ACS Expanding Open Access

November 5th, 2013

Covers of JACSIn an interesting move last week, ACS Publications announced plans to expand the number of papers it offers through open (free) access. The centerpiece of these plans is the birth of a new multidisciplinary journal, ACS Central Science, that will be 100% open access. The society has also generously agreed to open access to 365 articles of the 40,000 it publishes per year. Hooray.

It will be interesting to see how the new publication is received, because the Society already has a journal dedicated to multidisciplinary coverage of chemistry: JACS. JACS is easily the flagship of all of the Society’s journals, and one is right to question whether the new addition could hurt the JACS brand. Will ACS Central Science rise to—or exceed—the same level of prestige as JACS, or will Central Science be considered a lower-tier journal? Will the new journal siphon off quality papers from JACS, or might it become a dumping ground for manuscripts first denied publication by her sister journal?

Time will tell. It’s also worth noting that ACS Publications lifted the name of the journal from the blog network at C&EN, so perhaps some rebranding is in order over there.

In the wake of the open-access announcement, a quick Google search allowed Stu Cantrill to find a “proprietary and confidential” set of PowerPoint slides from the ACS Publications Division. In the presentation, division president Brian Crawford identifies “open access mandates” as a “challenge” to the division. Crawford goes on to outline a goal to “accommodate [the] need for authors to comply with OA mandates while maintaining the Society’s economic hold on copyright in a ‘mixed economy’.” The new journal and (very minor) expansion of open access to the rest of the journals would seem to be the Society’s answer to the problem.

And the ACS should be applauded for inching closer towards embracing wider access of the material it publishes, but these are baby steps in an industry that is evolving by leaps and bounds. In my view, the problem is not that journals charge subscription fees for access to their publications, but rather how obscene some of these fees have become. Demanding open-access to papers rubs me the wrong way, because the journals perform a valuable service for which they should be compensated. The problem is that the ACS—a nonprofit society ostensibly dedicated to the advancement of chemistry and the chemical enterprise—is acting like a capitalist publishing corporation trying to milk every last dime out of the market for scientific journals.

I feel bad for the people at ACS, because they are really headed down the river fast. The revenue from the publications division is what fuels the massive bureaucracy of the ACS, and the society is almost out of ideas to stay afloat. Instead of embracing the new direction of publishing, the ACS has fought tooth and nail to protect its old standing through ruthless management of its subscription business. They have leveraged the quality of their journals against those who employ the researchers responsible for creating this quality. Eventually, as print revenue goes down and schools start standing up to exorbitant access fees, the Society is going to have to enact deep cuts to its lavish spending on Sixteenth Street. Leadership should focus on making these cuts now instead of plunging their hands deeper into the pockets of our nation’s schools and businesses for the few remaining pennies.

21 Responses to “ACS Expanding Open Access”

  1. Chem Guevara Says:

    On the other hand, perhaps this weak tea is just what the doctor ordered. If the ACS fails to adapt meaningfully, it will hasten the inevitable dialectic process, and open the portals to a new organization that will actually represent the interests of chemists and the advancement of the chemical sciences.

  2. Chemjobber Says:

    That last paragraph is a wonderment of expression, Paul.

  3. Joaquin Barroso Says:

    It still seems like a bad solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist. Open access is clearly the future -and arguably the morally right thing to do- of scientific publishing, but the peer review system should be both enforced and improved with new mechanisms. Also, there are as many stimuli schemes for publishing as there are institutions: I recently published a paper along some Iraninan colleagues, my name came last in the list because the higher they were on it, the better they got payed by the University of Teheran. Here in Mexico for instance, the National Researchers System wants us to publish as many -indexed- papers as possible each year, regardless of the impact, yet some universities try to encourage publishing in journals with higher impact instead of having many papers per year in obscure journals. And speaking about obscure journals, aren’t they a lot already? Shouldn’t we just get rid of so many journals and creat international ones for each major branch?
    This is Metallica vs Napster; Blockbuster vs Netflix, all over again

  4. Paul Bracher Says:

    I don’t know how scientific publishers can make enough money to sustain their operations if they go 100% open access. I don’t think advertising alone will get you there. This market isn’t like newspapers, where there’s tons of traffic and if one site isn’t free, you just walk on to the next. With ACS Publications, you have a small market that can’t find the same info down the street; they have to get it from you. The only way this changes is if scientists get fed up and refuse to give their papers to the ACS, which very well might happen.

  5. Recently Tenured Says:

    The idea behind open access is that the authors will pay for each paper to be published (around 2000 USD/paper). This will replace subscription fees, and the costs will be paid by the granting agencies or by the universities (instead of the subscription fees they were paying). For less fortunate authors, the ACS/RSC/Wiley/etc will give them a few coupons to publish without cost.

    40,000 papers a year at 2000 USD each = 80 million USD. Not a bad business, especially considering that the scientists do the writing, the peer review, the artwork, and even part of the marketing (in presentations and websites). Is it any wonder why all the publishing houses are racing to start as many journals as possible and accept as many papers as they can? The opportunity costs of rejecting a paper (and having it go to a competing publishing house) is some significant fraction of 2000 USD.

  6. Grant Hill Says:

    I was interested to see that you didn’t mention the article processing charges they have announced for OA (in journals other than Central Science). For non-members the fees are some of the highest I’ve seen, but the member discount is good enough that HE libraries might want to pay for their authors to join.

    However, the largest problem I have with it is the cost for availability after 12 months – most other publishers offer this for free in some form or another. For countries that are having OA imposed upon them, this might mean researchers with zero or modest grant income can’t publish in ACS journals.

    Costs are in this document:

  7. Bob Sacamano Says:

    Paul–don’t forget about the CAS aspect of ACS Publications–I’m curious to know CAS’s contribution to the revenue stream. Anyone know?

  8. Chemjobber Says:

    Rich Apodaca is the blogger who knows most about this, and he doesn’t know:

    What portion of ACS’ $376 Million in revenues from Electronic Services comes from CAS? That’s tough to say. The report does have a separate category for “Printed Services”, which totaled $24 Million in 2009. Whether these printed services include subscription fees to online journals is anybody’s guess.

    As reported by ACS, expenses related to “Information Services” totaled $350 Million in 2009. Again, it’s not clear how much of this figure derives from CAS directly or even what this category entails.

  9. FC Says:

    With the ACS charging up to $ 5000 for open-access

    one should instead publish in “Frontiers in Chemistry” .

  10. Umbisam Says:

    @FC: Or just don’t publish in open access. The traditional route is free. Why would anyone want to pay to have their work published when you can do it for free. If you’re worried about people having access to your work then post a pdf on your website. There are also a number of websites where you can post your work: Research Gate, Iamscientist, slideshare, academics, etc.

  11. Anthony Says:

    Paul – Interesting article related, in some ways, to your post about open access articles. Including an ‘experiment’ to test the peer-review process at these ‘Open’ articles.

    Let me know what you think.,0,1228881.column#axzz2jsmX2KcI

  12. Mars-teen Says:

    I think OA will happens regardless of ACS. I think knowledge should be available to everyone but there is one thing that is not clear to me.

    Research is mainly paid with US Tax money, so if we have OA other nations will benefit and even take advantage of US finding without investing on their part, how this will/should be regulated/ addressed? (by the way, I am not form the US but I work here)

  13. Graet Chem Says:

    @mars-teen – I’m sure it is possible to put geographical restrictions on access if required. Personally, I don’t think that is in the spirit of internationalism that science does quite well at, but hey… I’m not a massive fan of this USA plc, UK plc, etc. type thinking. The USA has a government and legal system that aggresively protects USA companies’ IP already, so I don’t think there is much to worry about.

  14. chm Says:

    In Austria the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has decided to enforce an open access policy on all of the research they fund. The now have contracts with most major scientific publishers (including ACS and Wiley-VCH) and once you publish research funded by them they pay for the open-access option. I am not even involved in the process.
    I find this a good thing because I realize that my paper get a wider recognition and as Joaquin said above it also seems to be the right thing to do.
    Being an ACS member the Author choice option comes to $1500/paper. The good thing for us is that these cost are not being deducted from our grants but paid by the funding agency from an extra pot.
    If I compare the student salaries and all other costs of my research I come to the conclusion that $1500 for a paper in a good ACS journal are not too bad a price. If the system proves to be helpful in getting the publishers alive and at the same time allows to create access to research data for everybody I think it is the way to go.

  15. Umbisam Says:

    @chm: again, get it published for free and post it online like many professors do. If you are not a prof., you can get a profile on any number of scientific social networks and disseminate your work.

  16. chm Says:

    @Umbisam: This is certainly a way to go. However, while I think such measures can be used to put pressure on publishers to rethink their business model I do not like the idea that someone who wants to look at one of my papers has to visit my personal website or some social network in order to access the paper. For my feeling the ‘traditional’ way of getting papers from journal websites is good and should be kept intact if possible. Otherwise access to papers from journals becomes scattered.

  17. Joaquin Barroso Says:

    I do believe OA is the future but somehow it will have to go free/gratis also. In my position as a Mexican researcher I simply cannot spend $1,500 USD to have a paper published, let alone $5,000! Hence, moving in that direction will only further open the gap between -economically-poor science and -economically-rich science.
    Although I agree with @Umbisam with disseminating one’s work on networks like or we should realize this, taken to the extreme, would be unsustainable for editorials.

  18. CaltechChemLib Says:

    I have been travelling so I just saw this post now. To those who are talking about posting articles on personal websites, you should be aware that in many cases, particularly with “traditional” closed-access journals, you will be in violation of copyright. When you publish in a closed-access journal you generally sign away any rights you have to dissemination. Several schools have been receiving cease-and-desist notices from publishers for exactly that reason – faculty posting published PDFs on their websites. Publishing your article OA avoids this.

  19. Umbisam Says:

    @CaltechChemLib: I was once told not to post my papers on Research Gate. The professor who told me said that the university posts all the publications because of the copyright issue. I’m not sure what the actual rule is, but apparently universities are given some ability to post published work. Who do you know that has been given cease-and-desist notices? Perhaps one way to go would be to do a self-published review. You make your own journal (your website) and write a review and publish online. If you want you could make it officially refereed, but I guess it doesn’t matter. The whole paradigm of scientific publishing is a curious thing. As far as I know, Darwin’s theory of evolution did not have to be submitted to a journal and peer reviewed. What if everyone just posted results on a website as they came in and we did away with journals? Obviously, there will be many arguments against this and I’m not saying that’s exactly what we should do, but everyone could write their own self-published reviews and post online, thereby making their work freely accessable to the masses without infringing on copyright or paying a journal $1000+ to publish. If people whine that the NSF doesn’t like non-peer reviewed articles then send it to a few friends and have them review it (in some cases peer review works like that anyways) and then post as peer-reviewed.

  20. CaltechChemLib Says:

    @Umbisam: My institution was one that had been given cease and desist letters for posting publisher versions of PDFs on professor websites. With regards to universities posting articles, schools that have Open Access policies (i.e. such as the ones at MIT, Harvard, and most recently, Caltech – can legally do so in their Institutional Repositories. However, such policies are not uniform across all schools, and many are not mandatory. I am not in any way defending the current system – I am merely pointing out the current legal landscape as it stands and why your suggestion “If you’re worried about people having access to your work then post a pdf on your website” is not feasible. The idea of the “journal”, Open Access, and real-time data sharing is something that many, many people are talking about in the library and communications fields. It would be welcome to see actual research scholars become as interested, in the vein of Dr. Michael Eisen, et al. I would recommend looking at talks from the Coalition for Networked Information (, as well as the Council on Library and Information Resources ( as places to start for work being done with alternative publication frameworks. There are also talks on this topic at pretty much every library conference every year.

  21. CaltechChemLib Says:

    Timely for this discussion, from the Washington Post. Includes more information about the takedown notices.

    “How one publisher is stopping academics from sharing their research”

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