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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 GuardianAcademic 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.)

Current Anthropology
Journal of Anthropological Sciences
Annual Review of Anthropology
American Antiquity
Human Biology
Archarology in Oceania
Public Culture
Comparative Studies in Society and History
Anthropological Quarterly
Human Organization
Collegium Antropologicum [OA]
Journal of Anthropological Research
Arctic Anthropology
Ceský lid
Chungara-Revista de Antropologia Chilena
Journal of the Polynesian Society
Plains Anthropologist
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.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Forgive the rushed nature of this post and that I’m putting it on a couple different blogs (Jason Baird Jackson’s, and Savage Minds, and maybe a couple others too).

    Excellent points all. I’ve been sending around the George Monbiot piece; it and the other pieces going up recently are right on. Less than a year until I’m done with my term as Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, but I’m already motivated to try and help with all this in any way I can. Just speaking about AAA journals for a moment: the individual Wiley-Blackwell staff are great people, and I know the publishing world is complex, but the current system is fundamentally wrong in terms of many things, including (1) nonprofit academic labor supporting corporate profits (particularly when the universities are hurting so badly), and (2) the issues of access. There may be multiple paths out of this and some will not involve the AAA, but I think taking a close look at other models for funding the AAA portfolio is important. For those coming to the AAAs, I encourage you to come to the event mentioned below – I’m going to raise as many of these issues as I can and I know other presenters will as well.

    Friday, November 18, 2011: 13:45-17:30

    Deborah L Nichols (Dartmouth College) and T J Ferguson (University of Arizona and Anthropological Research LLC)

    T J Ferguson (Anthropological Research LLC), Donald Brenneis (University of California – Santa Cruz), Cathy L Costin (California State University Northridge), Sally Engle Merry (New York University), Oona Schmid (American Anthropological Association), Rebecca Storey (University of Houston), Mitchell Allen (Alta Mira Press), Tom Boellstorff (University of California – Irvine), Michael F Brown (Williams College), Alessandro Duranti (University of California Los Angeles), Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Roy R Grinker (George Washington University), Jason B Jackson (Indiana University) and Edward Liebow (Battelle)

    September 6, 2011
  2. Chad Nilep #

    Blogger doesn’t do trackbacks, but I have a list similar to the one towards the end of this posting here:
    Linguistic Anthropology: ‘Top’ not-for-profit linguistic anthropology journals

    (I hope the html is OK. I won’t be offended if the comment gets deleted.)

    September 7, 2011
  3. Barbara Piper #


    May I ask for a quick clarification? The terms “publisher” and “publishing” are ambiguous in your essay, being used both in the technical sense of the entity sponsoring the journal and in the less common sense of the printer (who may also manage subscriptions and distribution) of the journal.

    For example, the AAA is the “publisher” in the narrow sense of all of its journals, and W-B is the printer. Even university presses often use such for-profit printing facilities for the physical printing of journals, and so your figures for profit versus non-profit are almost certainly incorrect. To take a simple case, I remember visiting the offices of the Sheridan Press in Pennsylvania several years ago, one of the two largest printers of academic journals in the U.S. – they showed me a long list of university press journals they printed, including some for Cambridge University Press. Sheridan is definitely a for-profit printer, but prints journals for non-profit publishers. And, like W-B, they can handle subscriptions, manage distribution and mailing, marketing, etc.

    Different entities along the path to print can be non-profit or for-profit, complicating your assessment. But all printing businesses used to print virtually all journals in this country are for-profit, and their costs/prices drive subscription rates, whatever the for/non-profit status of the organization that “publishes” journals.

    Sorry to ramble on – the point is fairly simple, but often overlooked.

    Barbara Piper

    October 6, 2011
    • Thank you for your query. In my discussions of these matters, I do not address the question of printers, but as you suggest there are technical service providers at many stages of the journal production process. This was true in the print-only era and it is more true now. University of California Press Journals, for instance, outsourced copy editing and and typesetting, for the AAA journals then in its society portfolio, to overseas firms and (as you describe) used North American printers who also handled shipping. These contractors were all for-profit businesses. When Boas relied upon J. J. Augustin and other printers, the story was the same. When the AAA self-published, it had to deal with printers and there are not (to my knowledge) any not-for-profit printers. At a broader level, I write this reply to your comment on a commercially produced computer even if I use free, not-for-profit open source software to compose my message.

      Springer, Wiley, Sage, etc. are different in my view because they claim the status of publisher, own their own journal titles, etc. You are emphasizing the fact that when they are in a temporary contractual arrangement with a society publisher, they are just providing a service to the actual publisher which, when that publisher is a scholarly society, remains a not-for-profit entity. Commercial firm as simple provider of services is a possibility, of course. The AAA agreement with UCP was a fee for service arrangement and just such an arrangement could be struck with an array of commercial firms. But that is not what the commercial firms and the societies are doing. For one thing, these are profit sharing arrangements in which growing revenues are split according to contractual arrangements between the two publishing “partners.” For the term of such contracts, the commercial firm in a co-publisher, not just a provider of services. The more scholarly content the co-publishers can sell, the more each of them profits. The society has more money, but so does the commercial publisher. Those profits, on the commercial publisher’s side, in turn have effects on share price and other measures of economic advantage. More could be said about the other ramifications of these dynamics, but I count a commercial-society partnership as a commercial arrangement because it is in distinction with a society as self-publisher (in which all publishing revenues go towards society goals) and with society-university press partnerships in which the proceeds are split between the the not-for-profit purposes of the society and those of the university (etc.) press. When university presses turn a profit on their journal programs, they can, for instance, support un- or less- profitable scholarly book programs. Doing so is part of their public interest mission. The mission of a commercial publisher is very different. It is not just societies that blur this line when they partner with commercial publishers. University presses have done it too by entering into co-publishing arrangements with commercial presses.

      One way that commercial publishers leverage their society partnerships is to create critical masses of content. They can recruit other societies because the come to represent a “best-practices” choice in their field and because of economies of scale and discovery, as when a whole field is accessed via a single digital platform. It is important also to note, beyond media consolidation effects, that there are digital infrastructure ones that matter. A society may contractually be able to move on to any number of other new partners, or to resume self-publishing, but in actuality this becomes ever more difficult as one becomes embedded within proprietary technical infrastructures (and sometimes addicted to otherwise unobtainable revenue streams). The matter is made more complex when a not-for-profit granting agency funds the digital start-up costs but is not going to fund a second reboot from print in the event of the need to start a digital publishing program again from scratch.

      October 6, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  4. On Hacking the Academy #hackacad | Jason Baird Jackson
  5. On “Visualizing the Uneven Geographies of Knowledge Production and Circulation” | Jason Baird Jackson

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