Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Rights and responsibilities in ACM publishing

Rights and Responsibilities in ACM Publishing

Progress on ACM's Becoming the Preferred Publisher
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In June 2001 ACM Council approved a strategic plan ( for ACM publishing for the next three years. The vision underlying this plan is simple: to realize ACM CEO John White’s stated goal of ensuring that ACM becomes the preferred publisher for computer science. ACM publications have relevance to several constituencies: authors, readers, reviewers, editors, conference program chairs and committees, institutional subscribers, libraries, and the Association itself. The ACM Publications Board desires that the policies, publications, staff support, and pricing be configured so that every constituency is unequivocally convinced that ACM is their preferred publisher.

As a first step, the Board endeavored to articulate a set of principles that should be realized by a preferred publisher. This led to a set of specific rights that ACM should guarantee. We then realized that coupled with these rights is a set of responsibilities our constituencies must assume if we are to maintain a viable and effective publishing program. The resulting policy is the Rights and Responsibilities in ACM Publishing, reprinted here in full.

This far-ranging document outlines a set of 53 specific rights that ACM will guarantee. Where the rubber hits the road is in defining metrics that state whether we are achieving these guarantees and in putting into place processes that ensure the metrics are where they should be. These metrics and processes are required for each right; defining them has occupied the Board for the past year and they will take several more years to fully implement. Let’s look at a few examples:

The first right listed is a critical one—on-time publication. Here the metric is clear: the average delay from the first day of the issue month to the printed date and the date the issue appears in the ACM DL (whew!) shall be zero. As of a few months ago, the ACM Publications staff is rigorously tracking this average. Unfortunately, its value is not zero, for several complex reasons. Issues are often not being delivered by editors-in-chief in a timely fashion, and the production itself is often not completing issues in a timely fashion. Both of these constituent delays are being actively addressed by the Board and Headquarters staff; these delays have been reduced by half, but there is more work to do.

The metric for enabling fast access (the eighth right) is less clear. Here one might like the delay from the time a request is made to the ACM DL until the article is displayed on the user’s screen to be but a few seconds. However, that end-to-end interval includes delays contributed by parts of the Internet over which ACM has no control. ACM’s solution is to contract for various content delivery services to ensure critical parts of the ACM DL are cached appropriately and access to the DL works well throughout the world. While this solution has increased ACM’s networking charges significantly, this is a necessary expense to achieve this stated right.

The time needed to fix galleys is a pet peeve of authors. Most authors are familiar with having their paper accepted, then receiving out of the blue many months later a packet containing the galleys, with a strongly worded demand to send any changes within 72 hours. This is common practice by scholarly publishers. ACM has changed its production process to let authors know at all times where their paper is in that process and to give adequate advance notice when feedback is needed. This is just one part of becoming the preferred publisher. In a similar vein, manuscripts will no longer be thrown “over the transom” to a reviewer; instead, the review will first be requested, as a matter of courtesy.

The timely review of a paper is of critical concern to authors, yet few publishers, ACM or otherwise, fully achieve this. The metrics here involve average time from submission to editorial decision for a reviewing round, and average time from initial submission to acceptance or declination for a submitted manuscript. These metrics need to be captured in a consistent and meaningful way, which has not been done to date. ACM is putting into place a comprehensive Web-based manuscript tracking system, which will enable these metrics to be measured. Only then can the Board institute policies to ensure timely review. This tracking system will also provide turn-around-time statistics that can be made available to authors, something that again few publishers now provide.

As one can imagine, going through this analysis with all 53 rights is a daunting effort, but one that holds the promise of dramatic improvements in ACM’s efforts at high-quality, cost-effective dissemination of knowledge.

It is somewhat ironic that the ultimate goal is for other publishers to equal ACM in their commitment to these constituencies. In becoming the preferred publisher for computer science, ACM will provide a positive role model for other publishers, both commercial and nonprofit. If publishers across the board adopt these practices, then eventually ACM won’t be the preferred publisher but will be only one among many superlative publishers, to the benefit of all.

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