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Librarians Vs. The ACS
September 28, 2012 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Librarian Jenica Rogers wrote an interesting post on how her library decided to cancel their ACS subscription. Walking away from the American Chemical Society where she talks about money issues all too familiar to librarians but maybe not well known in the general public. Her post was picked up by The Chronicle Of Higher Ed The ACS only said "We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed..." Things took a turn on a discussion list, where The Director of Office of Public Affairs for the ACS said "But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic." Many other bloggers have taken up the torch including Walt Crawford, Jonathan Eisen, Iris Jastram, Chris Zammarelli and Steve Lawson, Any Woodworth, John Dupuis and one on ChemBark.
posted by Blake (62 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
oh the sweet irony that the Chronicle link gives me "This content is available exclusively to Chronicle subscribers"
posted by k5.user at 8:37 AM on September 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm not sure he's wrong, blog posts and listservs (especially on places dedicated to a particular topic or with a posse of regulars) very often turn into a circle-the-wagons torch party, where there is no point in an "outsider" participating.
Here on metafilter, for example, there are certain topics where, if you hold a contrary opinion, you might as well keep it to yourself, lest you be shouted down.

Unfortunately for Glenn Ruskin, it's his job to deal with this sort of thing, and while he seems to have always been polite and calm, ultimately he needs to connect with his user-base wherever they congregate.
posted by madajb at 8:40 AM on September 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


"I don't go into hostage situations, tensions are high and there are a lot of people with guns there."
"Uh, but Glenn... You're the hostage negotiator..."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:42 AM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


For those of us who can't read the CHE story (not being subscribers) can someone post a summary? OP's first link is to a blog post with reasonably polite comments. What is Ruskin referring to?
posted by Wretch729 at 8:49 AM on September 28, 2012


I for one, am sick and tired of finding out that if I want to read something interesting, I'm expected to pay $30 for an article it would take 2 minutes to read, and an hour to forget.

Public funds pay for a significant portion of education and research, we should get the fruits of our labor, and not pay ransom to hostage takers.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:51 AM on September 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wretch729, try the Walt Crawford or Steve Lawson blog posts linked above (Steve mentions the actual language used, Walt's summary is maybe better).
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:55 AM on September 28, 2012


The CHE story really doesn't address it, but I believe Ruskin is referring to invective that was directed at ACS on the chminf listserv. Suffice it to say that I can easily relate to the feelings that might motivate such invective, and this is a smokescreen for a profiteering publisher to avoid engaging in the real issues in any way. God bless Jenica Rogers, and I hope mor in the profession start displaying that kind of courage.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:55 AM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not only do public funds pay for a significant part of the research, they also pay for the salaries of many of the authors (who receive no royalties), a significant part of the content editing which is done by publicly supported academics, and (through page-charges, etc) even a part of the publishing costs.

I would be playing a tiny violin for the publishers, but all of the tiny violins are behind a pay-wall.
posted by jb at 8:56 AM on September 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


Seconding the request for a summary of the article for non-subscribers.
posted by femmegrrr at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2012


Err is the American Chemical Society secretly some for profit corporation instead of (as I assumed) a non-profit membership organization like most scientific societies? I mean if it's a non-profit, then either the publishing side just is managed poorly, or they're siphoning off money to do dastardly things like host scientific conferences. There has to be something more going on here than just "greedy punlishers"...
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2012


Where is all this vulgarity, profanity and bile to which the ACS objects?
posted by jquinby at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2012


Where is all this vulgarity, profanity and bile to which the ACS objects?

Deleted due to the terms of service?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:07 AM on September 28, 2012


It's a bit trite, but I'm pretty confident that Academia + Internet will eventually route around Elsevier.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:09 AM on September 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


There's a free link to the CHE story good through Monday.
posted by Jahaza at 9:10 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Err is the American Chemical Society secretly some for profit corporation instead of (as I assumed) a non-profit membership organization like most scientific societies?

Chemistry is a bit of an odd duck in the world of scholarly publishing. While many scholarly societies have voiced sympathy toward the problems with the spiraling costs of journal access, and many have worked very hard to keep prices down (IEEE is a pretty good value for the money, in my opinion), ACS has developed a reputation of being as rapacious as any commercial vendor. So the answer to your question would be "yes" but "yes," although the story is a tad more complicated than that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2012


MikeWarot..everything free! the fruits of my labor! There are a lot of sites that require subscribing..the notion that all things on the net should be free is absurd. You pay taxes and so this journal should be free? That journal is about education but is not funded by your tax money. ps: it is mostly a hiring rag, in which people looking for jobs seek them here, and which, often, places hiring, have already new hires in mind but pace ads to meet govt requirements for no bias hiring.

As for blog comments--all those at this site excepted--someone put it best:
Blog writing is graffiti with punctuation.
Libraries now find it very expensive to subscribe to the very expensive journals, esp those in the science, and yes, there are attempts at present to change the system for better access for more people.
posted by Postroad at 9:18 AM on September 28, 2012


It's Angry Librarian Day on the Blue!
posted by emjaybee at 9:22 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately for Glenn Ruskin, it's his job to deal with this sort of thing, and while he seems to have always been polite and calm, ultimately he needs to connect with his user-base wherever they congregate.
Ignoring people's concerns, being condescending, ducking issues, and making what appear to be misleading statements about what others have said and the manner in which they've said it, is not polite.

In fact, it's a lot less polite than a direct "fuck you". Which, I hasten to point out, nobody appears to have said, or at least written... despite some smarmy implications to the contrary.

I never have figured out how people manage to miss the point that substance is more important than words. In politeness as much as anywhere else.
posted by Hizonner at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


the American Chemical Society secretly some for profit corporation instead of (as I assumed) a non-profit membership organization like most scientific societies?

The ACS is technically a non-profit, but that doesn't stop them from behaving in many was as a regular corporation, particularly in the publishing and conferences. It just means that they have a lot of money to plow back into the society activities, which include big, fancy meetings, and a huge staff by most professional society standards. The ACS is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the scientific junket qua seminar, second only to the medical community.

The ACS is notorious for very high journal prices, which they can get away with because they publish some of the highest impact factor journals, JACS being the biggest. ACS pubs tend to be the journals of record for many sub-disciplines. They also publish Chemical Abstracts, which was long the gold-standard for chemical and associated discipline indexing. As for pricing, they are, and have always been Elsevier-level greedy.

In the 1990s, for example, CA was about $10,000/hr to use their on-line, preweb search engine. As grad students, we used to literally time each other with stopwatches to ensure that we didn't blow our meager budgets by being even a few minutes over our allotted time. It was crazy.

And, yes, I am a member of ACS.
posted by bonehead at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


For the folks looking for the profanity, etc., the ACS's Ruskin was apparently objecting to posts and comments by Jenica Rogers on FriendFeed that she has acknowledged publicly while taking her account on that service private (so they are no longer available publicly). I covered it in my blog post, linked above under my real name, Steve Lawson.

The language / respect thing is really a sideshow, though. The story is that SUNY Potsdam's librarians and chemists are saying publicly that the ACS's journals are simply too expensive and they are willing to do without them. The fact that the ACS's response is, "that librarian is a potty mouth" shows how out of touch the organization is with the people they supposedly serve.
posted by bevedog at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


In the 1990s, for example, CA was about $10,000/hr to use their on-line, preweb search engine. As grad students, we used to literally time each other with stopwatches to ensure that we didn't blow our meager budgets by being even a few minutes over our allotted time. It was crazy.

Sorry I'm not contributing much here, but HOLY CRAP.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Blog writing is graffiti with punctuation.

Maybe you are reading the wrong blogs?
posted by oulipian at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


To echo some comments above, nonprofit is generally a misnomer. A nonprofit can profit, but cannot distribute it to shareholders. Nonprofits call their profits "surpluses." They can spend this money or distribute it in line with their mission, and the least ethical work around the nonprofit restrictions on redistribution by, for example, loading up on extra executive staff at executive salary levels.
posted by zippy at 9:45 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse


Oh! So it's the tone. If only the peon would be polite!

As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.

So, like any shady merchant, they'd rather not have to face a group of dissatisfied customers at once?
posted by tyllwin at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ignoring people's concerns, being condescending, ducking issues, and making what appear to be misleading statements about what others have said and the manner in which they've said it, is not polite.

I'm sure you have links to examples, since I've see nothing of the kind in anything I read in the fpp.
posted by madajb at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2012


I'm surprised that the ACS doesn't offer special Academic or Charity pricing models - that's what most corporations do. I guess maybe being a non-profit means that they don't have to have empathy for their fellow non-profits?

What these universities need to do is band together in a consortium and centralize their purchasing model through one central agency to maximize their spend leverage, so that they can apply some more significant financial pressure to the ACS. Some high schools in the Northeast do this already, so I don't see why higher institutions of learning couldn't do the same. It's not particularly hard. Hell, I do this for a living and I'd be willing to help them out with this just for giggles.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:15 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


wolfdreams01: "I'm surprised that the ACS doesn't offer special Academic or Charity pricing models - that's what most corporations do. I guess maybe being a non-profit means that they don't have to have empathy for their fellow non-profits?"

Oh man. This is pretty much the case. There is never a discount. Like I can see someone at ACS reading this and squinting, trying to just understand the words. When I worked at a university, our chemistry professors always had these huge conversations about what to buy: equipment or database access. I was always at the periphery of those conversations, but ACS' model is like big pharma/ health care: 12% cost hike this year, guys! Why? Because!
posted by boo_radley at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Can anyone in the know give some idea of what kind of price level they're talking about? Roughly how much, in dollars, would a small college be expected to pay the ACS for their yearly subscription? (10% of the total library budget doesn't mean much when I have no idea of what their library budget would be).
posted by Azara at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2012


What's crazy to me is that ACS is also an accrediting body for degrees. They have a built-in market from chemistry departments that are concerned about lack of an ACS degree for their chem students. That seems wrong in all kinds of ways.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:23 AM on September 28, 2012


the notion that all things on the net should be free is absurd. You pay taxes and so this journal should be free? That journal is about education but is not funded by your tax money.

Oh please, don't try to make this out to be some sort of "entitlement" (if I never have to hear that word in a political context ever again, it will be too soon) issue. The value of academic journals comes from the publications within them. Those publications are produced largely by academics within the universities that these same journals are gouging; and if you want to connect it back to the general public, most of the research is directly or indirectly funded by taxpayers. Journals do add value by providing the structure of peer-review and archival services, both of which are incredibly important, but the money they are demanding for it is out of proportion and the costs have become so prohibitive that it's beginning to hinder the field as a whole. That's not acceptable.
posted by kagredon at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Roughly how much, in dollars, would a small college be expected to pay the ACS for their yearly subscription? (10% of the total library budget doesn't mean much when I have no idea of what their library budget would be).

Azara, in a comment on her blog Janica mentioned that her budget is well under half a million dollars. I can't link to the comment directly, but it's in a big grey box after another comment from a librarian who clearly had far more to spend at their small private university.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:27 AM on September 28, 2012


ACS does not pay taxes because it has non-profit status. That didn't stop them paying the head of the Chemical Abstracts service over a million dollars in 2010 in compensation; ten other employees made between $300,000 and $800,000 that year according to the 2010 IRS 990 form. They brought in over $420 billion (billion!) in "information services" in that year. In recent years they have spent hundreds of thousands lobbying against open access to federally funded research, protecting their revenue stream.

Since that 990 form was filed, the cost of their journals for my (undergrad) college went up by 20% We pay $41,741 for access to ACS journals annually and over $10,000 annually for the database. (We have around 60 chemistry majors.) Don't get me wrong - it's good stuff, and our chemistry students and faculty need access to chemistry research. But when a spokesman says "we prefer to talk face to face or on the telephone" I know why - they don't like being outnumbered. And when they tell us they won't speak with shrill hussies then all I have to say to them is .... pretty shrill, actually. Or is that the sound of steam exiting my ears?
posted by bfister at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


The ACS accreditation documents also all but require subscriptions to the ACS journals for accreditation of a chemistry department. The official list contains subscriptions other than ACS titles, but I have personally asked ACS to provide me with a list of departments that have been accredited without subscribing to the ACS journals. ACS refuses to provide me with this.

ACS also does not attend many of the library conferences and meetings, where they might meet directly with librarians and discuss these issues. It's part of their pattern.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


What these universities need to do is band together in a consortium

Wait, you think they didn't try that? From the Rogers blog post:

In response to any suggestions of ways that SUNY or campuses might collaborate or negotiate to reach a place where we could sustain our subscriptions – one which might well be applied to other campuses, other consortia by ACS – we were repeatedly told “but that’s not our pricing model.”

And SUNY is itself already a system of 64 campuses; they still can't match the leverage of the biggest research universities (the "ARL peers" she mentions earlier in that paragraph, who she says get fairer treatment).
posted by clavicle at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want some more numbers regarding what these subscriptions cost, this memo from Harvard and this article from The University of Illinois give some numbers as well as links to further reading.
posted by TedW at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2012


I do have an ongoing consortial agreement with ACS, but even with multi-year pricing schedules and extended negotiations, we still pay yearly price increases that are way out of line with the market.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2012


Posting entire article as I want to relay the information as posted instead of a summary. Apologies for length.

As Chemistry Journals' Prices Rise, a Librarian Just Says No
By Jennifer Howard

The American Chemical Society publishes some of the best scholarly journals in the field. Jenica P. Rogers just can't afford them anymore. Ms. Rogers, director of libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam, won't be renewing her institutional subscription to the society's current online journals package. As of January 1, 2013, the Potsdam campus's chemistry faculty and students will make do with content from the Royal Society of Chemistry, Elsevier's ScienceDirect, and a handful of single-title ACS subscriptions.

Academic librarians have to make tough decisions all the time about what content to buy and how much they can spend for it, but they rarely discuss those decisions in public. Ms. Rogers has brushed away the veil of secrecy, posting a detailed account of the ACS situation on her blog.

The breaking point came with the chemical society's decision to switch all its institutional customers to a tiered pricing system based on Carnegie classifications and journal usage. Ms. Rogers has no philosophical quarrel with that strategy. But the base price that underlies the new tiered system is set too high for a small institution like hers, she said. Paying for the ACS journal package would have eaten up more than 10 percent of her acquisitions budget.

With only seven faculty members, 40 or so undergraduate majors, and no graduate students, chemistry is a small department at Potsdam, Ms. Rogers told The Chronicle. "The ACS package would have cost more than all our music databases combined, and we have a music conservatory to support," she said.

From where Ms. Rogers sits, the tiered-pricing system favors larger institutions. According to her, bigger members of the SUNYConnect library consortium, which covers the entire 64-campus system, stand to gain while smaller ones lose. A large university center in the SUNY system pays twice what Potsdam does for an ACS package but also has far more users who need that content, she said. And there's not much opportunity to tailor an ACS package to campus needs.

"The built-in inequity in the pricing model that ACS has come up with makes it very difficult to act in collegial, supportive ways while we look out for our own interest," she said. According to Ms. Rogers, she's not alone in her gloomy assessment of the situation. "I may be saying this publicly, but there's a lot of people saying it quietly," she told The Chronicle.

(Observers, including some commenters on Ms. Rogers's call-to-action blog post, have noted a potential conflict of interest for the chemical society, which serves as an accreditor of chemistry programs as well as a publisher of chemistry journals. A certain number of high-quality journals is required for accreditation. They don't necessarily have to be ACS journals, though, and losing accreditation as a result of canceling ACS subscriptions does not appear to be a worry for SUNY-Potsdam's chemistry program.)

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers's blog post or the conversation that's sprung up around it. "We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed," Glenn S. Ruskin, the group's director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. "As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution."
Difficult Decision

No librarian likes to deprive patrons of access to quality journals. "It feels wrong to take information away from our users," Ms. Rogers said, adding that ACS has "got the good stuff." That includes the Journal of the American Chemical Society, The Journal of Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and a number of other highly cited journals—41 in all.

Ms. Rogers didn't reach the decision to discontinue SUNY-Potsdam's ACS subscription suddenly or lightly. The society's prices have been increasing for several years, she said. Five to seven years ago, the journals package cost half of the current asking price. This year, "it's just too much," she said. "It's a couple thousand dollars more than it was last year."

For the last several years, as prices rose and budgets constricted, Ms. Rogers has kept the SUNY-Potsdam chemistry faculty apprised of the situation. That made it easier to enlist their support for her decision not to renew this year. "I think our faculty were primed to hear it," she said. "They don't like it. They don't want it to be true. But they understand the situation we're in."

That was confirmed by Martin A. Walker, an associate professor of chemistry at SUNY-Potsdam. He describes the ACS journals as excellent and finds them useful in his work. The Potsdam chemistry faculty is "very disappointed" it won't have institutional access to them online, he said. "But we're all in the situation of trying to balance our budget, so we understand Jenica's position."

Mr. Walker supports open access, but he is also an active member of the chemical society, helping to organize a regional meeting a couple of years ago. (Individual members get a free number of article downloads from ACS journals, an option Mr. Walker is likely to make more use of now.) At the society's national meeting, in San Diego this year, he set up lunch with a high-ranking ACS sales executive and tried to pave the way for a productive conversation with SUNY-Potsdam.

"He seemed very willing to listen, and I was encouraged," Mr. Walker said. "I really hoped that ACS could come up with a package that would work for us." That didn't happen this time. Ultimately, he said, publishers will have to figure out a better way to do business.

"There's a view that would say, 'We can't imagine a world without the Journal of the American Chemical Society,'" Mr. Walker said. "Well, there was a time when we couldn't imagine a world without Kodak cameras either."

Correction (9/26/2012, 11:59 a.m.): This article originally provided an incorrect estimate of the number of journals published by the American Chemical Society. It is 41, not 50 or so. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.
posted by variella at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2012


Wait, you think they didn't try that? From the Rogers blog post:

In response to any suggestions of ways that SUNY or campuses might collaborate or negotiate to reach a place where we could sustain our subscriptions – one which might well be applied to other campuses, other consortia by ACS – we were repeatedly told “but that’s not our pricing model.”

And SUNY is itself already a system of 64 campuses; they still can't match the leverage of the biggest research universities (the "ARL peers" she mentions earlier in that paragraph, who she says get fairer treatment).


Based on Jenica's comment about the Elsevier contract, it sounds like they've centralized some areas of their purchasing but not others. For example, the fact that her individual school can opt out of ACS (without the other schools doing the same) indicates a distinct lack of centralized decision-making, and thus a lack of the corresponding leverage.

Although professionals may dance around this subject, interacting with vendors involves understanding both greed and fear: the first to appeal to their hopes that they might get a juicy new contract; the second to appeal to their fears that they might lose existing contracts. In a proper centralized purchasing system, Jenica would not have been conducting the negotiations with ACS. Rather, somebody at SUNYconnect would have been doing the negotiating, and would have threatened to have all the state-run universities end their contracts. It's clear from the article that Jenica didn't have that leverage, so I'm unsurprised that ACS was unwilling to cooperate.

Offering "suggestions of way to collaborate" is softball. It's a good way to open negotiations but it doesn't work with stubborn vendors. However, once that fails, you need to play hardball, which involves threats and a metaphorical stick to beat the other party with. Without the authority to pull all other SUNY's off the ACS plan, Jenica was unfortunately lacking vital negotiation tools.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rather, somebody at SUNYconnect would have been doing the negotiating, and would have threatened to have all the state-run universities end their contracts.

This would presumably not have been possible, because those journals are actually essential to research for programs that have a larger number of graduate students and research departments. ACS is well aware of this, especially given their role in accrediting programs. There is no way ACS isn't aware that their pricing structure has caused libraries to drop it; their price increases are a known issue, especially at smaller schools. They are very clearly not reacting with fear to these changes. (ACS also has, presumably, a larger number of for-profit subscribers than most society journals. If so, the pharmaceutical company budgets are probably much more flexible and adaptable than academic libraries.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:03 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you bevedog and and the other folks who clarified Ruskin's complaint for me. He sounds disingenuous in the extreme.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2012


From the original blog post, because I think this is an important point most people don't know:

plus the $41 per article copyright clearance fee for ILLs beyond the initial free articles.

Institutions get 5 article requests from the last 5 years for "free" per year before the copyright fees kick in. That's per institution, not per patron. If patrons at her library request more than 5 recent articles from an ARC title, the library has to pay $41 (which is at the high end) for every single recent article borrowed through ILL.

I'd also be curious to know how many libraries can or do actually lend ACS titles through ILL. I don't think our license covers their titles, and I can see how the pay-per-use would throw up some ILL budget flags...
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I no longer respect the chemistry.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2012


This would presumably not have been possible, because those journals are actually essential to research for programs that have a larger number of graduate students and research departments. ACS is well aware of this, especially given their role in accrediting programs. There is no way ACS isn't aware that their pricing structure has caused libraries to drop it; their price increases are a known issue, especially at smaller schools.

In my experience, nobody and nothing is indispensable. The first step in negotiating prices is to identify a suitable alternative (or combination of alternatives).

Even if a vendor is critical, you can still play havoc with their cash flow if you have enough spend leverage and can determine when to buy.

Also, here's another thought - complain to the government, through formal channels. Have all the universities file simultaneous complaints about how the ACS is operating along the same standards as a for-profit corporation and abusing its charity mandate. If you can get the government to revoke its 401c3 status, they'll be practically hemorrhaging money. Since the schools are government institutions and ACS is robbing them blind, this would be a cost-saving measure for the state, which means you might be able to get buy-in from Governor Cuomo. Not to measure that large bureacratic institutions tend to operate along the "If there's smoke, there's fire" philosophy - get enough people to complain and you can put any organization in a very bad position.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:37 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


My wife is an academic and one of her admin roles in her previous job was as her departments rep for the library. Basically, deciding what books the library would get or keep including journals. When she negotiated her department's online access to the APA (American Psychological Association) journals and Pschlit they were hit with an absolutely gobsmacking bill based on known to be bullshit usage projections and bundling that would put your local cable provider to shame. (ie. if you want our top impact journals you must also subscribe to these other journals that nobody has ever read - not even their editors). They billed as if every single student in the entire university was going to access the journals. That's not even a reasonable assumption in American schools where everyone takes at least Intro Psych but even less reasonable in the UK where only psych students take psych courses. Would they budge? Nope.

After listening to all the shenanigans for the year she had this role I decided that Academic publishers' web developers are the people who buy those ridiculously high end software packages and connect their servers to the internet using gold plated HDMI cables from Best Buy ( the downtimes and constant reconfiguring also reflects this) .

Basically, there are some weird middlemen rent collectors who have inserted themselves into the flow of academic publishing like tapeworms. Whether they are for profit or not they are still sucking cash out of both the system and taxpayers and fighting very hard to provide the most miniscule return or your investment that they can.

It is very hard to swallow as a taxpayer that I can't even legally read most my wife's research online in its published form without paying about $30 a paper.

I wish the internet would fix this. It was what it was originally designed for though so I don't believe the problem is technology (it has been some time after all and it hasn't happened yet). This change has to come from institutions - Universities need to stop being held hostage. Funding agencies need to demand public access. Researchers need to publish in open journals.

This story is a first step. An opening salvo.

About time.
posted by srboisvert at 11:41 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


"we prefer to talk face to face or on the telephone"

This. In my experience, this is the voice of a weasel (no offence meant to those vicious mammals). It reminds me of a boss I had a long time ago who refused to put anything down in email or any kind of written communications; it absolves the communicator of any repercussions for what they say. They can deny any of the verbal communications at a later point, and make it it impossible for the receiver of the information to study a proposal or refer back to the communications in the future.

Seriously, does anyone want to conduct any kind of business or negotiations with someone who refuses to make any written statements?

Offtopic: when I get telemarketer calls I sometimes tell the caller that I have difficulties understanding verbal communications and I'm happy to review their proposal/product if they only send me a written contract and product sheets. They *never* follow up on this offer.
posted by el io at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


wolfdreams01, I get that you have experience in this field in general, but your comments show a lack of understanding of the specifics of this particular vendor. ACS is in a position of considerable power, more so than any other vendor, because of their role in both accrediting chemistry programs and in selling the products that they require for accrediting chemistry programs. And they are well-known for taking advantage of this power by increasing prices far out of line with the market.

I negotiate a contract for ACS products on behalf of a consortium. Many consortia have ACS contracts for their members. And we work very hard to get good deals, but we cannot increase our leverage with nuclear strategies such as threatening to walk away because that would not just mean risking the loss of access to these products, but also risk the loss of accreditation for our members' chemistry programs.

That is why the OP's article is newsworthy, and has generated so much feedback from librarians. Libraries walk away from contracts all the time. I walk away from contracts all the time. But walking away from the ACS is very unusual.
posted by aabbbiee at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


They brought in over $420 billion (billion!) in "information services" in that year.

I'm trying to wrap my head around this. ACS, according to their website, has 163,000 members. That $420 billion amounts to $2.5 million per member.

Please tell me that isn't right. Even if it was $420 million, it would be enough to make me think it's way past time to nationalize scientific publication.
posted by Killick at 12:21 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, it's not $450 billion. It's $450 million. (For those who are a bit math challenged, I checked--Exxon Mobile has revenues of $450 billion, Apple has a market share of $650 billion, etc. Three-digit-billion is 'world's largest company' territory).

But, the wider point remains: $450 million is an exorbitant amount of revenue for a non-profit. I think ACS would argue that they provide $450 million worth of value for what's being paid, but I think libraries would argue that they could stand a little less value in exchange for a little less being paid.

To touch on a wider point: libraries get consortial pricing and the benefits, libraries get negotiating with leverage, libraries get perpetual access and open access issues. Admittedly, libraries were very slow to wake up to this Brave New World of Publishing (which is how we're in the current pickle) but we've been quick to pick things up in the past decade. Why haven't we acted on this knowledge? Oh, now that's a better question!

My fondest hope is that academic libraries become places where you can find out how to access the top open access journals--the number of people who cannot understand optimal search methods is not going down, despite all media reports to the contrary--as well as the many other materials which we shelter inside our walls.
posted by librarylis at 2:12 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


ACK!!! Million. Yes, million (million!!) I was thinking million, but got carried away. Sorry about the stupid.
posted by bfister at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2012


Their financials for 2011 say they booked $403M in revenues for electronic services, with expenses of $354M. That margin is nowhere near as big as I would have expected.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:26 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


[quote]with expenses of $354M. [/quote]

Champagne and caviar is expensive!
posted by Malor at 2:27 PM on September 28, 2012


Heh, oops, BBCode and no preview. Hee.
posted by Malor at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2012


Couple more things (though I'll try to avoid accidental multiplication)... research articles are in a way non-fungable. You don't need a chemistry article, you need an article that reports on a particular piece of research. You can't easily say "here, use this article instead. It's a lot cheaper."

Second, wolfdreams01, we have complained to the government, and so have the publishers. We managed to defeat the Research Works Act, which would have made it illegal for the government to require that federally-funded research results be made public within 12 months because that would, you know, be bad for us. Currently the NIH does require this, but it was a hard fight to win the right to require it (while handing out ... lots of money (I won't try to put big number here, but they really are big), and the ACS and other publishers lobbied hard to set the clock back.

I wrote about the publishers' excuses for resisting public access to publicly funded research a couple of years ago.
posted by bfister at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]



Relevant?
"The entire field of particle physics is set to switch to open-access publishing, a milestone in the push to make research results freely available to readers.

Particle physics is already a paragon of openness, with most papers posted on the preprint server arXiv. But peer-reviewed versions are still published in subscription journals, and publishers and research consortia at facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have previously had to strike piecemeal deals to free up a few hundred articles.

After six years of negotiation, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) is now close to ensuring that nearly all particle-physics articles — about 7,000 publications last year — are made immediately free on journal websites. Upfront payments from libraries will fund the access.

So that individual research groups do not need to arrange open publication of their work, the consortium has negotiated contracts with 12 journals (see ‘Particles on tap’) that would make 90% of high-energy-physics papers published from 2014 onwards free to read, says Salvatore Mele, who leads the project from CERN, Europe’s high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, and home of the LHC. According to details announced on 21 September, six of the journals will switch their business models entirely from subscription to open access. It is “the most systematic attempt to convert all the journals in a given field to open access”, says Peter Suber, a philosopher at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and a proponent of open access."
posted by Rumple at 2:53 PM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Physics has always been way more on the ball with open science than any other discipline. I did my degree in quantum chemistry, at the boarder with physics and the publishing cultures of the two disciplines could not have been more different. Contrast that $10k/hr cost for CA that I mentioned above, with Tim Berners-Lee inventing html to share data at CERN and arXiv just starting up (I used it when it was still just an ftp site). Two more opposite points of view would be hard to find.

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is probably the best, most credible "open science" publisher out there, but it hasn't gained traction as much as was originally hoped. Its flagship journal PLOSOne has an IF of just over 4, respectable for a narrow sub-dicipline journal, but much lower than Nature (36+) or Science (31) or even PNAS (~10).
posted by bonehead at 3:13 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"here, use this article instead. It's a lot cheaper."

This sounds like the basis for a pretty funny skit, maybe put on at the end of some 3-week summer program in Biology.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2012


"It's Angry Librarian Day on the Blue!"

And librarians have friends and fans, let me tell you!

From 1992, for nearly two decades, I've watched the budget, the job descriptions, and the shelves of a medium-sized, private, academic library change drastically as electronic publication took over. From a database of periodical subscription prices, budget reports revealed exactly how electronic publications changed the library. While journal publishers and periodical vendors claimed their various niches as the market shifted, a few big dogs (such as ACS) fought for top dollar and, quite clearly, had no idea when enough was enough. Their prices continue to rise. I believe that higher education, like health care, costs too much in this country and tuition increases are enriching many greedy parties, of which ACS is just one.

I am very glad and proud to see some Angry Librarians. Point me to the barricades.
posted by Anitanola at 5:42 PM on September 28, 2012


The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is probably the best, most credible "open science" publisher out there, but it hasn't gained traction as much as was originally hoped. Its flagship journal PLOSOne has an IF of just over 4, respectable for a narrow sub-dicipline journal, but much lower than Nature (36+) or Science (31) or even PNAS (~10).

PloS's flagship journal is PLoS Biology. It's 2011 impact factor is 13.6 which puts it among the top 10 biology journals and higher than both PNAS and Cancer Research. PLoS One is the general grab bag journal.
posted by euphorb at 10:17 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Offtopic: when I get telemarketer calls I sometimes tell the caller that I have difficulties understanding verbal communications and I'm happy to review their proposal/product if they only send me a written contract and product sheets. They *never* follow up on this offer.

Of course. You are dealing with script monkeys and that kind of response isn't in their script. But it's not like the same metric as telemarketing doesn't apply in writing; all kinds of junk mail arrives in my mail box every day.
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2012


PloS's flagship journal is PLoS Biology.

That's certainly how it has evolved, but it wasn't the intention when PLOS one launched---it was supposed to be the Nature competitor. Uptake in PLOS outside of the bio-med community has been minimal. Earth/Environmental and Physical Sciences are not big parts of PLOS. There is certainly no PLOS journal which is a peer of any ACS publication.
posted by bonehead at 10:25 AM on October 1, 2012


I am very glad and proud to see some Angry Librarians. Point me to the barricades.

Read this article to get a global perspective on the state of Open Access (it's in the Feb 2012 issue of the newly open access College and Research Libraries News).

Is your institution a signatory on the Berlin Declaration? You can work with librarians at your institution to discuss how to become one.

Does your institution have an open-access digital repository for articles and other materials which faculty and others have created? You can work with librarians at your institution to discuss how to start that process.

Are you interested in seeing what libraries are doing to increase OA? Look to see what's new at SPARC (which is not just libraries, incidentally); it's a great source for advocacy.

You can also check the ALA's page on Open Access to Research. As a general rule, ALA's Washington office lobbies for open access legislation and opposes closed access legislation.
posted by librarylis at 11:49 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


To add to what I wrote above: if you are interested in following open access news and want one source rather than the whole bunch that I threw into my last comment, Open Access News launched today and it looks like a great one-stop shop.
posted by librarylis at 10:24 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


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