In this section, I reconstruct the story of a scientific journal (the JACS) embedded in a program (the ACS Publication Program). This story, which is not intended to be exhaustive, traces the conditions of editorial production rather than scientific production; although their role is crucial (they are the ones who feed the journal), contributors are not at the core of the narrative. Starting from the date of creation of the JACS, I propose a five-phase periodization based on the evolution of the journal’s purchasing modalities and business models. The analysis refers not only to major events (economic crisis, wars) but also to research that documented the expansion of American science during the twentieth century.

From creation in 1879 to the 1960s: in search of a balanced budget

The JACS was founded in 1879. The journal then experienced regular growth, steadily in line with the number of ACS members (Kuney, 1968: p. 261). From 1893 to 1901, it published an average of 850 pages of original articles per year and about 59 pages of book reviews. In the early years of ACS, each member received all ACS publications free-of-charge, i.e., JACS, Chemical Abstracts, I&EC, etc.

The period of the First World War does not appear to have been one of turmoil. The rapid growth in membership that began in the 1890s continued over the next few decades, followed by the creation of four new divisions in 1919 (Thackray, 1988: pp. 184–185).

In 1929, the budget of the Publication Program was in deficit for the first time; the crisis affecting American society as a whole was also experienced at the ACS. The Board of the ACS urgently allocated a sum of $20,250 to the JACS, to cover costs corresponding to 1200 pages. Irving Langmuir, then president of the ACS, reported that “no organization will be able to support or hope to maintain an unlimited publishing program”.Footnote 12

In 1932 the depression became acute. The Council adopted the principle of a separation between membership and subscription to periodicals, with the exception of the News Edition (the ancestor of C&EN), which was sent free of charge to all members. A portion was deducted from membership fees to support the publication program: $2 were allocated to JACS and $2 to Chemical Abstracts (Kuney, 1968: p. 255). Bylaws were amended to exclude Chemical Abstracts from membership fees while the $2 were allocated to a fund created to subsidize the periodicals deficit. The principle of the provision was set out in the ACS bylaws (Browne and Weeks, 1952: p. 334). In this way, each ACS member helped support the publication function of the society, whether or not they subscribed to journals other than C&EN. The mechanism adopted (levy on membership fee) was internal to the society.

From 1934, the JACS was sent only to those who paid a subscription charge in addition to their dues, and no longer to all members. The mechanism became an “elective system”, outwardly oriented (Browne and Weeks, 1952: p. 334). As a result of these budget allocations, the program returned to surplus, with respective surpluses of $20,000 (1934), $35,000 (1939), and $50,000 (1949) that were used by the ACS to support other journals than the JACS (Browne and Weeks, 1952: p. 334).

The 1935 report of the Secretary of the ACS mentioned that “the society had a successful year financially. The new plan, as already reported to the membership, has been worked out and is giving almost universal satisfaction”.Footnote 13 The JACS editor reported that an accumulation of accepted manuscripts has resulted in considerable delay in the publication of articles during the year, but the JACS’ balance had been restored by December 1935.Footnote 14

With this plan, the Publication Program operated beyond the strict break-even point over a long period, based on a model that ensured the maintenance of a balance between revenue and expenditure. Browne and Weeks (1952: pp. 332–333) presented a retrospective publication cost analysis for the JACS (1884–1949). They argued the average price paid by the reader stabilized at between 0.16 and 0.19 cents per page per copy since the adoption of the plan (1934). They pointed out however that a page in 1948 or 1949 contained many more words than a page in 1918.

Each monthly issue contained about 50 articles, communications (between 5 and 10) and book reviews (up to 10). The Notice to Authors of January 1940Footnote 15 (two pages) stated: “the manuscripts should be addressed to specialists in their field rather than to the general reader”. A short introductory paragraph was requested to describe the importance and main objectives of the presented research. The layout of figures, graphs and tables, as well as typography rules were specified. In particular it was suggested to use abbreviations such as %, Å, cm, etc. or Fig. “in the interest of economy”. In this notice, it was recommended that Communications be no longer than 500 words. Supplementary material to accepted articles were archived in the form of microfilms or prints at the American Documentation Institute (ADI).Footnote 16

After the Second World War, R&D investment programs developed widely as a result of the massive intervention of the federal State (Lécuyer, 2015: p. 429; Berman, 2012: pp. 19–57). The metaphor of research as a process of production emerged in the post-war period: “we must manage growth”. Advertising revenues for the Publication Program came primarily from C&EN and Analytical Chemistry, as part of a partnership with Reinhold Publishing Corporation that lasted >30 years (Kuney, 1968: p. 255). However, there was no advertising in the JACS, apart from a few references to the ACS products.Footnote 17

The 1960s: introduction of the page-charge pricing mechanism

At the 140th ACS National Meeting in Chicago (1961), Louis P. Hammett, chairman of the Board of Directors of the ACS, announced that journals were once again presenting an “operating deficit”.Footnote 18 The deficit was about $421,000, with expenditure exceeding subscription revenues plus other secondary sources of revenue, such as advertising. In 1962 this deficit was about $513,000. Hammet claimed that the ACS could offset the deficit temporarily by tapping into the reserve fund but that this would reduce the net market value of the fund by 29%. He did not see this as a sustainable solution.

The question was studied for months internally; debates are synthetized in two C&EN articles.Footnote 19 The Board proposed that the ACS set up a page-charge pricing mechanism for its “fundamental” journals. In a statement published on October 25, 1961, the Federal Government’s Council of Science and Technology approved both the principle of the page charge and the use of federal funds in paying such charges. This was however subject to conditions: that the journal be published by a not-for-profit organization, and that the payment be voluntary and not contingent on acceptance. Referring to the use of grants, it imposed an implicit condition of novelty.

The 1962 article pointed out: “Philosophical justification of the page charge is based upon the contention that the cost of publication is properly a cost of research. Traditionally, the costs of research cover the time spent by the author and his secretary to prepare his report”.Footnote 20 Based on a “realistic assessment” of the Publication Program, Hammett mentioned that “little content got published that was not an important part of the scientific record”.Footnote 21 The ACS then considered that research was not complete until its results had been made available to others. Hence, some of the costs became a charge that could rightly be attributed to a research budget and the federal funds that it received.

As of January 1963, a page-charge payment mechanism came into effect; in the October 5, 1962 issue there was a Special Notice to Authors dedicated to it.Footnote 22 The following points were made:

  • The page charge is a publication service charge designed to aid in covering the costs of publishing an article in a journal. The page charge covers only costs of setting the article in type and preparing it for the press. As administered by the ACS, it will also include 100 reprints supplied to the authors.

  • Payment is expected from sponsored funds supporting the research reported. Page charge payment is not a condition for publication.

  • The editor’s decision to publish is made before assessment of page charges and the editor’s office will not be advised on charges or payment.

  • With the institution of page charges, subscription rates to ACS journals should be stabilized at current levels for an indefinite period of time.

This notice referred to a series of questions and answers in C&EN, which justified the strategic choices made by the ACS.Footnote 23 The answers were said to have been drafted by the Committees on Finance and on Publications, with the assistance of ACS staff, through a two and a half year process. The argument was thus developed through a long list of Q&A:

  • What is the page charge used by the scientific and technical journals? Its operation is briefly described (see above). The page charge payment is a novelty in scientific practice, but it has been tested for 25 years by the AIP.Footnote 24 Others have adopted it in recent years. The number of journals using it has increased markedly during the past 5 years. About half of all U.S. scientific societies will probably be applying the page charge by the end of 1963.

  • The question of reception is asked. ACS reports that the attitude of industry towards the page charge where it has been applied has been favorable.Footnote 25 The attitude of university scientists toward the page charge appears mixed. Most of those who publish in the Journal of Chemical Physics and other AIP publications have accepted its existence as a reality born of necessity. A study recently completed by the ACS indicates that 50 to 60% of the articles appearing in ACS basic journals are subsidized by government funds, 30 to 35% by industrial funds, and about 10% by university and private funds. The following questions are addressed to academics.

  • Most existing page charges range from $15 to $50. The page charge will not apply to any Chemical Abstracts Services publication, Chemical Reviews, C&EN or any journal substantially supported by advertising.

  • Why not increase journal subscription prices? Experience indicates that this produces so many cancellations as to reduce income.

  • Why not ask industry to subsidize fully the basic journal program? Industry is by no means the only beneficiary. The amount of industry subsidization is already quite large, not only directly through high subscription rates and corporation associates, but especially by contributions of the time of hundreds of its people who are active in ACS work. Over half of the subscriptions to all ACS basic journals are sold abroad, and it is unfair to ask American industry to subsidize the whole operation. The page charge will yield a fairer and more nearly proportionate support.

  • Why not sell more advertising in basic journals? This has been tried to a limited extent in the past and yielded a net advertising deficit.

  • Why not publish less material? This would depart from the objectives and traditional responsibilities of the Society.

  • Why not increase ACS dues? To meet the existing and predicted costs would require increases of such size and frequency as to reduce membership severely. Moreover, it would not be in order to ask members to subsidize journal losses without asking contributions from non-members who benefit.

The January 1963 issue of the JACS did not include a reference to the page charges. In November 1964, the Notice for AuthorsFootnote 26 did not refer to it either. Unusually, the December 1964 issue showed advertising inserts for laboratory glassware and analytical instruments. My hypothesis is that the mechanism was discussed for 2 years. Scholars in universities were asked to commit by making special efforts and changing their attitudes because “a reasoned attitude has been used in reaching the decision to apply the page charge”.Footnote 27 The first reference to the page charge (five lines) appears in the Notice to Authors of November 5, 1966.Footnote 28 For the JACS, the requested amount was $35 per page.

How did the chemists react? In his history of Chemical Abstracts, E. J. Crane (publisher of CAS from 1915) reported that two positions clashed internally: the journal as a source of increasing income and membership vs. the journal as self-sufficient (Crane, 1952: p. 342). Yet I found no mention of any other opposition in the documentation consulted.

In 1966, 70% of the costs per page were provided by the authors or their supporting institutions. Members were the core of subscribers, but non-members contributed half (48%) of subscription revenues (Kuney, 1968: p. 255). The page charge mechanism helped to stabilize membership rates for members at less than $20 a year over the decade (Kuney, 1968: p. 256).

Applying the 1961 federal statement implied separating the editorial function from the act of making a payment. This was to result in the creation of a division of ACS (the ACS Publications Division), whose activities were grouped under a single banner in 1969. This division has a staff of about 400 people today.Footnote 29

As internationalization developed, the question of payment by foreign institutions arose. This was also a problem at the APS, as Scheiding points out (2009: p. 234): foreign authors did not pay the page charges. The APS then developed a coercive model that imposed an additional publication delay of 2 to 3 months on authors (mostly non-Americans) who did not pay the fees.Footnote 30 The ACS did not use this mechanism. In other words, special attention was paid to international authors.

In 1960, the JACS was available in A4 format. Published articles included an abstract (which was not identified as such) and acknowledgments (which refereed to funders but not only). They were contributions from the department (or laboratory or firm) enriched with tables and figures, illustrations, micrographs, and so on. Communications were short (less than one page, in two columns), contained references, and were signed by the department/laboratory/firm and its authors.

At that stage the JACS was published twice a month. Notices for Authors were more accurate than before. The prerequisites were described in the General Considerations (for instance “Manuscripts of articles to be considered for publication in the JACS may deal with any phase of ‘pure’ or ‘fundamental’ chemistry as distinguished from ‘applied’ chemistry’”Footnote 31). In General Instructions, there were details about the formats and nomenclature, which was supposed to be consistent with the uses of Chemical Abstracts. Typography was covered in Tables, Figures and Graphs, Formulas and Equations. Microfilms and Photoprints Supplements, Proofs and Reprints covered questions of document reproduction. A Serial Number for preservation at the ADI ($2) was issued for each piece. Each issue included an Author Index and two pages of advertising.

The end of the 1960s was a prosperous period in terms of income, with a page billed $50 in 1969. It was also the moment of creation of the “ACS Handbook for Authors” (1967). Prepared by the editors and editorial staff of the ACS, the handbook was distributed to all subscribers. The purpose was to help the author in the preparation of the manuscript, editing and proofreading (Laitinen, 1967). As all the staff had contributed to compiling and drafting it, it allowed the ACS to consider the circulation of manuscripts between journals of its program. The second edition was published in 1978. The third (1986) was more than a Handbook and became a true “style manual”,Footnote 32 which included a chapter devoted to “Copyright and permissions”.

The 1970s: experiences and threats

The beginning and the middle of the seventies were difficult times for the ACS. In chemistry labs, research continued against a backdrop of declining public funding, which was allocated primarily to military and space programs (the Vietnam War was underway) and to the development of social programs. H. Skolnik, Documentation Manager at the Hercules Inc. R&D Center and Chemical Literature Analyst, reported that in 1976 chemistry and physics journals were the most affected by inflation, compared to other fields (Skolnik, 1982).

As a result of the impact of the first oil shock, the cost of paper went up for the ACS journals and magazines (64% higher in December 1975 than in 1973, cf. Reese, 2002: p. 38). The ‘70s also witnessed the emergence of commercial publishers. They did not have page charges although, as Sloknik points out, their average prices were much higher. In 1975, only an increase in subscriptions decided as an emergency measure limited the deficit.

From 1970 on, the format of the article was close to the current form. A banner “American Chemical Society. Publications Division” appeared in early 1970, showing the names of the three managers, whose functions were identified.Footnote 33

In January 1976, Cheves Walling, 10th editor of the JACS from 1975 to 1981, indicated in a supplement to the Notice to Authors:Footnote 34 “Receipt of manuscripts for 1975 have continued at approximately the same level as in recent years, and will total over 3100 for the year, of which 53% are full papers and 47% communications. Necessarily, the number which we can publish is determined by our page budget, 7700 pages in 1975, and our backlog has grown somewhat during the year. We anticipate an increase in our budget to 9000 pages for 1976, which should enable us to cut this backlog substantially over the next year.”

He continued: “Without denigrating the importance of early publication of important results, Communications to the Editor continue to be a major editorial problem, and, it seems to me, consume an inordinate amount of time of editors and referees. […] Frankly, many of the manuscripts we receive do not fall into the requested classification [that of a work of unusual interest and importance, and which will be comprehensible and useful to readers in this abbreviated form] and we must decline almost half of those we receive.”

The problem highlighted by Walling was recurrent. The page charge mechanism was also a way to encourage shorter articles.Footnote 35

In 1973, the ACS opened a R&D department to conduct studies to better understand readers’ needs (Reese, 2002: p. 39). A survey showed that JACS readers read most communications but few articles in a JACS issue. A study on the “dual journal” concept was funded by the National Science Foundation ($130,000). The proposed system aimed at publishing two “companion journals”: the first (summary journal) consisting of communications and two-page summaries, while the second (archival journal), proposed to libraries, offered expanded articles with additional material provided by the author.Footnote 36 Walling indicated that “no change in the form of the journal will occur without very careful consideration and discussion”.Footnote 37 The test started in 1976 but was not conclusive: most of the chemists involved were not willing to abandon the traditional journal for composed abstracts (Reese, 2002: p. 39). The introduction of a new communication regime (as in the case of the early GenBank, an abstract service from journals that housed sequence data that Hilgartner (1995: p. 251) documented), was a missed opportunity.

The 1970s were the years when the ACS was the most “endangered”. Like other learned societies, it was under attack by the federal authorities. In 1976, the JACS was added to the list of journals that violated the United States Postal Service’s rules regarding delivery via second-class mail. Insofar as the articles were paid for, the journal that compiled them was considered to be an advertising product, subject to higher mailing rates.Footnote 38 The ACS was particularly concerned about the symbolic consequences of re-qualifying articles as advertising, and the negative effects of page fees, which were not mandatory. In 1976, 47% of the pages printed in the JACS were covered by the page charges, which amounted to $233,000 and accounted for 18% of the Society’s revenues.Footnote 39

The 1980s: a gradual phasing-out of page charges

In 1978 the main laws governing intellectual property in the United States changed. This was the second tipping point in the story, after the turning point of the 1960s. The Copyright Act was adopted on October 19, 1976 (it took effect from January 1, 1978). The consequences went well beyond the simple “Copyright ACS” that appeared in the JACS in 1941. The justification surrounding the Copyright Act was that it formalized a hitherto implicit transaction between the author (who submitted the manuscript) and the journal (which organized all the rest: peer evaluation, printing, mailing, etc.). It was also and above all a more rigorous definition of the conditions of use of photocopying in libraries.

The first Copyright Transfer Form appeared in the JACS in January 1979.Footnote 40 This form transferred the property rights to the ACS in a formal written manner. By signing it the authors of articles signed over all of their rights to the ACS.

I have not found any specific comments on the implementation of this form, with the exception of an insert in the January 1978 issue of Environmental Science & Technology (Fig. 2):

Fig. 2: Insert announcing the implementation of the Copyright Transfer Form in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Adapted from Environmental Science & Technology (vol. 12, No. 1, Jan. 1978, p. 7).

The relationship between the ACS and the author was said to remain unchanged, but the format and status of the article did change: the article was given a unique alphanumeric code and mention was made of the amount paid by the ACS to the Copyright Clearance Center (a license broker) followed by ©American Chemical Society. The names and respective institutional membership of the authors were specified with asterisks. Compared to the 1960s, the contribution of department X or Y had become secondary.

In January 1978 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)Footnote 41 questioned the ACS about its tax exempt status, as it did with other learned societies. The IRS considered it anomalous that non-members of the ACS had higher subscription rates than ACS members.Footnote 42 Like the US Postal Service, the IRS considered that the collection of the page charges and the transfer of ownership were incompatible with the very principle of the journal. Later in 1978, ACS protested IRS’s stance, but the matter was never brought to court.

As of January 1, 1979, the Board of Directors reduced the non-mandatory payment to $40 per page. The reason given was that the majority of authors paid all or part of these fees; by reducing the page charges, authors and their sponsors would always be more able to honor them. “While [page charges] remain non-mandatory, it is hoped that this will permit a much larger fraction of authors to pay the full charges. In fact, the extent to which they are able and willing to do so will probably determine whether we can continue with the present non-mandatory system”.Footnote 43

In his report in January 1979, Walling, editor of the JACS, insisted: “the Board believes that by reducing the per-page rate authors and their sponsors will be even better able to honor the charge. It may in the long run be possible to operate ACS journals without page charges, but such an eventuality would necessarily be dependent on economic conditions. In the meantime it is most important in the interest of financial soundness of ACS journals that page charges continue to be honored to the highest possible extent”.Footnote 44 The ACS was no longer calling for support of growth but for responsibility. In other words, the concessions to the IRS concerned the page charge mechanism, which was not a problem because the revenue of subscriptions had become much higher than that of page charges. There was no question of abandoning the transfer of intellectual property.

The 2000s: pricing the article as a singular entity

At the turn of the 2000s, the statutes of the Journal and of articles changed radically. Institutional subscriptions, which appeared in 1998, saw their amounts grow exponentially in 10 years, but indistinctly up to (and including) 2009. As of 2010, institutions were differentiated: subscription rates were no longer stipulated in the JACS imprint. Contractual negotiations took place between the ACS and its partners; amounts varied according to the size and research intensity of the institutions.

The article became an entity in itself: it was provided with a Digital Object Identifier (an international standard created in 1998) that replaced the Publisher Item Identifier in 2000.

In the years to follow, the Copyright Transfer Form became more and more restrictive. The 2006 version added the F clause to the five preceding paragraphs, which transferred the copyright on all the figures of the manuscript to the ACS.

The page charge was discontinued in 2004.

In 2006 the ACS launched its ACS AuthorChoice Program in response to the various national legislations on Open Access that were developing in Europe and the United States.Footnote 45 It complemented the ACS “Articles on Request” program authorizing individual authors to post the URLs of the article on a website. ACS AuthorChoice provided a mechanism for individual authors or their research funding agencies to sponsor immediate access to their article upon online publication on the ACS journals’ websites. This policy enabled paying authors to post electronic copies of published articles on their personal websites. In addition, authors can also place electronic copies of their paper in institutional repositories for noncommercial scholarly purposes immediately upon publication. ACS retained copyright to the article.Footnote 46

Since 2006, ACS AuthorChoice exists still under the same name: it is a fee-based option for contributing authors. Authors who are ACS members and/or affiliated with an ACS subscribing institution receive significant discount (respectively US$1500 as ACS member and US$1000 as an ACS member and affiliated subscriber in 2006), compared to the base fee (US$3000).Footnote 47 These amounts are considerably higher than the per-page rate that was in force up to 2004, even at its highest level ($70 in 1975). At the date of writing, ACS AuthorChoice has been expanded with a menu of licensing options.

The position of the ACS has evolved along with OA issues in the last decade. In response to a 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directive that instructed federal agencies to offer better access to federally funded research, the ACS joined other publishers in establishing the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (Chorus) to allow free access to published articles. In 2014, the ACS announced a new series of open access options for authors that include more flexible re-use licenses for articles and free deposits of NIH-funded ACS articles to PubMed Central (for 2014 only). Tariff options mainly concern licenses (the least restrictive, the most expensive). In 2015 the ACS launched ACS Central Science, the first fully OA journal in the society’s history. There are no subscription fees to read the articles, nor any author processing charges to publish in the journal unless authors want to distribute articles under a Creative Commons license. A second OA journal, ACS Omega, launched in 2016.

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