Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing

Yesterday I submitted an abstract for the 2021 ASOR annual meeting. It felt like a little expression of hope that things might have returned to a certain kind of normal by next fall. 

I proposed my paper for the third year in a workshop dedicated to “Best Practices for Digital Scholarship” organized by Sarah Kansa and Chuck Jones. It’s in the third year of a three year run and the topic for this year is “perspectives on publishing digital content.”    

My paper is titled “Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing.” It argues that there are three trends that have shaped changes in scholarly publishing: (1) the rise of digital practices in the field which have created both new forms of archaeological information, (2) the decline in library spending and concomitant clamor for more open access resources in archaeology, and (3) the growing precarity and contingency in the archaeological job market. I’d like to argue that changes in both field practices and in the structure of academic labor and institutional priorities are converging and this will encourage new forms of publishing practices. 

I’ve explored many of the ideas that anchor issue (1) in a paper that I submitted last year for a volume edited by Kevin Garstki that emerged from the 2018 IEMA Conference at Buffalo on ““Critical Archaeology in a Digital Age.” You can read it here

It may be that my contribution to the ASOR workshop will focus more on issues (2) and (3). Scholar-led publishing, for example, relies on the willingness of scholars to take on some of the responsibilities traditionally organized or performed by publishers. These range from conducting peer review to copy-editing, book layout and design, and marketing and promotion of published open access books. The reasons for this are complex, of course. I’d contend that some of the shine associated with traditional high value publishers (e.g. Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago, Princeton, et c.) has dulled in some ways because scholars not on the tenure-track no longer feel the need to publish with presses whose prestige is partly tied to their reputation for producing books capable of earning their authors tenure. To go a step further, I’d contend that stagnation of faculty salaries at many institutions and the drift from pay scales anchored in merit to those shaped by a philosophy of austerity has undermined the status of traditional publishers as well. Austerity measures have similarly reduced the purchasing power of libraries, one of the main consumers of traditional academic monographs, and encouraged the rise of open access publishing. This, in turn, has garnered open access publishing its own kind of prestige in academic circles.

Open access publishing is further supported by the continued refinement of publishing software which makes it relatively easy to produce high quality layouts and designs. Print-on-demand technology supported by behemoths like Amazon and Ingram as well as a revolving door of smaller start ups makes it possible to create, sell, and distribute low-cost, decent-quality paperbacks and high-quality hardcover books without investing in massive print runs. For digital books, the rise in both academic and commercial repositories now support an expansive ecosystem of self-archived and open access publications accessible on the web. Social media offers a viable, if sometimes uneven, platform for both targeted and dispersed marketing.

In sum, many of the financial, technological, and professional barriers that have discouraged small-scale academic publishers appear to be diminishing at the same moment when many outwardly successful academic presses are under threat from within their institutions. To be clear, I don’t see scholar-led, open access publishing as replacing traditional academic publishers. Nor do I see this as an either/or situation, but rather as part of the ongoing transformation of both the academic and publishing landscape.

Here’s my abstract:

Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing

Over the past thirty years digital practices have significantly changed archaeological workflows. The distinctive character of digital data now characterizes the processes associated with archaeological knowledge making from the trench or survey unit to the final publication. This shift has coincided with fundamental changes to scholarly publishing which is negotiating the strains of reduced library budgets and challenges linked to the growing pressure and expectation of open access publishing models. At the same time, recent years have seen a shift in the academic job market away from tenured and tenure stream positions and toward a more contingent and precarious workforce. It is hardly surprising, then, that the confluence of these unsettled conditions have provided a critical context for reconsidering the role digital practices play in scholarly publishing. This paper will sketch out the role of small-scale, scholar-led, open access publishing at the amid the increasingly digital character of archaeological publishing, the changing ecosystem of scholarly publishing, and the growing instability and precarity of careers in academic archaeology.


This is obviously new terrain for me and, as always, I’m eager to hear any and all thoughts on my ideas!

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