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Communications of the ACM


Toward Sustainable Access: Where Are We Now?

Jack Davidson, Joseph Konstan, Andrew A. Chien, Scott Delman

Clockwise from top left: Jack Davidson, Joseph Konstan, Andrew A. Chien, and Scott Delman.

ACM's publications program is a core part of fulfilling its mission to advance computing as a science and a profession. ACM's conference proceedings, journals, books, magazines, and newsletters comprise an essential component of ACM's identity as well as service to members and the profession. We are proud of the preeminence of the ACM Digital Library and its suite of services that provide access to these publications, ensure their preservation, and is also a repository for a growing breadth of related artifacts including video, code, and datasets.

Selling access to ACM's publications, primarily through institutional subscriptions to the DL, pays for the direct costs of running ACM's publishing program, provides funds for SIG-specific initiatives, and supports the many good works of ACM, including its curriculum and education efforts, public policy initiatives, and broad support of diversity efforts worldwide.

For decades, ACM has carefully balanced sustainability of the publishing program with providing authors the opportunity to disseminate their work widely. Examples include longstanding author rights to post their papers through personal or institutional websites, reuse in future publications, and of course to share copies with anyone who might wish to read them.

The publishing landscape is changing, and ACM with it.

The publishing landscape is changing, and ACM with it. We recognize the importance of the Open Access (OA) movement—the deeply held belief that research should be available to all—to advance the field and to ensure access for scholars who are unaffiliated or whose institutions are not subscribers. We also recognize and respect other trends, including sponsor mandates for open publishing, the desire for more replicable science, and the accelerating dissemination through distribution of preprints (including prior to peer review).

For this reason, we take this opportunity to describe what ACM, and in particular its Publications Board, thinks about these issues, recent changes, and the future.

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Six Key Principles

As we consider directions in publications, we focus on six key principles:

Sustainability. Both the financial sustainability of ACM and its publishing program underpin the ability to ensure content is available indefinitely. ACM must ensure no ACM publication is ever "out of print." A portion of the publishing budget covers costs of making digital content accessible through changing standards and guarantees there will be a backup provider should ACM be unable to publish the DL.

Figure. Jack Davidson

Access. Broad access by both readers and authors. We strive to keep subscription prices low and provide a variety of mechanisms for authors to make their work visible, easily discoverable, and freely accessible. All ACM publications support Gold OA with an author-paid article processing charge (APC). In addition, authors have a variety of Green OA options including posting an "Author-izer" Web link that gives readers direct access at no charge. And we are careful to ensure author-pays Gold OA publications have provisions for authors who cannot pay. We also help authors comply with funder mandates for open access.

Quality. Highest quality of technical content and publication. The ACM, thanks to its members and volunteers, as well as its history of quality, is a trusted brand. Publications are reviewed regularly for quality; proposed publications undergo rigorous review by the ACM community; and ACM uses state-of-the-art plagiarism-detection software and invests substantial volunteer time in handling cases of plagiarism, research misconduct, and other ethics violations. Our peer-review is first-rate, and we document in the DL key quality metrics associated with each publication.

Figure. Joseph Konstan

Author Choice. Provide publication access options that serve authors' scientific objectives. Authors can make decisions about how their work is accessible, selecting among the variety of access models and corresponding fee structures. Similarly, ACM authors can choose how they wish to manage rights, from self-management to having ACM handle everything.

Service. Provide an excellent experience for authors and readers. To better support authors and readers, we are investing in new publishing technology that reduces author effort for manuscript preparation and submission, streamlines the publication process, and provides greatly improved search and discovery of relevant articles. The new platform will also allow ACM to render articles accessible for readers with disabilities and readable on a broad range of devices.

Community Choice. Enable communities to make choices that reflect their different values and priorities. We support conferences and journals that have gone entirely Gold OA (through author-paid APCs or by paying APC costs in conference budgets). All ACM conferences have the option of a month-long "open surround" access period to their proceedings in the DL, and the option of open tables of contents on their Special Interest Group pages that provide open access to specific proceedings.

Figure. Andrew A. Chien

Figure. Scott Delman

ACM continues to explore models to enable greater sustainable open access. For example, we are working with institutional subscribers to explore "author-side" subscriptions where institutions pre-commit to paying the Gold OA APCs for some or all of their authors' publications. We are also working, in partnership with other publishers, to better support authors in meeting the open access requirements of government-funded research. In addition, a partnership with arXiv is exploring ideas for how to best connect preprints and final published papers. And of course, a key effort is the next generation of the ACM DL, incorporating features that broaden the notion of publication, supporting dissemination of code, data, and other research artifacts.

We would love to hear from you!

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Gunnar Wolf

Has the period of monetization for publications been considered? By this I mean Of course, recently published articles are most important for ACM's sustainability, as they constitute the state-of-the-art of computing across all of its frontiers. But, what about two year old articles? Five year old? Ten year old?
While most embargo periods for Open Access publishing are shorter than those terms (I have found one year to be most prevalent), opening older publications would still dearly contribute to the amount of science available to everybody I expect this would be important mostly to non-USA-based students, even faculty members in institutions and countries where the (in first-world terms, very agreeable) price of the DL is still felt as steep.
Opening classic research and the history of computer science/engineering development would surely be a great help for many young professionals entering our field. I feel my comment is a bit obvious, and I expect it to have been already considered, but I'd love to know if specific numbers or arguments have been considered.

Dana Winner

The US Constitution empowered Congress with the Power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". Therefore, we must consider, not only ACM's ability provide sustainable access, we must also consider the authors and Inventors exclusive rights to what they make. When considering this puzzle it comes to me that authors and inventors are compensated for offering their products to Journals, DL, etc . by non-monetary returns such as validation, verification, peer approval, recognition and the opportunity to likewise benefit from the makings of others. This leads me to the principle that when consider all of the stakeholders benefits in this system it is the "exclusive right" of the authors and inventors that take precedence. We are always balancing the need to protect makers rights vs. the need to make knowledge available. While we have been struggling with that balance, the Internet Culture has taken the value of knowledge and information to an all time low in a rush to make it more available. We are in no doubt that openness is in opposition to Security and privacy, therefore we should be just as sure that easy availability generally leads to devaluation. The supply and demand economic model leads to the conclusion that oversupply leads to devaluation. While we might be challenged to form an algorithm to guide our decisions in this balancing act, the U.S. Constitution tips the balance firmly in favor of the Authors and Inventors and therefore the protection of the value of their intellectual property. I believe this should be a guiding principle in this decision process going forward.

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