The age of open access is upon us. Increasingly, the consensus of authors of research articles and their funding institutions is that the fruits of taxpayer-supported research should be freely available to the public. This is a compelling argument and a noble goal.
But, achieving open access is not easy. Professional maintenance and distribution of large digital archives, guaranteed for the long term, does incur significant cost. The most promising model for recovering such costs under an open-access regime is an author-pays (or, in effect, a funding institution pays) model. Such a scheme introduces issues of its own. If publishers generate revenue by producing more content (paid for by authors) rather than quality content (paid for by subscribers), then the natural tendency in the system will be for the generation of large quantities of low-quality content. Indeed, we have seen the rise of predatory publishers, actively seeking authors to pay for publication in venues devoid of the exacting scrutiny of conscientious peer review. The result is a glut of third-rate publications that add noise rather than insight to the scientific enterprise.
The important question is: Can we establish a sustainable economic model for publication that serves the interest of both authors and the reading public? We submit that non-profit professional societies must play a critical role in this regard. They are the hallmark of quality in publications, and must remain so to serve the interests of the reading public. But, how do we transition from the current subscription model to a new financial model enabling open access in a way that does not bankrupt the organization in the process? This question has occupied the attention of the ACM Publications Board for several years. Because the stakes are high, the Board has chosen to move with caution.
Because we do not have a reliable crystal ball, we have chosen to provide an array of options for ACM authors and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to enable a natural, slow, and (hopefully) stable evolution of the publication enterprise into the future. Examples of this are ACM's long-standing policies enabling author-produced versions of ACM-published materials to be posted on author Web pages, on the pages of their institutions, and on archives mandated by funding institutions. A shining example of such green open-access policies is ACM's Author-Izer service, which allows authors to place specialized links on their Web pages that tunnel through ACM's paywall to provide free access to the definitive versions of their papers, while capturing download statistics displayed in the ACM Digital Library (DL).
In the next few months ACM will roll out more options for authors and SIGs, which will provide even greater levels of flexibility with regard to open access.
The set of changes unveiled here are but another step in an ongoing process in which ACM adapts to the new realities of scholarly publishing. Many further refinements are possible. For example, if the author-pays option is successful, the Publications Board may consider the feasibility of making previously published papers in the DL open access, or making entire proceedings open access using funding from registration fees or sponsors. As the Board considers each change it will continue to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the ACM community while fulfilling its responsibility to maintain a healthy and sustainable publications program.
©2013 ACM 0001-0782/13/02
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Please can the publications board provide us with some information about the costs associated with "Professional maintenance and distribution of large digital archives, guaranteed for the long term"? I would like the ACM membership to have a chance to discuss how much additional revenue we (ACM) should be trying to extract beyond these costs to subsidize other activities. Most of the contributions to the DL are the results of the labor of authors, reviewers, and editors, the vast majority of which are unpaid volunteers.
@John Wilkes: I absolutely agree. The sole role of a distributor of digital documents (ACM DL in this case) is to provide a backed-up database of these (volunteer-produced) articles, a website from which to access them, and a paywall to restrict this access. This is an extremely common IT job that most employed programmers today can reproduce. As an ACM member, I would very much like to see the breakdown in expenses related to this endeavor since they are presumably coming at least partially from my membership dues.
ACM has been discussing costs associated with "professional maintenance and distribution of large digital archives, guaranteed for the long term" with the SIG leadership (which represents a large fraction of the membership that is generating DL content). As part of this conversation, there are discussions about the role of DL revenue in subsidizing other ACM activities. We urge you to speak with the SIG leaders in your area to ensure that the views of your community are well represented. We welcome such input as the membership discusses this very important issue.
I left ACM last year, after nineteen years as a member, because they are not fulfilling their primary educational mission and are not abiding by their own code of ethics. The failure to provide open access to publications and the appalling incompetence of their conference operations (and specifically the underlying information technology) are two main examples.
According to Brighten Godfrey's reading* of the ACM's 2011 annual report, the cost per new paper in the Digital Library is $379. By a similar calculation, the cost of a paper on the arXiv is less than $7. I expect there are various factors that explain part of this cost differential; perhaps it is not totally unreasonable that the Digital Library, which includes a vast archive of older content, might cost 3 or 4 times as much as the arXiv. But it costs 54 times as much! This is the elephant in the room; we cannot have truly useful discussions about the future of ACM publishing without acknowledging that the ACM has utterly failed to keep DL costs reasonable (or even within an order of magnitude of reasonable), and second, taking concrete action to bring the DL's costs under control.
After all, if DL revenue is really so vital for funding the ACM's "good works", then every dollar saved in costs is one more dollar for "good works".
Please do share the costs with the wider audience. This is much more efficient than contacting individual SIG leaders, which would result in replicating the effort many times over.
Why would ACM adopt a policy of secrecy surrounding the cost structure of publishing?
If the real costs are indeed high, for a good reason, then authors and readers should know about this.
If the costs are high because of structural inefficiencies (similar to the ones the health insurance industry is suffering from), then ACM should act to lower these costs by adopting more efficient and effective solutions. The community can easily help with such tasks.
Disrupting and modernizing industries is not an unfamiliar task for ACM members.
Some government funding agencies will not cover the "author pays" model - we shall be obliged to use Usenix or ArXiv or others who eschew that model - I don't believe the ACM should be on the side of the commercial (for profit) "academic" publishers some more notes here
I like this direction for ACM conference publications. Having been in journal publications before, I understand that there are more expenses than just having a few programmers to catalog the content. Most Open Source publishers are settling on about US$1,500 to $2,000 per paper, as the fee to cover all staff/server/edge-server costs, platform development, archiving, etc. The idea of keeping a set of conference papers available at no cost for a year is nice. Yes, there are many researchers/practitioners who'd like the whole "tail" of past papers to be free -- but if it's important to someone (or an organization), then it's probably worth a small expense per paper to get them. IEEE charges $13 per paper, for Members. IEEE also has a modest-fee ($35/month) program that lets a Member access a limited number each month -- another option.