May I brag? I got this email from the kind and communicative Managing Editor of the only academic journal I ever published in: “The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture,” from the large publisher Taylor & Francis, which publishes scads of academic journals. He wrote:
“We've recently compiled our publication data over the past seven years and thought you might be interested in the positive results. We're happy to report that your article, "Women’s Liberation Explosion At Boston University (1969–70)," published in our 2014, 7.1 edition remains very popular and was one of our top ten most downloaded articles from Taylor & Francis in 2014… We're very happy to see the popularity of the article, and hope you will be as well. Thanks so much for your contribution to the Journal!”
But here’s what I’m really proud of. Academic journals and book publishers offer the most appalling contracts to writers of almost all publications. The journals don’t pay. They ask you to indemnify them against any legal challenges. They demand to hold the copyright of your work. And then they put your essay behind a paywall which means that it is only read by students and faculty of the universities that pay them for access.
I was approached by one of the editors about using my piece and was pretty happy about the idea of being included in the ivory tower for once – until, that is, I saw the contract. Since a contract is something that is negotiated between two parties – despite publications telling you “this is our standard document” – I started negotiating with them (with some support from my union's brilliant contract advisers.)
I told them that I would only indemnify them up to the amount they paid me: zero. I told them they could not own the copyright unless they were buying the piece outright, which wasn’t happening. I told them that I refuse to have my (unpaid) writing, about building a revolutionary movement, no less, behind a paywall.
To their credit, they agreed to all of it, every single counter-request, and the result is that people can actually get to my essay and read it. I know that the stakes are higher for people who make their living in the academic realm, but writers be advised: If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
You may have already read my piece, but if not, feel free – literally – to click here.