Again, thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments and discussion on my prior post here and elsewhere. I also want to thank Fred Limp, President of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) for taking the time to share his thoughts on the topic, including posting them on this blog. Below are the comments he emailed to me (with permissions to post):

Eric,

Thank you for calling to my attention your thoughtful post at http://www.alexandriaarchive.org/blog/?p=891

All of us have been terribly saddened by this event. There are many others much more capable than I who have already spoken to the many issues and injustices that this personal tragedy has brought into stark and public focus. I do want, however, to speak to some of the specific points that you raise as the issue of open access relates to archaeology.

I need to clarify three points at the outset. Articles from the SAA journals, American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity, are available in Jstor two years after their first publication. Members of the SAA who do not have access to Jstor through other sources can access all of these back issues of both journals  for a $25 annual fee –or just  $5 per year for members living in Latin America and a number of other countries. Starting in the early part of 2012 online access to the contents of these two journals became available to all members of the SAA as soon as the articles are published. The contents of the SAA’s Archaeological Record are available electronically at no cost to everyone. The society is initiating a new journal,  Advances in Archaeological Practice, in 2013. It will be available electronically to all members of the society who select it as their journal. Also in 2013 the Society will initiate Current Research Online.  The contents of Current Research Online will be available to everyone at no cost. However, only members of the Society may enter research project information into the system.

I provide this information as background to the following discussion about the relationship of the Society and the open access initiative. The SAA’s Board has given considerable thought to the issue of open access. It is important, I think, to make some distinctions about the nature and variation of open access. The first distinction is the significance of open access discovery. By this I mean that individuals can determine whether relevant information may (or may not) be available using search engines and other methods. All of the SAAs journal publications have this capability. The second element, of course, is whether the content itself is available. All of the last two years of the journal content for both American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity is available to any member. It is not available, obviously, to the general public. The question then becomes what is the larger good that is served if these journals were open access to the general public – beyond the membership – versus their current situation. As you know many journals have subscription fees of many thousands of dollars. That is not the case for the Society. These journals are available to members as part of their standard membership fee, which is $140 per year. It is $65 per year for members living in Latin America and a number of other countries. If you wish to take both journals the second is $60 (or $38 for members living in the Latin America and other counties).

Clearly $140 (or $200 for two journals) is not free. Can it be justified, is it appropriate? The Society has conducted a number of studies of the membership, their interests and their perception about various Society programs. The complete reports are available on the SAA webpage. In all of these the most significant reasons people give for joining the Society, the overwhelming reason, is to attend the annual meetings and to receive the journal. While there are many other important functions, for most of our members the Society exists to serve these two purposes. The revenues generated by the modest membership fee and the modest meeting registration fee generates all of the revenue necessary to accomplish these goals. So the simple question becomes this – if the journal were available freely would the society’s membership shrink to the degree that there would not be adequate revenue to publish the journal? It might be possible to provide the journals at no cost to the public by increasing substantially the membership fees for those who remain members. Should members subvent the costs for others? Remember the SAA does NOT charge page fees or use other publication subvention costs – as many journals do with funds paid by grants or other sources. There is modest advertising revenue but it is a very minor fraction of the journals’ production costs.

So it’s a difficult question, and one the Society continues to address. What is in the best interests of not just the Society for American Archaeology but for archaeology generally? Do the benefits that would be achieved by making the journals open access overwhelm the negative implications of less resources to produce these same journals? Are the modest membership fees a significant barrier to an individual who is not an archaeologist? And a basic question should be asked – at the end of the day – if you are an archaeologist is it not reasonable to expect that you may want to (or perhaps even should be) a member of the very society that, in many ways, makes your profession viable?

While I respectfully disagree with this position, I want to thank Fred for his comments and for taking the issue of Open Access seriously. His comments reflect some of the discussion of the recent Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) meeting noted in Doug’s Archaeology.

 

I’m looking forward to further, productive, and collaborative discussion on the topic. Perhaps professional societies can find some productive ways forward on the Open Access issue and do more to seek additional public support to help make Open Access financially (more?) feasible. We’ve long taken it for granted that public support only gets cut. Perhaps it is time to see this issue as a way for our field (and other sciences) to make a stronger case for public support by more directly contributing to the common good of public knowledge.





UPDATE

Now that I’m back from lunch, I can digest this further. Fred’s comments reflect his perspective with regard to SAA publications. However, the SAA is but one publisher. Even if its publication costs are relatively low, archaeological discourse takes place across many, many titles, typically managed by expensive commercial publishers. Legally accessing these requires institutional affiliations to get e-Journals, JSTOR and all the rest. Though you may get a few titles with your SAA membership, researchers lacking academic affiliations are still cut-off from the great majority of scholarly discourse. Most of them are stuck with extra-legal workarounds, putting these researchers in dire legal jeopardy. While I can understand Fred’s concern over financing SAA publications (and motivating membership), accepting the dysfunctions and legal dangers of pay-walls and strong intellectual property does not advance the interests of archaeologists or archaeology.