In an editorial last month, ACM CEO John White reported on the outcomes of the November 2013 ACM Strategic Planning Retreat. The retreat generated a number of important new ideas in the areas of membership, conferences, publications, community, and practitioners. While they are likely to have a significant impact on ACM's activities going forward, I view them as defining only a relatively short-term agenda not fully addressing some deep issues facing ACM, issues we still need to understand and deal with.
The challenges and opportunities of open access served as the original motivation for holding the retreat. Despite setting the modern standard for a liberal copyright policy in the digital age (over a decade ago), opening more content under the discretion of ACM authors and SIGs, fully embracing Green/Gold/Hybrid OA publishing, and complying with government mandates, there is a sense among a portion of our community that we have still not done enough. A sense that if an ACM publication sits behind any sort of paywall—regardless of it also being freely available via an author's site, an author's institutional site, a SIG site, or even a conference site—we are somehow failing to meet our commitment to nurture the free flow of information.
I think looking for a business model where publication revenue does not play any part in the running of the ACM is the right thing to do.
Putting articles that are written for free behind paywalls just generates ill will and inconvenience for readers.
Removing all paywalls would align the ACM more closely with its community (especially younger people) and generate a lot of positive feeling.
In fact, I would be much more willing to pay a higher membership fee with no paywall, than I am to pay a lower membership fee when I feel like the ACM is holding a lot of the community's intellectual property hostage as part of its business model.
In my experience, most publications in the ACM DL can also be obtained from the authors' sites, or from other sources (e.g. citeseer, arxiv, etc.). Also, most conferences share at least the list of titles of accepted papers. Hence, as long as ACM does not restrict authors from sharing their published work, I think that the ACM DL content is already "open access"---you should be to get hold of anything in the DL after a couple of queries on Google.
I think the main value-add of the DL is convenience. I can:
* find all the literature in one place.
* browse conference proceedings/journals easily.
* check citations, references, download counts, etc.
It seems reasonable to have to pay for convenience.
Having said that, I think that a low-maintenance version of the ACM-DL, perhaps with just the TOC's and download links (e.g. like JMLR), could be made open-access and would be very useful to a lot of people.
I am thrilled that you are looking into this policy for the future. As you do, please consider that an additional benefit our members are looking for (I represent SIGPLAN) is the preservation of our information. ACM has done an outstanding job here, and even if ACM decides it will no longer charge readers for information, there needs to be some way to preserve the information in perpetuity. To make this happen, I suspect that our authors would be more than willing to pay modest article-processing charges (e.g., circa US $200 per paper).
I am encouraged that ACM leadership has finally started looking at open access and a different revenue model. One alternative you did not mention is a move from reader pays to author pays for ACM publication. With initiatives like the Open Access Compact http://www.oacompact.org/compact/ taking off, ACM needs to work with partners in academia to develop an alternative collective model for scholarly communication that supports both publication itself and digital preservation. As for "good works,", many of us support good works through donations to organizations we trust to use our donations wisely. ACM would likely increase their revenue from such donations if its financial model was more transparent and clearly efficient.
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