Q: What is a publisher?
A: A publisher is the person or entity that puts a work before the public. This means they pay the cost of production, marketing, and dissemination. As important, they take legal responsibility for the work, which means they are concerned about libel as well as public condemnation and boycotts. The publisher thus is the shot caller because they decide the risks worth taking. If they do not want the risk, they kill the project or insist that the content be changed. Many people who want to publish something controversial find this out the hard way. Their publisher tells them to remove controversial material, regardless of the promises made up front. This is why people like Carter G. Woodson believed that black people needed their own publishing houses. We have to pay to be intellectually free.
Q: Why do many members of ASALH’s Executive Council today believe that Woodson and ASALH had publishers for the Journal of African American History before.
A: For the record, ASALH has always self-published its Journal. We have paid the cost to be independent. Unfortunately, many board members, like many people in general, do not know what publishers are. Many people, for instance, associate publishers with printing presses and therefore confuse printers with publishers. Publishers hire printers and even hire the services of a “press” to perform many of the tasks necessary to bring a work before the world. Copy editing, cover designed, page layout, and printing are tasks associated with the production of a book, but the publisher is the one that makes all of this happen–and determines what is in the work.
Q: What if ASALH takes the University of Chicago Press, or any other firm, as it publisher?
A: There are many consequences:
- We would no longer have the oldest, independently published black scholarly journal in the world.
- We would have broken faith with our founder, Carter G. Woodson, who put his own money on the line to put this association in the publishing business.
- We would be giving ultimate control over what is in our journal to someone else. Promises notwithstanding, they would be the shot callers. Threatened lawsuits and irate donors often end publishing integrity. Happens all the time.
- We would cease being owed all the profit and get a royalty, a percentage of the money made, if any.
Q: What would become of the intellectual property of the Journal of previous years going back to the days of Woodson?
A: As shot callers, the publisher will want a piece of all of the action. So they would want a share of the money made today or an article that Woodson published, say, in 1949. As long as you are in their publishing stable, they want a piece of all action. That’s how they typically roll.
Q: Is the copyright owner a publisher?
A: Typically no. Just because you own the copyright does not mean you control it or benefit much from it. Most authors who go to a publisher continue to own their rights but give up the right to control it and make most of the money from it. They usually lose the say over their rights for a the number of years agreed upon in exchange for a royalty, a percentage of the profits, if any. It is justified because the publisher pays the costs. The copyright holder is thus not the shot caller. The publisher–the risk taker–is. The copyright owner is a publisher only when they self-publish–that is put up the money for production, promotion, and sales, and take on the full liability for the work. ASALH has owned its copyrights and all the money from the Journal of African American History because we have always self-published.
Q: Have any efforts been made by the leadership of ASALH to inform members of this decision?
A: No, the board has carried on as if the members of ASALH have nothing to say with the most important decision ever made by this organization. Members were not notified that a change was being considered by any mode of communication from snail mail, to email, to social media. The branches members were not informed on the regular phone calls with branch leaders. The leadership has carried on like the Journal of African American History is theirs and theirs alone.
Q: What say do regular members of ASALH have to challenge this effort to sellout tradition?
A: ASALH’s membership has the power to stop this effort at the Annual Meeting. We collectively govern ASALH via the General Meeting held every year at the Annual Meeting. This fall, that meeting is on October 6th at 4:00 p.m. in Richmond, Virginia. If those wanting to end our self-publishing tradition succeed this fall, ASALH members can vote out the rascals who sellout our tradition of independent publishing. Sign-up as a member to this site to stay informed.
Q: Is the Journal of African American History losing money?
A: No, it typically makes about $20,000, but its revenue is declining with the library market for journals. So planning must take place to keep it financial. This can be done by raising money from the members of the board and the membership. Currently there are a group of concerned members who have more than $50,000 for a reserve fund to make up any deficits as along as ASALH self-publish.
Q: Has the Executive Council produced a cost-benefit analysis of any proposal that the membership can see?
A: No, they have not produced such a report for themselves, not to mention the entire Association. They are poised to make this decision without input from the membership, period.