These former Presidents who signed the letter in support of taking the Journal of African History to the University of Chicago Press ought to be ashamed of themselves. Here I speak of Betty Gardner, Robert Harris, Samuel Du Bois Cook, and John Fleming. Gardner, Harris, and Cook held office when the journal was at Morehouse for that 25-year period, when Alton Hornsby kept the subscribers list and received all the revenue. He often submitted reports saying they were broke without providing an accounting of the numbers. When the journal returned to headquarters, under the presidency of Gloria Dickinson, it came without either records of subscribers or documents about revenue. In fact, back in those dark days when these former presidents sat the board, there were no IRS filings, and the only reports they had were cash roll ups. I will never forget the day when I showed the treasurer that his numbers had to be false, and he sat behind a typewriter and created a new report without documents before him–he made it all up as I had suspected. Oh, those were dark days–much different from those by the time of John Fleming who agreed to be president in part because I agreed to continue as Vice President for Programs.
So John Fleming should know better than much of what he says about the journal. It was marginally profitable during his years. Thanks to VP Franklin’s regular production of the journal and decisions to raise the price slowly from $40 to $150 today, the journal has had positive revenue all these years. So much so that we started charging salaries and overhead. Now Bob Harris would not know this, because he was gone. And John Fleming left in 2009–before we went digital. Since going digital the revenue increased from $75,000 to a highpoint of $130,000. With JSTOR’s reduction in fees and leaving our current vendors, our revenue will tip $150,000 for the first time–but how would these past presidents know this. They would not know about the current finances of the journal because there are no numbers provided by the regime they are supporting.
The letter also states that Woodson’s Appeal made no money. Now, in 2008 we were getting $1000 plus donations for the appeal, some as high as $5,000. They are so wrong about that they should be ashamed. Yet, Cook would have no way of knowing that. Bob Harris had left the board, and yet John Fleming and Bettye Gardiner should know better, especially John. I will ask him to personally apologize for that gross misstatement of fact.
How Can You Sign on to a Project When No One Gives You Anything Like This? Selling Out Woodson Without Reference to Numbers, SMH
Unless those who believe only the Business Session of ASALH owns the publishing issue win the day, the ASALH Executive Council is poised to make a decision on the University of Chicago contract proposal on Tuesday. Despite having the basic proposal for nearly six months, the regime has not presented the board with the any financial information and analysis that should accompany a major decision. At the Business Session of the 101st Annual Meeting, Gilbert A. Smith, our treasurer and a CPA, told the members they that the $100,000 per year was all profit, not simply revenue. We have exposed that to be a lie, but since then neither he nor the committee headed by Sharon Harley has produced known expenses or a cost-benefit analysis. Although the council met in person last Friday and will vote on Tuesday, the editorial office expenses, including overhead, has not been represented to the decision makers–and the Chicago proposal makes clear it does not cover 100% of the publishing costs. And nothing that looks like a cost benefit analysis of self-publishing versus going to Chicago has been produced. Mind you, without such numbers two former presidents of ASALH, Robert Harris and John Fleming, have endorsed the move–somehow. This is not surprising giving ASALH’s history of making poor big decisions such as the purchase and sell of two headquarters buildings, the 14th Street property and Q Street. Given that this Association, founded by Carter G. Woodson, has self-published for a century and given that its journal is the oldest, scholarly journal in the black world–yes, the entire black world– you would think that due diligence would be done, that a sound basis for making a decision would be made. One is left to speculate aloud about why due diligence is not being performed. Why hasn’t it? Your guess is as good as ours, but let me suggest a number of possibilities.
Why not Delineate the Expenses against the $100,000?
- Revealing expenses will confirm that the original position that the Chicago money was all profit was a flat-out a lie?
- Enumerated expenses will reveal that the promise that all members will receive free hard copies of the journal was a lie, too, or that keeping the promise will cost as much as $20,000 to $24,000?
- Disclosed expenses might reveal a decision to eliminate office staff whose position would be made superfluous by the contract?
- Reporting expenses would reveal an on-going overhead cost of $15,000 because it cannot be eliminated, reducing the revenue available after the deal?
- Reporting expenses would reveal a decision whether to increase the editor’s salary $5,000 or not, which was the origins of the entire fiasco?
- Fear that surplus revenue of $10,000 to $20,000 is not worth ending a century of tradition? This begs the question of the cost-benefit analysis.
- It would become clear that there would not be any money left to do all the wonderful things the for rest of the Association as the regime has suggested there would be.
Why not Prepare a Cost-Benefit Analysis? Well, It Would Reveal the following:
- We can make $200,000 over five years via self-publishing.
- We will have a $55,000 Reserve Fund proffered by the Get Right with Woodson Campaign.
- We can make more surplus revenue without eliminating a staff position.
- That the if the Chicago contract proved unprofitable, our revenue might slide 50% in five years and cannot be replaced.
- That it would cost us $20,000 or more to re-establish our self-publishing if necessary.
- The opportunity cost for not self-publishing. We could work with branches to place JAAH in primary and secondary schools, a place where Chicago cannot effectively market.
- Would reveal that something other than our traditional values and money were behind this entire project.
Those Right with Woodson Believe in Data
For more information on the financial benefits of self-publishing. Despite the personal success of the folks who make our decisions, the collective failure of ASALH boards–past and present–reveals a fundamental shortcoming of our institutional life. How tragic it is it that Carter G. Woodson, who viewed the lack business acumen of educated blacks part of their mis-education, has been plagued by the shortcomings he sought to eliminate. It is almost as tragic as the organization’s losing its way on the question of self-determination. None of this is right with Woodson, and those of us who disagree will either stop this move before it happens or clean it up in its aftermath. Do know that the self-publishing tradition will prevail now or later.
Nothing is worse in the non-profit world than having more money than ever before, except also believing your organization should have more status and prestige than it does. This combination led ASALH to what some of us know as the Que Street Debacle. A new headquarters building was bought and yet ASALH never moved into the building. How this million dollar mistake was made is a cautionary tale about the failure to perform due diligence and operate with transparency. It is a lesson that has been lost again by current members of the Executive Council.
After receiving a 1.5 million grant from the now defunct Wachovia Bank and selling the Woodson Home to the National Park Service, ASALH had a cash position of nearly $2.5 million, more than it had ever seen in its 90 year history. For nearly three years, ASALH had been a guest on Howard University’s campus and there were many who believed that ASALH now could afford a place of its own–having only sold its Fourteenth Street headquarters only a few years earlier to escape crushing debt. The national real estate boom was in full swing, and property seemed a sure thing.
There were those who believed that ASALH should purchase a headquarters in Washington not far from Woodson’s home, and the property identified was 636 Q Street, NW. It was a residence, not a home, and it was said that the build out to make it functional as an office would be less than $150,000. The advocates of the position, led by a business person with vast experience in the hedge-fund industry, held that the building, once purchased, could qualify for a thirty-year municipal bond. Thus the fifteen-year loan that we would sign for would not matter so much as it would be temporary. Rather than take on a mortgage, some of us believed that ASALH should relocate the headquarters to Maryland, where we could pay cash for a business condominium. The total cost, with build-out, would have been no more than $500,000 and ASALH would headquarters free and clear. Effectively we would have spent no more than we had made from the sale of Woodson’s home.
Before the Executive Council meeting, I argued the case for moving free and clear to Prince George’s County, and Rev. Richard T. Adams, whom I admire and consider my reverend, argued for staying in the city. Few would forget how he waxed on about how ASALH needed to be in the city, the nation’s capital, and not in the “cow pasture.” We all chucked at his humor, and most of the people on the board agreed with him. With the transaction in the hands of the hedge-fund manager and the incoming president of ASALH, no one else on the board, including me, felt compelled to examine the documents. In short order, we owned a building–the now notorious Q Street, and we would move in as soon as the modifications had been made.
ASALH never moved into Q Street. Although only authorized to make expenditures of approximately $150,000, the board member in charge of the project submitted bills for substantially more. Efforts were made to reign in the spending but the president’s efforts were rebuffed, and additional amendments to the contracts were signed. There was the unexpected new roof, termite abatement, facade shoring up, and numerous other challenges. Before all was done, the rehabilitation had run up to $500,000–and we still did not have a building that could pass inspection for occupancy. By this time the board member conceded that ASALH’s project would no qualify for a municipal bond–the size and the scale of the project, among other things, were inadequate for the minimum bond that the city would float. The hedge-fund guy who glibly talked about municipal bonds knew nothing about them! But that was not the bomb, nope. Brace yourselves, we had been lied to about the terms of the mortgage. It was not a fifteen year instrument. Nope, the mortgage was for five years–amortized over fifteen years–with a $600,000 balloon payment due January 1, 2012. Translated, the amount you would pay if you had a fifteen year mortgage but at the five year mark the rest of the money owed came due. Someone had signed a mortgage without appreciating or reporting the terms, believing, it seems, what we had all been told. The balloon had the ability to take the association under in three years. This is unfortunate for us. We know there were more affordable mortgages available. There are even mortgages to help new residents, allowing them to apply through their international credit reports, so they are able to settle in the states.
With great effort the project was brought to a halt. Leans were placed on the property by the building contractor and vendors involved, and bad feelings were everywhere because assurances had been given that we had the money to complete the project. Q Street became my mess to clean up. Everyone involved ran for the hills. Over the course of more than a year, I negotiated with the contractors and disabused them of the notion that would could honor our contractual agreements and survive as an organization. Eventually they let us out of the contracts, and Q Street became our unoccupied shell, would be headquarters. Under the presidency of Jim Stewart, we were able to sell the building at a great loss–having lost just under a million dollars on the project. Yet we were simply glad that we succeeded in selling before the balloon payment had taken us under.
So here we find ourselves once again business person, Gilbert Smith, lending his professional credential to persuade the board and the organization down a dubious path. While it is not his idea, he has lied about the Chicago Proposal. He and those involved have not done due diligence and vetted Chicago’s business plan, and no one has provided a cost benefit analysis. Worse still, the central documents have not been shared with board members and those who know most about the business affairs of the journal. Members are supposed to trust people who know nothing of publishing who have already been caught literally lying, representing revenue as profits. And to shut down opposition, they have resorted to efforts to stifle open debate and to overriden the constitution’s provision that allows the Business Session to make decisions that are binding on the board. The Que Street debacle may have cost a million dollars, but this debate over self-publishing has trampled over any notion of democracy and good governance.
(More on Q Street can be found in Duke’s Archives. Scholars interested in writing about Que Street may also contact me for my files. You can still find videos on the final renovation on YouTube. The new owners got a half-million dollars of free work from our debacle.)
A Telling Vote of Confidence for Treasurer Despite His Lying to Membership and Not Producing Financial Reports
Much can be said about the Executive Council Meeting of February 24th, but the Regime is denying that the 102nd Business Meeting in Cincinnati has authority over the decision to self publish the Journal of African American History or take on the University of Chicago Press as our publisher. Pretending that they still have the issue, they are ignoring the much more profitable self-publishing option made possible by the changes in JSTOR’s Current Journals Program. Never mind that there is three times the profit is self-publishing. Yet the truth about the superiority of self-publishing is not clear because the Regime is not interested in putting out a projection of the revenue versus expenses for going to the University of Chicago Press. After more than four months since the 101st Annual Meeting, where Gilbert A. Smith represented $100,000 of revenue as profit, he has still not provided the math. There still is neither a cost-benefit analysis or a set of expenses that will remain during the period of the proposed Chicago contract. The latter takes perhaps more work than then regime cares to perform, but the latter is something that a head of household can produce. If one did not know better, the board will vote to go to Chicago without numbers.
Why Not Present a Draft Report with Everything but the Trivial Amount?
We hear that the numbers are not definitive yet because the current expenses are not accurately known. Gee, how did we get this far if the board has no handle on the numbers? And Chicago is poised to make the deal even though it admits it does not have good numbers. The numbers in question have to do with the current revenue and expenses for print subscriptions. The other expenses are well known and make up the bulk of the expenses, indeed, the provisional numbers would only change the bottom line on print expenses by roughly 10% to 20%, or $600 to $1,200. It all involves whether we ship out print an additional 30 or 60 customers. It is a trivial expense. Some might call it akin to spoilage.
What Reason or Reasons Would There Be to Not Presenting a provisional Draft?
Well, there is no good reason since the report would be between 98% and 99% accurate. The problems are twofold.
- Such a report would demonstrate that the Chicago Proposal is almost $200,000 less profitable over five years than self-publishing.
- It would be also be the proof that Gilbert A. Smith, CPA, misrepresented revenues as profits–in a very major way.
Those who believe in self-publishing produced a comparative report using the same base of data.
Despite This Failure to Do Due Diligence, the Executive Council Gave Him a Vote of Confidence
The Executive Council revealed itself once again more concerned about being on the best terms with one another regardless of how the membership, the legislative body, has been lied to as it was in Richmond. Never forget that Gilbert A. Smith told the standing-room only crowd at the 101st Business Session that $100,000 in revenue would be profit. Clearly taking issue on my blog and social media posts about the treasure’s mischaracterization of the $100,000, a board member called for a vote of confidence in the treasurer. Gilbert easily won the vote–imagine that–despite never addressing the issue of revenue and expenses! And the board was aghast that roughly a quarter of their members–mostly new–voted no confidence.
Hope for the Future as the Board Is Changing Before Our Eyes
The board was audibly surprised and upset by the number of new board members who were not on board with the sell out. The truth is, you cannot get many people to sign on to the sell out. Indeed, I was surprised at a couple of people who put their sympathy for Gilbert A. Smith above his role in lying to the membership by knowingly calling revenue profits. Yet, everyone on the board should know that they are at odds with the membership on this question. And Chicago should take note. The people selling out tradition will be sent packing from the board. Too many of these folks are here to be self-important at our Annual DC Black History Luncheon. That becomes clearer every year.
The Regime’s effort to take our century-old Journal of African American History to the University of Chicago (Bae) is once again in trouble. Other than money, the Regime could never point to any reason to go to Chicago except the pleasure of the esteemed press’s company. Sharon Harley virtually said there was nothing in the deal for Chicago, except what they thought of us and our Journal of African American History. It was beyond money. That never satisfied many ASALHites since we have always loved ourselves and been wary of suitors promising things in return for control. We have believed in the Woodson tradition of having a platform from which we could speak the truth about our past without a concern over whether someone would moderate what we publish. Sensing that the love, trust, and belief in some other entity, especially that university where White City used to stand, would not sway the rank and file of ASALH, the Regime resorted to the claim that revenues were profits. Oh, we were told in our 101st Business Session that we were being wooed with money and free journals. Oh, yes, there would be $100,000 in profits and a free journals in every mailbox. Some of us knew better, but why would a certified pubic account, Gilbert A. Smith, simply lie like that? And they had lots of folks fooled–including a number of retired former leaders who have been lobbying for the sell out. (More appropriately, they are trying to stage a love out. T’aint no money in it.)
JSTOR Drops a Game Changer for Self-publishers
For months those of us opposed to the move have argued that the journals are currently as profitable as the Chicago offer, especially when the journal’s remaining expenses are charged to it and when the price of the so-called free journals are added. Their Bae, we knew, has made no such promise. They don’t love ASALH like that. It’s about future positive revenue for them, and they will only spend so much in pursuit of it. We also put $55,000 on the table for a reserve fund against future revenue decreases until we could put the journal on more stable financial footing. These prudent measures had no effect on the love outs on ASALH Executive Council. Functioning like a regime, they continued their plans to love out, ignoring our legal assertion that because there was still a motion on the floor of the Business Session. Their contention remained that only the Executive Council had the authority to make the decision, and yet they knew their power over the council was waning. New members had been elected precisely to stand for self-publishing. We were poised to slog it out in today’s Executive Council meeting just like that, then JSTOR dropped a bomb.
The Short Version of the JSTOR New Journal Program and the Numbers
In response to the University of California Press and the University of Chicago Press both leaving their Current Scholarship Program, JSTOR is ending it. It was predicated on a 25% charge for marketing and other services. To keep new scholarship alive and flowing into its main product, their archive, JSTOR has decide to function purely as a journals host. This will save ASALH over $20,000 a year. The effort to secret this program from the Executive Council failed, and now it is manifestly clear that self-publishing is a better financial move than going with the University of Chicago Press.
2018 Self-Publishing versus Chicago Revenue Promise minus In-House Costs
The financial outcomes of self-publishing get better in 2019 as we are able to reduce our costs because we are self-publishing. Some of the expenses associated with VP Franklin’s unique editorial style and the creep from 600 to 800 pages per volume can be remedied. This can be done not by cutting articles published but by reducing front and back matter, publishing reviews digital only, and ending the unnecessary indexes not needed in the digital age.
Where Is the Due Diligence of the Regime?
The regime enters the Executive Council meeting today without having provided the members of the board any of the things associated with such a major change in operations. We have been self-publishing for a century–a hundred plus years–and none of the following has been proffered to justify the move.
- No cost benefit analysis
- No history of expense-revenue reports that are produced quarterly.
- No face-to-face meeting with the proposed publisher.
- Chicago, the regime says, was given the charge of handling our affairs with JSTOR, their competitor. At best, this was incompetent and a violation of the board’s fiduciary responsibility.
We have heard rumors that the University of Chicago Press representatives might appear in person, but we have heard conflicting rumors that they will at best Skype in. We believe it will be the latter because there is not any money in this for Chicago. As I have written elsewhere, this contract for Chicago represents an effort to control a catalogue of intellectual property and build an archive. The efforts to sell back tiles to existing customers stands virtually little chance to let them make of their $100,000.
Time to End This Time-Consuming, Pride-Driven Love Out–Take the $250,000 Advantage in Self-Publishing
The opportunity to end this mess is before the Executive Council. A vote to go to Chicago will be challenged in court, if necessary. Not only would it be a violation of fiduciary responsibility, it would also run counter to the motion on the floor of the 101st Business Session that forbids the board from ending self-publishing without the permission of the Business Session.
A year is along enough to make a case for ending self-publishing. The Regime has not even attempted due diligence. They have nothing. Gilbert A. Smith has misrepresented revenue as profits, and he has not adduced any expenses against the $100,000 for anyone to explore because it would be an admission that he lied. Remember, the good CPA reported that the Chicago money was all profit.
We have a $55,000 reserve fund added to positive revenue over five years that approaches $200,000. This is a $250,000 advantage to self-publishing.
The opposition needs to lobby the fence sitters, and put a motion on the floor the charge the Executive Director of ASALH to sign the contract proffered by JSTOR for the Current Journals Program.
Since this effort to sell out ASALH’s century of self-publishing began, I have urged members of the ASALH Executive Board to talk to JSTOR, our twenty-year business partner, to see what they can do to keep our business. Imagine my consternation every time I’ve been told that the University of Chicago Press, the firm trying to win our business, is handling discussions with our existing partner! You think Chicago will inform you of what advantages JSTOR might hold for you? Of course not, and for some this heresy was never about money–it was about love and status. When the money was close, it was obscured, but now JSTOR has a new program that reduces our self-publishing cost dramatically and makes it much more profitable to stay independent publishers. It is now Self-Love versus the Love of Status.
Well there is good news! And I knew there would be. JSTOR, which has greater revenue than the University of Chicago Press and is much more profitable, had to respond to the loss of business with the University of Chicago Press and the University of California Press in 2015. That development had to cause a shake up since they constituted the bulk of the New Scholarship Program. Small publisher (and in the world of publishing even Chicago is small) all hoped that JSTOR could save our declining subscriber base by growing our business globally. That failed because the move towards STM globally has limited the appetite for the humanities and social sciences journals from the US in Asia and the Middle East. (Chicago is now pretending it can have success even without its own sales representatives, smh). Recognizing that global and domestic marketing did not result in hardly enough new customers, it is starting a new program that is a godsend to those independent publishers do not want or really need to sign up with a publisher who has not clue on which ways the winds of academic publishing are blowing.
JSTOR’s new journals program does two major things.
- It eliminates the 25% marketing fee. Wow! This reduces cost by more than $20,000 a year.
- It charges a minimum platform fee–one-third the cost of firms Allen Street. The price in line with a managed hosting wp-press site–but it comes on a stable platform with IP authentication.
- It charges a fee per subscriber that is similar to a paypal transaction fee and much less than commercial alternatives for closed access.
- It will allow publishers–that would be us and not Big Pappa–to offer its customers the entire back files of the journal in question. In the past, back files revenues were dealt with as part of JSTOR’s Archive Program only.
At the same time, ASALH would be able to pivot from the academy as its primary source of new institutional subscribers and reach out to institutions and groups within the African American community. This is what we have historically done when the university system was not our way of making it in the world. We can enlist our branches and our members to reach out to various civic organizations charters schools to offer a century of black life, history, and culture not simply via the Journal of African American History, but all of our publications. This is bigly!!!
With this decrease in cost and the ability to offer a new product, we can grow our customer base without a split if 50-50 with would-be Big Pappa Chicago. If we are independent, we can go to a local foundation and get underwriting for the entire run of all of our journals, including the Journal of African American History, and not share a red cent with the University of Chicago Press, or anyone else. We could reach out to the Urban League or NAACP Act and make Woodson’s independently published journal available to youth who are in writing programs on grants that they have. In the age of austerity, we find a way through as we have for a century and remain the oldest independently published scholarly journal in the entire world!!
To bring the point home: this offers ASALH great advantages over Chicago.
- Unlike with Chicago, we would not have a 50% split of new scholarship subscriptions with Chicago.
- Unlike with Chicago, we would not have a 50% split 50% of our royalties. Yes, Chicago wants reverse reparations for the century of intellectual property they had no role in publishing.
- Unlike with Chicago, our back file sales would not be subjected to a 50% split.
- Our new scholarship will continue to be part of the JSTOR Archive program.
Why is JSTOR doing this, not love but to protect its JSTOR Archive business. It is a $85,000,000 a year not-for-profit primarily because of the global reach of its archive. Where it failed at selling new scholarship abroad, its archive is gold. JSTOR has decided to create a program that sustains independent publishing because it depends on it.
If the regime had done due diligence and talked to our long-term business partner, they would have heard of this program long ago. But it was not their desire to continue self-publishing. They are bent on going for the supposed status of a university press as their publisher even though JSTOR continues to offer services that are at once more stable and sustainable.
It is never becoming for historians to enter into the world of historical fiction, and it is wholly destructive for them enter the world of alternative facts. Yet when we get caught in modern-day controversies and are actors as well as scholars, the need to defend untenable positions can lead even the best scholars astray. This has happened in the case of Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham as she responded to my letter to the branches. Her letter is filled with misrepresentations and even alternative facts to justify her position that the Executive Council still has the authority to make a decision on the future of the Journal of African American History. Moreover, she wants to erase or soften the debacle of the 101st Business Session, where we were lied to and disenfranchised for the sake of selling out our history of publishing Woodson’s journal. Mind you, she never explains why we have to cease our self-publishing after a century. It is not money, so it must be status.
I Reassert, Revenue Was Represented Falsely as Profits
In my letter, I argued that Gilbert A. Smith flat-out lied about the University of Chicago Proposal. He said repeatedly that the $100,000 promised by Chicago was profit, not revenue. How silly. Just because someone says you can do what you want with money they give you does not make it profits. You do not have to be a certified public accountant to know that if you have obligations to pay, it isn’t profits. What alternative world is the President trying to construct? As long as the journal has significant bills to pay–and there are tens of thousands of them to be paid from the $100,000, then the money is not profit.
Indeed, Evelyn and VP Franklin both say so themselves in post-meeting statements. After the 101st Annual Meeting, VP Franklin sent out an email in which he said part of the $100,000 would be spent on Journal expenses. In his words: “In light of the proposals submitted to publish the JAAH, there was no need to continue to ‘self-publish’ since the university press would cover publication expenses and guarantee an annual income to ASALH to cover all of the editorial expenses in producing the JAAH.” VP was utterly honest about this. In the letter to the branch members, Evelyn states “It is not fair to V.P. Franklin, now on a retiree’s income, to spend his own money on the Journal.” So, indeed, the money is not profit as Gilbert told everyone.
So profits were not profits, they were revenue. Gilbert A. Smith is not only a Christian gentleman associated with the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC. as Evelyn of Harvard states in her letter, he is also a Certified Public Accountant who had and has a fiduciary responsibility to report profits as profits and revenue as revenue. To suggest he did otherwise in front of 250 witnesses is to promote an alternative fact. When a CPA represents revenue as profit to a legislative body, he is lying about the business proposal. Revenue reported as profit is an alternative fact. The Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2003, which requires disclosure of financial information to decision makers does not allow alternative facts. Rather than taking the treasurer to task for misleading the people, our president is painting him as a victim. For reasons of status they are dedicated to ending a century of independent black publishing.
(And let us not lose sight of the fact that VP Franklin will only edit the journal one more year, so this should be a non-factor. Others are willing to edit the journal without compensation from ASALH.)
After Promising a Journal in Every Mailbox, the President Prepares to Renege or Go Broke
In my letter, I pointed out that the Gilbert A. Smith and Sharon Harley promised that if JAAH goes to the University of Chicago, the members of ASALH would all receive a hardcopy of the journal. In her long response, Evelyn gives the impression that everyone will get a hardcopy of the journal, then suggests everyone read a letter from Sharon Harley written after the October 6th Business Session and sent out. That letter silently breaks faith with the promise by saying in effect that everyone will not get a copy of the journal as she, Gilbert, and VP Franklin all promised in the meeting. Instead only life members and branch members will get copies. This may go over well with branch members, but what of the graduate students and the regular members who were sold a bill of goods by the president, the treasurer, the journal editor, and the publications committee chair?
It is rather clear that the regime, feeling the pressure from the business meeting, went beyond what they had planned in giving away journals. Indeed, in the handout to the membership, Sharon Harley stated that Chicago would pay for all eligible members to receive a hardcopy of the journal. Mind you, the University of Chicago proposal makes no such promise, so any journals received would be paid for out of that $100,000. Chicago charges members $20 for hardcopies. Not knowing the facts, she puts it at 500, which would cost ASALH $10,000 out of the $100,000. The cost to meet the current promise would be roughly $28,000. And the cost to meet the big promise made in the Business Session would be $44,000.
Shortly after the meeting, having pandered to the unwashed, disenfranchised membership of ASALH–the legislative body–of our organization, the leadership of the sellout started to walk back the promises. Here is a link to the Harley document, sent to all the members. In her letter to the branch leadership, she attached that post-101st Annual Meeting letter. Here is an excerpt:
The Chicago Proposal makes no such promise of free journals to anyone, so all of these journals will be paid for will come from the $100,000 of revenue. Mind you, ASALH now provides this to members as we self-publish. This means that the financial advantage of selling out shrinks by $20 with each journal given away. Indeed, if the promise made to the membership is kept, then there is no financial advantage of going to Chicago and we would make more money by continuing to self-publish.
The President Misrepresents My Seconded and Debated Motion to Deny It Is Controlling and that the Executive Board Must Now Yield to the Members on This Issue
At the 101st Business Session, the motion I put on the floor was the ASALH to cease and desist in any and all efforts to let any other firm publish our scholarly journals. That motion was seconded and debated but a vote was refused. The president did not say the motion was out of order–and that matters when you are following Roberts Rules of Order, and she had her paid parliamentarian there. Here she is trying to construct an alternative fact by altering the motion I put forward. By claiming that my motion was to break or end an existing contact, she trying to construct an alternative fact. You see, if my motion concerned a non-existing contract then it could be ruled out by a point-of-fact violation of Roberts Rules of Order. This is what she is suggesting happened. By putting an alternative fact in my mouth for my motion, she is trying to change the narrative so she can say she ruled it out for good reason. But, that, too requires another alternative fact–my motion was never objected to before it was seconded and discussed. Indeed, we discussed it for more than thirty minutes before she pulled the plug for other reasons. Below is her material alteration of the motion I made.
The Most Disturbing Part of These Misrepresentations
What I find most disturbing about the president’s response to my letter is that she writes as if no branch leaders witnessed the spectacle. The presidents of the South Florida Branch, the Tampa Branch, the Jacksonville Branch, the Chicago Branch, the Detroit Branch, the Julian Branch, the Manasota Branch, and others were all there. There were innumerable branch members and general members, numbering some 250 people. Many of you and your members know that $100,000 in revenue was called profit. Everyone heard the promise that all members–all members–were promised a hard copy. And you saw the President of ASALH–after my “cease and desist motion” was properly read, seconded, and discussed for more than half an hour was refused a vote. The motion was not called out of order. No, we were told that the Executive Council, not the Business Meeting, could make this decision. And not a mumbling word was heard about Associate Members–and if the president knew anything about ASALH she would know that there are less than a dozen associate members out of 2,200 or more members! This is a scam on the scale of the Republican claims of a tainted voters pool.
The Petty Claims in President Higginbotham’s Letter
I won’t spend but a moment on the petty claims that act as filler in the President’s effort to deny that the members now legally own the outcome of the self-publishing issue. Higginbotham is ultimately responsible for having the police sicced on me at the 101st Annual Meeting but she poses as a victim because I said she had done nothing worth talking about before becoming president. She made no significant contribution and she nor anyone else would dare list one. It would be another alternative fact. Her lack of experience is why she does not understand that there will be mailing cost that ASALH has to pay if the journal goes to Chicago. While Chicago will ship the journal, books and manuscripts in various stages of preparation are shipped, often by federal express, to and from the editorial office to headquarters. This high-priced mailing costs about in the $2,000 range. Had the president not rejected my offer to head the publications committee when I was president, she might know that. Enough of the petty.
We Are Not Deterred, the Decision Legally Belongs to the Business Session in Cincinnati
We will stick to our guns. Gilbert A. Smith should be recalled for lying to the membership gathered in the Business Session for representing revenue and profits, and thereby grossly misrepresenting the financial advantage of going to the University of Chicago. And we note for the record that Gilbert A. Smith did not speak up to refute my claim. He knows he is in deep. More importantly, the decision on the Chicago Proposal and any proposal from a publisher cannot be acted on until that 102 Business Session meets in Cincinnati. We will remain strong and firm, and yes we will go to court if necessary. We will not be disenfranchised, and unless it is the will of the membership in session, we will not break faith with our founder. And there is certainly no financial reason to do so. Under separate cover, I will show how the journal can be more profitable self-published rather than published by Chicago.
Executive Council members who take due diligence seriously need to vet the University of Chicago Press’s Journals Program. As part of this, the journals manager at the University of Chicago Press should be engaged in a face-to-face meeting before the board. This is a no-brainer for an organization that has been independently publishing its own journal for just more than a century. Ending one’s independence in publishing sends ASALH on a new trajectory that could result in our never publishing our journal again–if this proposal succeeds or the executed contract fails. (Getting back into a business would be neither simple nor cheap and hence not probable.) Chicago itself has made a decision that changes their much out their journals operation. The move was not obvious to anyone. Choosing to build its own platform to service fewer than a hundred journals in the humanities and social sciences seems on the face of it a losing proposition in a world where economy to scale is measured in the thousands. JSTOR and Project Muse entered this business a generation earlier with massive funding from the foundations, and now Chicago, along with the University of Chicago Press, has left JSTOR’s New Scholarship Program in 2015. Few would recommend this course of action unless a new revolutionary business model is being pursued. This, however is not likely, and so the question is whether there is a viable business model. Though Chicago has published journals for nearly a century and a half, they are new to publishing on their own digital platform. Success is far from a given. Because of this, ASALH needs to put hard questions to them.
And of the things that have stunned me in this process is the candid admission that ASALH has not spoken to JSTOR about how they could retain our business, but rather have allowed our prospective business partner speak to them in lieu of us for the purposes of undoing our generation-long relationship!
- Were you experiencing declining institutional subscriptions and revenue when you left JSTOR’s New Scholarship Program?
- If yes, what was your perception of the problem? Have you rectified it in your own program?
- If not, was there any economic factors involved with leaving?
- What role did back file revenue have in your decision to leave JSTOR?
- Why are you competing with JSTOR Archive in selling your back files? Did you plan on doing this originally?
- Your publishing house is now in the second year of having its own journal platform thru Atypon and you have the bulk of two cycles of subscription sales and revenue in hand. How goes your revenue?
- Compared with the last year that you were with the University of Chicago’s New Scholarship Program, please share with us the data on the number of institutional subscribers for your journals. What was the increase or decrease on average per title?
- What was the revenue increase or decrease on average per title?
- Based on two year’s experience what are the changes you are considering for your program?
- How does your overseas sales program differ from that JSTOR had?
- How many overseas sales representatives does Chicago have?
- What success have your overseas sales people have?
- Atypon has recently been purchased by John Wiley & Sons, which is a major commercial publisher of journals with over 9,000 titles. When JSTOR elected to create its own platform, Chicago opted to stay and get its own relationship with Atypon, and so now it in on the platform of a major commercial competitor that is more than a hundred times larger than it is. This could adversely affect the long-term prospect of ASALH’s business.
- What changes have taken place under Wiley?
- How has these changes affected your bottom line?
- If increases incur in your platform fees, how will these be absorbed? Will they be passed along as cost?
- What is your business model for increasing the revenue of the Journal of African American History that allows you to more than double the total revenue of the journal. $200,000 more than doubles our current revenue and we do not split it 50% with anyone.
- Our journals are priced competitively already among history journals, so do you plan to increase those prices significantly? If so, how much?
- Do you expect to double the number of institutional subscribers? If so, this would go against the trend for humanities and social science journals, so
- Does Chicago have its own sales representatives, and if so, how will you do better than JSTOR has been doing. If not, how do you plan to outdo the overseas sales that JSTOR experiences in the New Scholarship Program?
- Given your pricing of back files, it appears to be the major way you mean to increase the revenue stream.
- Yet, since our back files will remain on the platforms of Cengage, EBSCO Host, ProQuest, and JSTOR platform and they sell a bundle of over 2000 journals, how do you plan to compete with these firms for back file sales?
- What percentage of the $200,000 plus in annual revenue do you anticipate coming from back file sales?
- Given that the century of back files were published by us, it stands to reason that we would get 100 of the sales by others named above. Do you agree?
- Given that the back file sales that you were also published by us, it does not seem reasonable that you ask for a 50% share of those sales. How much do you think you would increase back file that come only from your sales effort? Would you be willing to waive all revenue from back files that others raise from pre-existing contracts with ASALH?
- Would you be willing to accept 25% on the sales of back files you sale to new customers?
- I am to understand that you have been talking to JSTOR on behalf of ASALH. If this is true, what has been the broadest scope of those conversations?
- Has it been limited to ascertaining the cost of terminating the existing contract?
- Has it included any negotiating the removal of the back files from JSTOR’s platform, which would require amending the existing contract ASALH has with JSTOR?
- What has been the substance of all conversations on ASALH’s behalf for both JSTOR’s Archival and New Scholarship Programs?
- If you have asked JSTOR to take the back files out of our archive have they agreed?
- Would there be any financial consequence for you or ASALH in relationship to either of those two contracts?
Once upon a time in the 1990s, ASALH was in a financial crisis, running deficits with seemingly no way out. It had a real estate portfolio that included a building on Fourteenth Street in Washington, DC. One of the leaders of the board decided that the national headquarters, already worth a million dollars in the nation’s gentrifying capital, embodied an all-in-one solution, a permanent fix. ASALH would sell the building, move the headquarters into a smaller and cheaper rental space in Silver Spring, Maryland, and run the organization in part off the return on the invested money. For some reason, it was believed that the principle would yield $70,000, or 7%. The plan was bullish, and ASALH would be lean and mean and stable. A simple, easy-to-grasp solution.
Part of what sold the argument was the condition of the building and the neighborhood. While the city had begun to gentrify, Fourteenth Street had the look and feel of being crime ridden. And the building had seen better days. Its huge basement that housed much material tended to flood, and why not be some where smaller, higher, and drier.
While the plan was simple, executing it had to be hard for many involved. Fourteenth Street was the project of Charles Wesley, one of the great institution builders in African American History. It was part of his late 1960s renaissance of the Association, when Woodson’s co-worker returned to Washington and became the executive director. Wesley raised money to buy the building but the lion’s share came from the Ford Foundation. History can be kind. Wesley passed away well before the sell became part of the board conversation. History is also rife with bitter irony, and this move must have been hard for Samuel DuBois Cook. An institutionalist in his own right, Cook was the Ford program director that Wesley worked with to get the funds for the property. Now, less an a generation later, he was president of ASALH when the board sold the building. The effort to convince him must have been great, or at least painful. And the influence on the Ford may have been even greater.
Unlike the founder, who would through himself into every project performing mental and physical work, most of those who have served on the board have done their work from a distance, and have seldom volunteered their professional skills and even less often their brawn. They have tended to be policy makers, or day-to-day bosses of the staff. Being disproportionately people of thought and direction rather than action, lacking much practical experience, the board overlooked the details and expenses of making a move. No one in the brain trust of the board, not even the leaders on the project, had made the calculation of what would become of the things in the headquarters. The things included more than eighty years of the records of the ASALH and the Associated Publishers. And it included priceless artifacts and documents from both. While Woodson had given many papers collections to the Library of Congress, there were still small collections in our possession. There were Woodson’s papers, too. Indeed, I found what became known as Carter G. Woodson’s Appeal among those papers. And then there were the artifacts from the Associated Publishers, Woodson’s personal business, and it included photographs, original manuscripts, printer’s plates and engravings, and more I’ll never know. The engraving plates included images of Nannie Burroughs, Henry Highland Garnett, and Henry McNeal Turner.
The process of leaving Fourteenth Street came without planning, less a move than a scramble. No money was made available for professional movers. Over the years, I have not identified a single board member who rolled up their sleeves to help. Most lived out of town, some were too old, and others too grand. Most were professors, after all. Graduate students and local friends of ASALH pitched in to help the staff move from the city. Worse still, no decision and provisions had been made to deal with the records and artifacts and trash of over eighty years. Decision were made pell mell: Volunteers moved stuff to several different self-storage facilities in Washington, DC. Frantically and unwittingly, they placed thousands, yes thousands, of boxes of worthless materials in permanent storage facilities where it cost $5 to look into them and twice that to remove or destroy. Bowie State University gave permission for ASALH to move material to their library temporarily, and that stretched over a decade. It was a vast mountain of stuff–much of it unboxed–that covered more than six-hundred square feet and stood over six-feet tall, as high as middle-aged men could stack it. Years later when I first saw it, I almost cried as I looked at rare black history photographs and Woodson correspondence crunched up by moldy, water-logged books and thousands of copies of the same flyers. Over the years, ASALH’s board had included a number of leading archivists, and but none had taken the time to separate the wheat from the tons of chaff. The total volume of the materials in the headquarters was massive, and anyone who had been to the headquarters should have known it. Years later, the material removed from one storage unit alone weighed over 55,000 tons, and I know because I signed to take it out and sort through it with graduate students such as Kamal McClarin and Anton House. (Moreover, it cost ASALH over $25,000 a year to store what was mostly trash and excess publishing inventory, and it took nearly seven years to convince the board to allow me to stops the bleeding and clean up our mess.)
This was not the worse of Executive Council’s failure to plan the move. Tragically, without rhyme or reason, the materials that could not be moved to storage units, permanent storage, or Bowie State room, had a much worse fate. With a need to turn over the keys and limited resources, decisions had to be made. Locals would later recall that dumpsters appeared in the street outside of the headquarters, and material tossed into them. Over the years, I have talked to integrationists, black nationalists, socialists, and those who simply love black people who spoke of the tragedy that unfolded and wondered how it could happen to an institution that allegedly believed in history. How could they let it happen to Woodson’s legacy?
For days, cars pulled up, and conscious black people of all walks of life went dumpster diving. This included professors who were members of ASALH, people who could have helped in the move. From learned people you would here about manuscripts, Woodson documents, and rare books and photographs and other material. All this sound apocryphal until you meet people who confess the treasurers in their possession and how they got them.
Collectors collect until they need money or die. And now ebay is how many things change hands. Yesterday, I received a notice on Facebook from a friend that some Associated Publishers engravings were for sale. There it was, our history, on ebay. I bought the engraving plate of Henry Highland Garnet, and alerted other friends. This sell off of thrown-away ASALH assets is evidence of how a board can botch a decision by not doing due diligence.
The money from the sale of Fourteen Street did not get used as planned. When outstanding debts were paid off, there was only $800,000 or so I’ve been told. And then the Ford withdrew its support, something probably not understood by those making the decision. Why would Ford continue to support an association that had squandered an asset appreciating rapidly in gentrifying Washington, DC, especially when they had underwritten it? When I joined the board, ASALH was bleeding $120,00 to $150,000 of that money each year. The simple solution proved to be a failure, a massive failure. It cost on average $25,000 a year for a decade to store the material, and nearly $20,000 to remove it from permanent storage to decide what to keep and what to destroy.
The single, brilliant solution to ASALH’s problems proved to be an embarrassing, expensive, and tragic blunder, but one of the prime movers on this solution probably little understands what was lost and the total cost. He has not lived in the city where people still talk about it. No one has ever forced him to confront the cost of his plan. Yet this person is a big booster of allowing the University of Chicago to become the publishers of the Journal of African American History. This one has not learned of Gilbert Smith’s Big Lie on the University of Chicago Press proposal to become the publisher of the Journal of African American History. He has not been disabused of the notion that Chicago will provide us a profit of $100,000 a year to buy and do for ASALH, or that our journal now profits us nothing. Even though he erred, he is honorable and takes people at their word.