Someone asked me what is the permanent financial damage to the Journal of African American History by taking it to Chicago? It is a good question, and the answer is sobering.
1. After five-years, it is likely that the revenue from the journal will be below the $100,000 promised in the initial contract. Chicago has no magic business plan. They are trying to snatch part of JSTOR’s $80,000,000 archive business. With 70 journals versus JSTOR’s 2000, they are nobody. They are trying to increase the revenue from archive sales precisely because they know the new journals business is shrinking and less money will come from new sales. They are trying to force institutions that want a journal to buy both the archive and the new journal. That strategy won’t work for most journals, including ours. Libraries will opt for the old journals that are in JSTOR, Ebsco Host, Centage, and Proquest. If I am right about this massive failure, Chicago will offer much less than $100,000 a year after five years. In fact, they might just ask us to pay them to host our journal. Yeah. They are making a business bet that might be ended by their university. Happens all the time.
2. If ASALH got out of the contract today, we would likely suffer huge short-term damage and some permanent damage. Chicago is trying to sell subscriptions now for 2018 and the geniuses did not realize what this meant. Chicago probably won’t do half as well as we would have done. Many librarians may take this opportunity to drop our journal as they always need to make cuts. (This may explain why Chicago never tried to ascertain how many customers we had!) Transitions like these always lead to customer losses. There is no way of knowing this in the short run.
The point being made here is that in stealing the decision from the membership and going rogue damage has been done by the Executive Council. We are effectively not the publishers of the journal and would have to rebuild our business already. Most people don’t understand that you cannot shut down an operation and start it back up without there being financial consequences.
If the decision were mine and mine alone, I would lay off any and all staff whose work has been eliminated by the move to Chicago. Financially, it is a no brainer. Boards and organizations, unfortunately, do not work this way. People are carried, and so as ASALH seeks a new basis for funding its journal, it will have to carry the past into the future.
The people who made this decision have cost us $35k a year for five years and untold lost future revenues beyond that. Remember the entire ASALH reserve is $150K or so, which is less than the losses from the deal. They rented out the farm to rich people running an experiment. When it’s over, the field may be less rather than more fertile.
The board members who supported this have to be sent packing. And those of us who believe in self-publishing have five years to lay the ground work for a new financial basis for the Journal of African American History. We have been seriously wounded in the digital revolution–shot by Du Boisians in the House of Woodson.