it costs to make MAR happen but it is undeniable that the costs are many orders of magnitude less than any current AAA publication. And they are being willingly taken up by the best research library in the United States. Why? Because the system we have known is broken and the librarians at IU want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Oh yeah. And the journal is freely available to rich and poor.

To finish this up.  Golub is citing, for his MAR cost information, not the IHE story but the paper that I gave at a conference on circulation (ie. The Form of Value in Globalized Traditions) at the Ohio State University that was organized by Dorothy Noyes and Charles Briggs (thanks go to my hosts). This paper [Our Circulatory System (or Folklore Studies Publishing in the Era of Open Access, Corporate Enclosure and the Transformation of Scholarly Societies] was circulated via my website. The per page cost figure ($202) that I cited there for Museum Anthropology were my own estimates of the per page costs during the time of the publishing contract with the University of California Press. (Insert expression of deep appreciation to the nice people at UC Press Journals here.) Those figures were available to me as editor and were not covered by a confidentiality agreement (as my time as a Wiley editor is). At the time from which they come, everyone in the AAA was doing everything possible to make sense of the costs associated with AAA journal publishing because these costs were being paid directly by individual publishing sections.  The Council for Museum Anthropology had charged me with figuring out how to make Museum Anthropology work or to prepare for what to do when it died a financial death.

The paragraph in which I cite the $202 per page cost and the loss figure of $79 per page for Museum Anthropology was followed by the paragraph where I mention the 42 cents per article cost for Museum Anthropology Review. Unlike now, MAR did not (in its 2007 WordPress guise) have pages. It just had digital “entries” or (blog posts). This cost was (roughly, if memory serves) calculated by dividing the $20 out of pocket cost by the number of items (versus pages)  published that year at the time I made these calculations.  The more one published, the lower the per item cost would be.  I acknowledge that this has a rhetorical dimension, but that does not change the facts of the matter.  MAR reached and reaches a vast number of people and costs very little.  While MAR matured from its WordPress format (see the legacy site here) to the use of grown up, full-functioned Open Journal Systems, the WordPress version of MAR inspired Trickster Press (for instance) to shift publication of Folklore Forum to a similar WordPress arrangement.  This costs nothing and allows for the publication of color images, video, audio, conference posters, etc.–lots of good stuff.  Like MAR version 1.0 Folklore Forum content is preserved reliably in library approved ways in IUScholarWorks Repository (which uses DSpace and is fully compatible with Google Scholar).

This post is not intended as a complete unpacking of the history of Museum Anthropology Review.  That can come later.  I hope that it does explain the cost structure of the journal and contextualize the $20 or 42 cent business.

For those following the AAA story line, I will say one more thing.  Museum Anthropology Review is many things.  One of these is a purposeful experiment designed to generate reliable research findings on the viability of gold open access publishing in anthropology and neighboring fields.  It is not rocket science to see that it is structured to provide a very easy to grasp comparison with Museum Anthropology. (I did all that I could to succeed with Museum Anthropology and I am doing all that I can to succeed with MAR. The natural experiment aspect was highlighted in the IHE story.) MAR was founded with the blessing of the Council for Museum Anthropology as a possible successor to Museum Anthropology had that journal died during the section/cost crisis that preceded the Wiley partnership.

The deal with Wiley meant that Museum Anthropology would not end and, for the time being, it would continue as it had been. As a person who gave a vast amount to save that journal, I am glad that it still exists. My happiness in this is greatly reduced though knowing what I sacrificed to my Dean and others in order to gather additional subsidies aimed at balancing its books AND by my bitterness (yes, it is bitterness) at having these subsidies (and self-sacrifices of a significant professional sort) enclosed by Wiley and the AAA Executive Board without my having any voice in the matter.

So.  Museum Anthropology Review is, as Golub has sought to argue, a (modest and fallible) demonstration that another world is possible.  I cannot speak for them, but every sign suggests that the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries would have been happy to publish Museum Anthropology just as it now publishes Museum Anthropology Review.  Had such an alternative future been realized, Museum Anthropology might have generated no revenues, but it also might have generated no costs.  And, its content would have been freely available to everyone with the capacity to get online.

Neither MAR nor Museum Anthropology are flagship journals with impact factor rankings (yet).  It is easy to imagine that the American Ethnologist (for instance) somehow just has to be different, more complicated, more expensive.  But if it were published using Open Journal Systems in a AAA+Library partnership in an open access format available to all of the world, it would not loose its status as a premier journal with an impressive impact factor ranking.  It would not have to stop publishing four issues a year. The best authors and peer-reviewers and editors would still, presumably, want to be involved with it.  There would be additional costs, but they would be totally addressable with dues money and other subsidies. (For example, AE does and MAR does not yet use DOI numbers. This is a cost and benefit that MAR needs to start taking on soon.)

Anyone who has read this far belongs to the choir and I will stop preaching now. My thanks go to everyone who is working to solve the massive problems that the scholarly communication system and the scholarly society system and the research library system are facing.

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