Journal History

The Anthropology Book Forum was founded by the American Anthropological Association as an experimental prototype in digital publishing aimed at accelerating the scholarly book review process within anthropology through the implementation of a totally digital workflow.

As an idea, it began when Oona Schmid, the AAA's Director of Publishing, analyzed book reviews published in the 2012 journals of the American Anthropological Association. At that time, 46% of the reviews published in the journals held copyrights from 2 years earlier. In a handful of cases, the books were published more than 5 years earlier than their reviews.

Why such a lag? The delays stem from a print-centric workflow, in which books are mailed after publication to journal offices, book review editors locate reviewers and mail the books to reviewers, and reviewers send in reviews. The journal production process also consumes time, as manuscripts are typeset, proofs issued, corrections entered, and eventually, journal issues published.

What are the results of publishing in print? The readership of the review is arbitrarily restricted to the readership of the journal. The ensuing review does not provide the interested audience with any mechanism to purchase the volume, even in its online form, nor support any commenting tools or interactions with social media. Because of the time delay, publishers and authors may not realize accolades or sales from positive reviews and authors miss the opportunity to submit glowing reviews to personnel committees to emphasize their scholarly contributions.

Do book reviews matter? In the humanities and social sciences, the monograph is where deeper analysis of textual or visual analysis occurs. Monographs are the main currency in the realm of scholarly exchange, a central incubation space for the development of theory and the sole opportunity for thick description of complex phenomena. Open access to book reviews may aid scholarly presses, enabling more university presses to publish more book-length works by anthropologists.

Time to try something new? All these factors emphasized the importance of testing if a digital-centric process could allow publishers to upload page proofs and discover if reviews might appear (in a dream scenario) concurrently with publication of the book. Further, book and journal publishers would save mailing costs. Publishing reviews online would allow for the scholarly community to engage with the book review alongside the monograph. A book review could catalyze a substantial scholarly conversation in this vision!

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation funded this experiment. With their support, Public Knowledge Project developed its Open Journal System such that any journal could use this new digital-centric process to support a faster way to create and publish book reviews across multiple disciplines. The code is available at: https://github.com/jnugent/AAAObjectsForReview.