ACM responds to the blogosphere

Scott Delman, Group Publisher of the ACM, has responded to my post earlier this month on society publishers and open access. That post generated some very good discussion in the post comments that are well worth checking out.

Delman's article is in the most recent Communications of the ACM (v52i8): Responding to the Blogosphere.

Here are some excerpts, although Delman's article is so interesting that I wish I could quote the whole thing.

The fact that ACM charges both for access to the published information in its Digital Library and also extends the courtesy of "Green OA" to its authors is actually less important to me (while both are important aspects of what we do) than the fact that ACM and many other association publishers serve as well-intentioned caretakers of the scholarly record. I have spent too many hours trying to identify the "most up-to-date version" of an author's article on his or her Web site or digging through the various related institutional repositories to identify a specific version of an article to believe that any other system at the present time offers the advantages of publishing with learned societies.

When I say that all association publishers are essentially OA publishers, I mean this from the perspective that associations and their corresponding communities are one and the same. In my opinion, the question should not be how will society publishers justify their existence in the future, but rather how can they be better at marketing themselves and promoting the valuable work that they continue to do. Publishing will always have a cost, whether it relates to print publications or publishing information online. In most well-researched articles I've read on OA, all parties generally tend to agree on this. The real question is where is this money best spent and how. As a longtime publisher who has worked for both for-profit and a leading association publisher, I feel strongly that this is where any debate should be focused, and I am confident that the most valuable and well-run professional society publishers will in the long run continue to prove their worth to the scientific community at large.(Emphasis mine)

I agree with most of what Delman says, perhaps only differing in terms of the language I would use.

What's most interesting is his emphasis on marketing the societies's role as a kind of gatekeeper for the scholarly record -- the place that the scholarly publishing financial infrastructure should support with their funds. It would be interesting to see some more detailed speculations about how he would organize this: would it be through continued library subscriptions or perhaps through author charges or something else entirely.

Most of all, it's great to see a society society publisher engage in the conversation!

(BTW, I blush slightly to be mentioned in the editorial of the CACM as "John Dupuis, the esteemed Science & Engineering Librarian from York University in Toronto, on his blog Confessions of a Science Librarian." Both for the kind words and, you know, it is CACM!)

3 responses so far

  • Janne says:

    Huh. I frequently hit authors' sites for papers when I can't find it otherwise, or I'm just curious as to what they're up to. I have never seen anybody publish more than one version - the authoritative one, presumably - on their site. The only reason I could think of not to do so is with journals that expressly forbid the authors to disseminate the published version on their own (easy to remedy: just make a version without the journal logo or name in the footer).

  • John Dupuis says:

    HI Janne,

    The way I read it I assumed he was thinking of papers that might come in multiple conference, tech report & journal versions and having to sort through those perhaps often posted in different repositories. This might be somewhat unique to CS, the idea that a single publishable idea could have multiple expressions like that. Granted, it's probably not usually as big an issue as he makes it out to be.

  • I thought that I'd share the letter I sent to Communications of the ACM after Dr. Vardi's editorial appeared:


    In the July 2009 issue of Communications of the ACM, the
    editor-in-chief, Moshe Y. Vardi, addresses the question of why the ACM
    doesn't adopt the open-access model for its publications ("Open, closed, or
    clopen access?", p. 5). His answer is that "'free' is not a sound business

    Dr. Vardi presents his editorial as a rebuttal to the saying
    "Information wants to be free." However, the word "free" in this saying
    refers to freedom, not price. Freedom, of course, is not a sound business
    model. It is not a business model at all. It is a mode of social
    interaction that human beings value and aspire to achieve.

    Moreover, the ACM is not a business enterprise. It describes
    itself, on the Communications masthead, as "the world's largest
    educational and scientific computing society." As such, its mission is not
    to generate profits by implementing business models, sound or unsound, but
    to promote the open exchange of ideas. In the age of the Internet, this
    means that ACM publications should be available to the public, so that
    everyone can "read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to
    the full texts of these articles, or use them for any other lawful purpose,
    without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those
    inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself," as the Budapest
    Open Access Initiative puts it.

    I note that, to his credit, Dr. Vardi is a signer of the Budapest
    Open Access Initiative. I urge him to re-read it and reconsider its
    implications for ACM journals.

    The more general point of Dr. Vardi's editorial is that the status
    quo should be good enough, since the prices of ACM's publications are, in
    his words, "very reasonable." He invites the reader to consult his or her
    librarian for confirmation.

    I checked with my librarian, Kevin Engel of the Kistle Science
    Library at Grinnell College. He reported that the prices of ACM
    publications are indeed roughly comparable to those imposed by other
    professional organizations -- not quite as outrageous as those of, say, the
    American Chemical Society, though still somewhat more outrageous than those
    of the American Psychological Association.

    However, as Mr. Engel also pointed out, the ACM stands out as the
    only professional organization that sees the print version of its
    publications as the main profit center and hence refuses to offer an
    on-line-only subscription bundle, thus putting many researchers and
    students at a disadvantage.

    I would strongly prefer open access to ACM journals for everyone;
    I, too, signed the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Even if the ACM is
    unwilling to take such a significant step, however, we could move
    incrementally in that general direction by unbundling subscriptions and by
    making the on-line editions of our publications separately available for

    John David Stone
    Lecturer in Computer Science
    Grinnell College
    Grinnell, Iowa 50112

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