socwikileaks?

OK, so, partly due to my bygone days as an active and charming blogger, I am an elected member of the ASA publications committee. We meet twice a year: once at the ASA meetings, and then we met last weekend in Washington, DC. It’s a big meeting: 6 members, the president, secretary/treasurer, 8 editors, 2 representatives from Sage, and 3 staff members from the ASA executive office.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve learned being part of the publications committee is how closely held any financial information by ASA is.

You would think, for instance, being on the publications committee would mean I would have some basic idea of how much revenue the journals take in, or how much they cost to produce, or how much they ultimately make, but I don’t. I know the ASA journals (especially ASR) make quite a bit of money–don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise–but I know it from a variety of indirect sources (like how much related journals with smaller subscriber bases make, and how excited Sage is to be in partnership with ASA), not from anything I have been provided specifically as a committee member.

(Incidentally, the job bank is also a cash cow, as anybody who has been part of a search that has tried to advertise a job knows. I’m heading an interdisciplinary search that was advertising in four disciplines, and advertising for sociology was the most expensive. Another unit on our campus declined to advertise in the job bank because of how expensive it is, and for awhile ASA prohibited its listservs from being used to send out job announcements that weren’t in the job bank–meaning that ASA was literally keeping members from finding out about jobs–but they seem not to be enforcing this anymore. I suspect the job bank is nonetheless pocket change compared to the journals, but have no way of knowing for sure.)

On publications committee, we are asked to approve various decisions about expenses–for example, a journal’s request for extra pages–and usually we have to ask how much those expenses would cost, but even then we have no context in which to put the number. Thing is, I’ve heard from a few people now that ASA Council doesn’t get much financial information either. I think the only people outside the ASA Home Office that have access to the full financial innards of ASA are the President, Secretary/Treasurer, and the three people appointed to the budget committee by the Secretary/Treasurer.

ASA is a big organization: reports of the staff size vary but apparently it’s about thirty, not counting the managing editors for journals. The more involved I’ve been in volunteering for it in various capacities, the more I’ve found its transparency hard to swallow. I keep seeing news coverage of WikiLeaks and thinking: I wish somebody would leak the financial information of ASA somewhere that anybody who wanted could look at it.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

5 thoughts on “socwikileaks?”

  1. Just curious: have you ever asked for this information and been denied? If you emailed Sally Hillsman, what did she say?

    Perhaps part of Erik Wright’s, “Real Utopias” theme you can organize a panel around the “real utopia” of what you wish ASA looked like.

    One final thing: I discovered, last year, that it’s actually cheaper for me not to be a member of ASA and just register to go to the meetings as a non-member. Yes, yes, I know about the entire free-rider thing. I’m just saying, it’s tempting. Part of the temptation: perhaps ASA will stop selling my mailing address and I won’t get so much damn junk mail from publishers, etc. Then again, that is a battle I’ve probably already lost.

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    1. The publications committee has asked for this information and not received it. In ASA’s defense, I don’t think we’ve asked as forcefully as we could. We did receive financial information about one journal for which there was a particular issue, although it’s notable that this information had “CONFIDENTIAL TO ASA” in a footer.

      I don’t know what would happen if a member not in any official capacity e-mailed the executive officer asking for our financial records.

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  2. this reminds me of Anand and Peterson’s article pointing out that the record labels didn’t understand their own accounting records well enough to know basic things like that country was more popular than heavy metal until Soundscan repackaged this information and sold it back to them.

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  3. @Gabriel: Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I thought the argument was that Billboard and points of sale both engaged in data practices that underestimated the sales of country and rap. I don’t remember that record labels were the guilty parties.

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    1. jenn,
      what you’re describing was the main point of the article but a secondary point was the puzzle of why the record labels never figured this out before then since in principle they could have subtracted returns from shipments and tallied by genre but they never actually did this. or maybe that’s just a puzzle i restrospected onto the article.

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