First, a point of precision. Open-access experts distinguish between "Gold OA," described earlier, and "Green OA," which allows for open access self-archiving of material (deposit by authors) that may have been published as non-open access. ACM Copyright Policy allows for self-archiving, so ACM is a Green-OA publisher. Still, why doesn't ACM become a Gold-OA publisher?
As for ACM's stand on the open-access issue, I'd describe it as "clopen," somewhere between open and closed. (In topology, a clopen set is one that is both open and closed.) ACM does charge a price for its publications, but this price is very reasonable. (If you do not believe me, ask your librarian.) ACM's modest publication revenues first go to cover ACM's publication costs that go beyond print costs to include the cost of online distribution and preservation, and then to support the rest of ACM activities. To me, this is a very important point. The "profits" do not go to some corporate owners; they are used to support the activities of the association, and the association is us, the readers, authors, reviewers, and editors of ACM publications. Furthermore, ACM operates as a democratic association. If you believe that ACM should change its publishing business model, then you should lobby for this position.
The bottom line is there are two distinct issues here. The first is the issue of for-profit vs. association publishing. The current relationship between the scientific community and the for-profit publishers makes no sense to me. The second issue is the business model of association publishing, for example, "reader pays" vs. "authors pays." This is a legitimate topic of discussion, as long as we understand that it cannot be separated from the overall business model of the association. Just remember, "free" is not a sound business model.
First, a couple of points.
- Yes, the ACM's subscription charges for their digital library are very reasonable.
- The ACM are on the side of the angels. They're the good guys, trying to do the best thing for their members and for the computing community as a whole. And they are obviously trying to make the best of tumultuous times in publishing.
- Although it probably varies by sub-discipline, probably at least 80-90% of the articles published in ACM journals, transactions and conference proceedings are available via green OA.
- Disclosure: I used to be on the ACM's Library Advisory Group. I have been on other LAG's for both societies and commercial publishers.
And a couple of questions for the assembled masses out there:
- Is it still legitimate for a scholarly or professional society to use publications revenue to fund other member programs?
- Is there a toll access business model for these societies that makes sense?
- Is there an open access (ie. gold OA) business model for these societies that makes sense?
- Do we really still need scholarly and professional societies to be publishers? How about in 5 or 10 years?
- Do we really still need scholarly and professional societies at all? How about in 5 or 10 years?
No surprisingly, I have some ideas about the answers to these questions, but I thought it would be fun if you guys took the first shot.
And feel free to ask and answer your own questions.