ACS Expanding Open AccessNovember 5th, 2013
In 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.