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Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Whiny Post about Conference Fees

This post is a bit of throat-clearing in preparation for the beginning of our academic year of conference blogging.

Is it just me or have conference registration fees been going up nearly as fast as tuition? MLA this year is $125; RSA is $140; SAA wins the prize at only $100. The World Shakespeare Congress registration fee was something absolutely absurd that I can't remember because I ultimately decided not to attend. [Pantagruelle in the comments reports AU$600(!!) for professors; AU$400(!!!) for grads. wtf?]

Now, I don't really mind paying $100 once a year for a conference fee, and I like a conference to have a few amenities like an opening and/or closing reception with some munchies. I know all that costs money. But RSA's fee is beginning to creep up towards $200, and none of us earns very much in the grand scheme of things. MLA seems to get bigger and bigger each year, so with more and more people attending--and, in many cases, forming a captive audience who have to attend--shouldn't the cost of putting on the conference be getting spread around among more and more wallets? And so shouldn't the cost to each member rise somewhat more slowly as a result?

Here's a serious suggestion for RSA and MLA: stop printing Renaissance Quarterly and PMLA. Stop mailing them out to each member. I for one do not need any more paper floating around my office. Just send out an email when the latest issue is available online and include the table of contents in the email. That would save a bundle, wouldn't it? Does anyone really need to read scholarly journals in hard copy anymore? When I was cleaning out my office at my old school, I felt a small burst of actual glee when I dumped all my old journals onto the departmental "table of books free for the taking."

  • At 9/03/2006 10:15:00 AM, Blogger Ancarett wrote…

    Hear, hear on separating the journal subscription from being bound into the membership costs! I don't really need those anyway with paper and electronic copies in the library.

    And the RSA struck me as particularly rabid on the cost recovery -- to apply to the annual conference you have to be current on your fees, when accepted to present you have to pay the fees for that next year in short order and more than six months before the conference you have to have paid your conference registration.

    Those costs are tough even for a tenured academic because I can't claim conference costs against my professional allowance until the conference is over. How much worse is the situation for under and unemployed members?


  • At 9/03/2006 02:29:00 PM, Blogger Pantagruelle wrote…

    The ridiculously high fees for ISA (which were not worth it in terms of free munchies; the closing reception ran out of booze) were $600AUD for profs, $400AUD for grad students (slightly less once converted to US or Canadian dollors). Everyone I talked to complained about the fees, and nobody thought they were justified for what we got.

    I agree about the journals. My bookshelves are already filled to bursting as it is. The last thing I need are copies of PMLA (and several other journals from several other orgs to which I belong) arriving every four months, especially since I rarely read them since there is rarely anything that's relevant to my own research interests. An email with a table of contents and a link to pdfs that I could download if relevant would be much more efficient for me and cost-effective for them. Most associations have moved to e-newsletters to cut costs, why not e-journals for members too?

    Could any of those of you attending MLA this year (Philly was bad enough at SAA and I've got no desire to return) attend the general meeting and propose such an idea?


  • At 9/04/2006 03:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Two points:

    Yes, yes, yes: I completely agree: conference fees are a nuissance in the best of cases, and a dangerous thing in most cases: Anything that will diminuish the number of listeners to and discutants of a paper at a conference is against the interests of the person reading that paper; and anything that makes less junior students than possible visit a conference is damaging to the whole profession.
    IMO: An instutution that cannot find enough money to pay for a few biscuits and some cups of coffee should seriously consider whether it should organize a conference. And as for "receptions": if there is not enough money to entertain the participants: why not transfer them to a restaurant and have everybody who wnats to participate pay for her/his own drinks and meals?
    As for the idea to have those delivering papers to pay for the right to read a paper, well, to be honest: I don't pay for reading a paper, I expect to be somehow payed for doing so (either in money, or at least via a free dinner or something like that).
    And, yes, in this office here there is such a strong feeling that charging for attending conferences is a bad idea that we don't list "CFPs that are for events that recquire participants to pay (by way of membership or other) for the right to attend and/or to speak" in our List of CFPs in Renaissance Intellectual History.

    Second point: For my personal use of RQ the electronic version plus an email notification would be sufficient as well, but as IMO RQ is a rather good journal: it should be accessible even in a few hundred years, and thus we can't do without a proper archival medium as well: at least for some dozen libraries we'll need it on paper.


  • At 9/04/2006 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    hi hck, thanks for the comment.

    I love the bold stand against conference fees your office has taken.

    On the archival issue: at some point in the near future, the profession (and really, the whole scholarly community) is going to have to develop standards for digital archiving that will convince everyone that they are real and lasting. Because a lot of scholarship is now digital-only. There's no logical reason, I think, why the digital medium can't be as lasting as the paper one; we just have to work out how to do it.

    (I'm sure there are websites aplenty on this issue but I haven't searched for them.)


  • At 9/04/2006 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I agree, obviously, that online scholarship needs to be archived, but I'm not sure the digital medium is necessarily the best way to do so. If, say, online articles are only archived digitally, each future technological advance will require translating those files into the new standard format. Does anyone, for example, really expect .pdf files to be around in ten years? (I don't.)

    So put me down as skeptical about electronic archiving, and in favor of paper archiving.

    Archivists and librarians around the world are, and have been for years, debating this topic, but as has often pointed out, they are usually more concerned with "pruning" their collections than with preserving historical documents.

    Ack--these are two of my pet peeves--three, if you count conference fees--so I'm going to stop now.


  • At 9/04/2006 01:14:00 PM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    Hieronimo is right - digital publishing offers far more flexibility and features (searching, links, etc) than traditional print. It's also much cheaper, and libraries are starting to subscribe only to journals in electronic form. Incidentally, this discussion reminds me of an earlier post about humanities publishing.

    @ Simplicius: converting electronic content is easy once it's already there. It makes much more sense to continue down the text/xml/pdf road and adapt to new technology rather than having to digitize from scratch whenever said "new technology" comes out.

    On the ISA, the price was outrageous. Aside from the opening and closing reception drinks, and the occasional muffin/scone breakfast, we were left to scurry around Brisbane to forage for ourselves. Sometimes they had baskets of apples and pears sitting next to the tea and coffee. Other times they had these ridiculously hard biscuits - I ended up crushing mine against some concrete outside to feed some local pigeons. The dinner was AUD$120 on top of the registration, and it was hardly value for money. The portions were miniscule (especially the vegetarian meals), and the dessert (strawberries and chocolate fondue) was to be shared amongst the whole table of 6. Not impressed.

    There's really little reason for these conferences to cost so much and offer so little. The PMRG conference that I'd been involved in organizing was held a fortnight after the ISA. We asked AUD$100 for a full 2-day international conference with gourmet catering, and we used the audio/visual facilities (some of the papers on film at the ISA didn't even show clips!). Overall, the papers were of a higher quality than many of the ones I heard at the ISA (with a few notable exceptions). Just goes to show...


  • At 9/04/2006 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Just to clarify: I love having online access to journals, and in fact I'm growing increasingly annoyed when journals aren't online, or when only the past two years are, or when everything except the past two years is.

    But for the purposes of archiving and preservation for the next century and beyond, I desperately hope journals continue to produce paper copies that can be, and will be, stored in libraries. Kind of how big newspapers like the NY Times used to produce copies of their papers on rag paper expressly for archival purposes, which worked very well until libraries decided to throw them out (as recounted in Double Fold by N. Baker).

    And, just to add to the chorus, I'd be happy if I never received another paper copy of RQ or MLA in my mailbox.


  • At 9/04/2006 05:31:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I want to jump in on the chorus against RSA, in particular. They really seem to me to be the most egregious. (I didn't go to ISA). This is, in my view, the most boring conference in our field. And it's also the most ridiculously militant vis a vis the fees: as ancarett pointed out, they *hound* you. And they've been ridiculously expensive for a while now. It incenses me. And how often do we all read RQ, seriously? I flip through the book reviews, sometimes, but with a few notable exceptions, the articles are usually so far afield that I just have no interest. Italian madrigals, anyone? German humanists? Spanish numismatics? Frankly, the "field" represented by RSA and RQ doesn't even exist anymore. It's just a kind of umbrella for a bunch of disparate activities whose participants never encounter each other.


  • At 9/05/2006 07:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    concerning RQ: obviously I'm a rather strange reader, but for me on average 1 article every second issue is of some interest, and, to be honest: there are extremely few journals where I get more than 2 articles of interest to me per year ... .

    Concertning RSA generally: yes: it is a huge society and an extremely high percentage of the members who have no research interests that are common or overlapping with mine. But to be honest: that's also true for more specialised societies of which I am a member.

    So: why do I remain enrolled to RSA? Well, it is a good platform for information about things and contact to people outside of the focus of my main interests, and there are the benefits of having access to RQ without having to go to the library, and to have access to the ITER bibliography from (almost) any place in the world, and there are emotional reasons as well.


  • At 9/07/2006 10:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Just two days ago I listed "to have access to the ITER bibliography from (almost) any place in the world" as one of my reasons for my RSA membership. Today I received an eMail pointing me to the Summer 2006 issue of "Renaissance News & Notes" at URL http://d14696743.u203.interactivemediaconsulting.net/RNN/RNN18-2.pdf
    , and there I read: "most RSA members now access Iter through one or another library server, rather than through individual subscriptions. For this reason, RSA will discontinue the practice of automatic member contribution and subscription in January 2007. The RSA Executive Board and Council approved this change at their October 2005 and March 2006 meetings, respectively."

    Well, ahem: not only one of my benefits down, but a decision affecting the membership without any attempt at getting the members' views on that matter before the decision was taken (they do have my eMail address ...).

    I must admit: my emontional ties to RSA are somewhat loosened ... .


  • At 9/07/2006 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I just received that email too. Are you planning to write RSA and request your continued individual enrollment in ITER. Maybe they simply mean they won't "automatically" enroll members, but will on request.


  • At 9/08/2006 06:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Their news has also the following: "RSA members can still purchase individual subscriptions at a discounted rate, set at $25 for 2007. Just visit the Iter web site: http://www.itergateway.org/ and
    click on “Subscription information.”" ... .

    I tend to consider USD 25 and acceptable price for world wide access to Iter; I guess I'll take that offer at the first time I come to need access to Iter at a place without institutional access to Iter if I should decide to continue to remain an RSA member (I have not yet deceided on this).

    My main problem with the Iter subscription issue is not the money, it's the way of decision making: This electronic age of ours perhaps has problems with long term preservation of documents, but it certainly permits to try to get feedback by electronic means on specific plans prior to the decision ... .


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