The American Anthropological Association announced on Monday that it will be converting the journal Cultural Anthropology to an open-access format, accessible free of charge to anyone, as of January 2014. In addition to current material, the new format will also provide a 10-year backlog. Cultural Anthropology is the journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, a section of the AAA.
The announcement reflects something of a shift for the association. Some members of the association have in the past urged it to embrace the open-access movement, criticizing the subscription-based model used by the association's journals.
Leaders of the association said that they have been looking for ways to experiment with new models of publishing. “It started back in August 2012 when the association invited [idea submissions for] journal publishing models” from the association’s various sections, said Edward Liebow, the association's executive director, in a telephone press conference Monday afternoon. Of these submissions, the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s idea -- to convert to open access -- won out.
“AAA really welcomes this opportunity for our journals to experiment with a variety of new approaches,” Liebow said. “We’re committed to preserving the diversity of perspectives among the anthropologists who publish with us and making the findings of our work accessible and discoverable.”
Duke University’s Charles Piot, who serves as Cultural Anthropology’s editor, said that for this particular field, the move was unprecedented. “I don’t know of any other [open-access journals] in the interpretive social sciences; there’s certainly a lot of [open-access] science journals out there,” Piot said. “The sciences are in the lead on this … but in anthropology there’s nothing out there.”
The journal is drawing attention to its financial needs even as it embraces open access. The press release announcing the change asks that those who currently have paid access to the journal to continue to access content via the Anthrosource portal, for which college and university libraries pay. "The statistics these downloads generate continue to play an important part in the allocation of revenue, including to Cultural Anthropology, and thus help subsidize this new publishing venture," said SCA president Brad Weiss.
On Twitter, many anthropologists posted their pleasure that an association journal was making the move.
Patricia Galloway, an associate professor of archival enterprise and digital asset management at the University of Texas at Austin, said that having both paid-access and open-access formats for the same content could be problematic; she said via e-mail that asking that some readers continue to pay for access "is not the world's best research design to discover whether [Society for Cultural Anthropology] members are willing to pay for the rest of the world to have free access, but I guess it will have to do.” Galloway was similarly critical of the AAA’s decision in 2008  to provide open access to another of their journals, American Anthropology, but only to material that was 35 years old.
The association declined to release specifics about the budget for the journal. But Liebow said via e-mail that "only about half of our publications program costs are covered by subscription revenues.... The rest of these costs are covered by a portion of membership fees. The agreement with our publishing partner, Wiley-Blackwell, affords us the opportunity to make this investment, as well as the many other steps that we have taken in recent years to ensure that our content is accessible, discoverable, and persistently archived."
Liebow noted that added that converting Cultural Anthropology to open access builds on similar efforts by the association to expand access to its publications. “We provide free access to our publications to a variety of historically black colleges and universities [and] tribal colleges,” Liebow said. In addition, “[w]e have opened up the author rights and permissions and we are also subsidizing a non-AAA journal for anthropologists who are not affiliated with university libraries.”