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Council Seeks Comments for Special Ballot Referendum

Council Recommends Decoupling Dues and Journal Subscriptions

At its meeting in February, ASA Council unanimously voted to recommend to the membership a new dues structure that would decouple dues and journal subscriptions. This recommendation came to Council after a year of study by the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget (EOB) with review and support from the Committee on Publications. For members who choose to take the same number of journals, this change would essentially be cost neutral.

ASA members will be asked to vote on this change by mail ballot in September. A key goal of this change is to better serve ASA members and to provide them with more flexible membership choices. To that end, Council has established a comment period and an opportunity for member discussion at the ASA Annual Meeting before bringing this recommendation to the membership for approval. This topic is on the agenda of the open ASA Business Meeting, scheduled for August 21.

The background to this change is as follows: For an association of its size, ASA has more journals than most, and has a “cafeteria plan” where members select as part of their membership the journals they wish to receive. Regular members (except those in the lowest income category) are required to select two. Such a structure is costly to the members and to the Association in comparison to associations that have only one or two journals or require that all members “take” one journal and elect others. Over time, ASA has added journal choices, and has had cost-of-living dues increases without any separation of the two. With a progressive dues structure, ASA has among the highest dues (for upper income members) in the social sciences. The Publications Committee, the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget, and Council felt compelled to examine ASA’s dues structure and consider changes that could benefit members and also help ensure a dynamic publications program.

Council reviewed models for decoupling journals from the dues, while keeping changes cost neutral for members who elect to take the same journals. Council sees decoupling as having advantages for members:

  • Under the new plan, members would only be required to select one journal, in contrast to the two now typically required. While Council hopes that members will continue to take two or more journals, they can elect to do so without it being a part of the base membership.

  • Also, membership dues would be separated from journal subscription rates even for the required journal. At the outset, dues would be such that, when added to the journal subscription cost, membership would be no more costly after the change than it would have been had dues and subscriptions remained coupled.

  • In the long-run, members will have lower dues even if they continue to subscribe to the same number of journals because cost-of-living increments would be applied only to the membership portion of the dues and not to journal subscriptions. The cost of subscriptions would only be adjusted if required by an the actual net cost of publishing that journal. The ASA’s track record in setting member subscription rates has been very favorable: Member subscription rates are at approximately at cost, and, while these rates have increased modestly over the years, increases have been well below inflation. The rate increases for subscriptions are absorbed almost entirely by institutional and non-member subscriptions.

  • The no-journals dues rate, currently used by less than 10 percent of the membership, will be eliminated. All members—except for Emeritus members—would need to select one journal and the no-journal dues rate would be eliminated. ASA is rare among scholarly societies in having had a no-journal dues rate. Council and the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget concluded that every ASA member (except Emeritus members) should support ASA’s capacity to maintain an affordable publications program of the highest quality by subscribing to at least one journal. All ASA-wide journals—including ASA’s forthcoming quarterly magazine, Contexts—would be options.

  • Subscription prices for journals would include a lower rate for students so that the aggregate cost to students would be held as low as possible and students would have a greater incentive to read broadly across the discipline. Council, the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget, and the Committee on Publications see this change as serving ASA members and thus serving ASA. Key to this change is containing costs, expanding options for members, and having members more satisfied with what they choose to receive (in addition to the broader benefits that membership provides for sociologists and sociology). In addition, decoupling will also result in better information for the Association in operating as an effective publisher. Under the Association’s current system, ASA can only estimate the true costs and revenues (including from member subscribers) of each journal. Better financial information on each journal will allow for better planning, change, and innovation in publishing. In 1999, based on recommendation from EOB and the Publications Committee, Council passed a resolution that each journal must operate at least on a break-even basis. The change will allow the Publications Committee and EOB to work with the ASA’s journals program to ensure this remains the case.
In recommending decoupling dues and subscriptions, Council wanted members to have an opportunity to reflect on this change and what it can mean for members and for ASA. In addition to building in a comment period, Council has authorized a special referendum in September so that any change that is adopted can go into effect in 2002. This is the first year in many years that a new journal—Contexts—is being introduced by ASA, and the Association wishes to include it as a choice. Council urges members to send questions or raise issues for EOB’s or Council’s consideration to Felice Levine, Executive Officer, at, or call her directly at (202) 383-9005, x316. Also, Council encourages attendance at the Business Meeting and, most importantly, voting when the ballot arrives in September.