mailing list archives
The ACM Electronic Publishing Plan part 1 of 2
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 1995 11:53:16 -0500
From: booloo () framsparc ocf llnl gov (Mark Boolootian)
To: farber () central cis upenn edu
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 1995 08:50:09 -0800 (PST)
Below is a copy of ACM's plans for electronic publishing. I think it is
a definitive piece of writing and lays out the issues of publishing in the
face of changing technology quite well. Important reading for all concerned.
(One side note - the document was formatted for viewing with a Web browser.
I've cleaned up things to the point of keeping lines at 80 columns or less.)
November 30, 1994
I am pleased to enclose a copy of the ACM's electronic publishing plan, which
contains our vision about the future of scientific publishing and our program to
achieve it. Our interim answers to the policy questions raised in this plan are
recorded in two separate documents, the ACM Copyright Policy and ACM Author's
Guide to the Copyright Policy, which are also being distributed to you. These
documents are available on <acm.org>.
I hope you will read this plan carefully. With all the changes in digital media
and publication, there is much going on that deserves your reflection. If you
have comments, please send them to Mark Mandelbaum, Director of Publications, at
ACM (Mandelbaum () acm org).
Peter J. Denning
Chair, ACM Publications Board
Copyright 1994 (c) by ACM, Inc. Permission to copy and distribute this document
is hereby granted provided that this notice is retained on all copies and that
copies are not altered.
THE ACM ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING PLAN
Peter J. Denning
Chair, Publications Board
Deputy Director, ACM Publications
Publishing has reached an historic divide. Ubiquitous networks, storage servers,
printers, and document and graphics software are transforming the world from one
in which only a few publishing houses print and disseminate works, to one in
which any individual can print or offer for dissemination any work at low cost
and in short order. This poses major challenges for publishers of scientific
works and for the standard practices of scientific peer review.
The ACM aims to be one of the first scientific society publishers to cross the
divide. ACM has embarked on an ambitious electronic publication plan. The plan
and the reasons for adopting it are set forth below.
The Association for Computing Machinery is the first scientific and educational
society formed in the computing field (founded 1947). From the very beginning it
entered scientific publishing by establishing the monthly Communications of ACM
and a peer review process for accepting papers into it. Over the years, its
library of traditional journal-type publications has grown to the present size
of 17 periodicals including the one monthly, several bimonthly, and the rest
quarterly. Its 78,000 members hold 55,000 subscriptions to its journals and
nonmembers hold another 12,000 subscriptions. In the 1960s, ACM established a
series of special interest groups (SIGs) that started issuing informal
newsletters of their own and began to hold conferences and symposia that
published proceedings. Over time, this grew into a large enterprise, featuring
90,000 memberships in 39 SIGs that sponsor 45 conferences per year and print
17,000 pages of proceedings. All told, ACM literature is growing at the rate of
approximately 1 gigabyte per year. The publications of the traditional journals
and SIGs constitute a large enterprise, on the order of a third of ACM's
The Scientific Publishing Tradition
The scientific publishing tradition is a collection of practices and assumptions
that have become part of the values and common sense of science. A central tenet
of this tradition is publication only after careful and deliberative review by
experts. Not only is it considered wasteful to publish a paper that contains
errors or repeats earlier work, it is an affront to the tradition of science to
publish statements easily refuted by experts. Another tenet is that every
published paper is a permanent member of the library of all scientific
literature. Many of the scientific societies established their own publishing
houses and established review processes; through their membership, they have
access to the expert reviewers and they have a ready-made audience of readers.
The societies ensure that repositories exist containing back issues of their
In this tradition, a journal paper passes through four phases, separated by
three key moments of public declaration:
A. Preparation -- author drafts preliminary version with early results and
obtains informal review by close colleagues. This phase ends with the submission
of manuscript to an editor with a request to review and publish it.
B. Review and revision -- editor commissions reviews from several experts,
called "referees", and, based on their advice, either rejects or requests
revisions from the author. This phase ends with the editor accepting the paper.
C. Publication processing -- editor sends manuscript to publication office for
copyediting, layout, queueing, and printing. This phase ends with the actual
publication of the paper in a journal and its dissemination to subscribers.
D. Archiving and indexing -- societies and libraries preserve back issues;
libraries catalog papers; abstracting services summarize recent papers; citation
services accumulate citation indices. Students and other readers use these
services to locate works long after they were published.
The second and third phases typically take 6-18 months each, or a total time
from submission to publication of 12-36 months. The fourth phase is ongoing.
The phases are separated by three key public declarations:
1. Submission -- author declares the paper submitted to an editor; this is
documented by a letter to the editor.
2. Acceptance -- editor declares the paper accepted; this is documented by a
letter to the author.
3. Publication -- publishing house prints and distributes the copies of the
journal issue in which the paper appears.
A copyright transfer usually takes place as part of acceptance. The author
grants the publisher the right to use the work in any form for any educational
or scientific purpose of the publisher's parent scientific society and retains
rights for patents and reuse of the work.
The system relies heavily on the will of the society to continue the journals by
marketing and managing subscriptions, setting standards, and appointing new
editors. This system also relies heavily on the volunteer efforts of experts and
editors. Most of the editorships are volunteer positions; most societies form
search committees to locate new editors-in-chief and delegate to the
editor-in-chief the authority to appoint associate editors. The reviewers are
almost always volunteers; it is the common sense of the field that an author who
submits a paper "owes the field" three reviews. In practice, many reviewers
report that they receive an average of one manuscript a month for review and
that it takes them 2 to 6 months to complete a given review.
Most publishers follow three additional policies. One is a "novel submission"
policy, under which an author is expected to submit substantially new material
that does not overlap significantly with previous submissions by that or any
other author. Second is a "no scooping" policy, under which an author has no
authority to distribute copies publicly until the paper has actually been
printed. Third is a "proper citations" policy, under which an author is expected
to give proper credit to all other persons who contributed to the work in some
way, either through previous publication or through private communications.
Authors who violate these policies typically receive reprimands from editors and
may jeopardize their future right to publish with those journals.
These policies and practices collectively serve to provide an "imprint" or
imprimatur to the novelty and soundness of published scientific works. The
society gains prestige in the science community by seeking to publish only the
most novel, significant, readable, and well-grounded works. The authors gain
prestige in the science community by having their works published in prestigious
journals. The imprints of a society can be of significant professional value to
an author -- for example, academic authors consider them essential to promotion
and tenure. The harder it is to achieve the imprint and the higher the quality
it signifies, the greater its value to an author.
Although less visible, the policies and practices of archiving and indexing are
as critical as publishing. A society's imprint would be worthless without
reasonable assurances that the published work will be preserved for posterity
and that readers can locate the work without having to locate the author.
Authors who argue that the publishing process ends with publication are
forgetting the importance of archiving to the preservation of their work.
Breakdowns in the Traditional System
The traditional scientific publishing system is now facing a variety of
breakdowns that must be overcome if the system is to survive. We assume that
resolving these breakdowns is preferable to abandoning scientific publishing.
From ACM's perspective, the breakdowns are:
1. Most of our journals are written by experts for other
experts, but these experts constitute less than 20% of the readership. The other
80%, who are typically experts from other subdisciplines or are practitioners,
may be interested in the results but do not have the time or background to
understand the specialized language of the journal's domain experts. These 80%
are showing their growing dissatisfaction with the enterprise by complaining
about too many esoteric papers, dropping their subscriptions and sometimes their
memberships, and demanding new kinds of publications that they find more
approachable. With the increasing penetration of computers into everyday
practices of society, this group is growing. In ACM we refer to the traditional
line of publications, which are the majority of our journals, as "Track 1". We
are gradually introducing a new line of publications aimed at the other readers;
we call these the "Track 2" publications. Among other things, the Track 2
publications can bridge between practitioners and research scholars.
2. Authors are increasingly dissatisfied with delays in the
process. It often takes 6-18 months to complete the review-revise phase, and
another 12-18 months after that until actual publication. Even if we could
magically remove the publication delay by clever use of advanced technology,
authors would still be dissatisfied with the long review time. Moreover, readers
are dissatisfied if they believe that a result known 1-3 years ago has taken
this long to be published.
3. It is an increasingly popular practice among authors to post
their manuscripts on publicly-accessible FTP servers at or before the moment of
submission, thus making the moment of publication precede the moment of
acceptance. This practice, sometimes called "circulating preprints", not only
accelerates the dissemination of new results, it is seen by many as improving
the quality of works by subjecting them to wider scrutiny than that of a few
referees. This obviously poses a challenge to the policy of not considering
previously published works.
4. New questions are arising about who owns (or should own) the
copyrights. Since the FTP server is becoming the author's means of dissemination
(at least to a core group of interested persons), some authors now wonder
whether there is any value in signing over the right to disseminate to a
publisher -- and some openly wonder if there is any need for the publisher at
all. Other authors are looking to publishers to be their agents in bringing
their work to the widest audience, and protecting and preserving their work.
Artists, following their standard practice, often retain copyright to their art
images, and only give permission to include those images in specific papers;
this challenges the policy that the publisher may freely distribute copies of
the entire paper and complicates electronic redistribution.
5. Libraries are suffering under reductions of their
budgets at a time when subscription prices have been rising faster than
inflation and the number of scientific journals has been growing rapidly. They
are dropping journal subscriptions and joining together in consortia that share
one subscription among several institutions. They do not save all published
journals; they look instead to the professional societies to do that. This
threatens the archiving function by removing the commitment to retain all works
indefinitely. It is highly likely that many scientific works exist as
citations only (the original documents have been lost), and that many others
have been lost completely.
6. The relentless rise of the number of printed journal papers
and their prices, and in the number of manuscripts distributed by electronic
means, is causing "information overload". Individuals and institutions alike are
shifting from a mode of acquiring publications for "just-in-case" use to a mode
of acquiring them "just-in-time". The latter mode is increasingly facilitated by
on-line reference databases and document delivery services. This trend, which
appears irreversible, will eventually lead to the disintegration of print
journals as pre-selected collections of worthy papers.
7. Although publishers say that it is not in their mission to
cater to academic concerns for recognition, tenure, and promotion, these
concerns nonetheless have been a powerful engine in the scientific publishing
industry. Authors tend to submit to journals with the highest perceived
prestige. Tenure committees are beginning to assess the value of the imprint
rather than the print journal itself. Submissions to traditional journals
continue to INCREASE even as readership decreases, leading to what some are
starting to call "write-only journals".
8. Authors are increasingly viewing their works as "living in the
web", an allusion to the rapidly growing World Wide Web of interconnected
documents. They see networks as new opportunities for collaborative authoring
and for "dynamic documents" that incorporate other documents by link rather
than by direct copying. Over time, authors want to introduce either new
versions or changes into their own works. This is raising new problems of
version control, copy-on-demand when exercising a link, reference, citation,
and copyright of a non-fixed work.
9. Authors of works stored in the "web" increasingly use active
hypertext links to other works rather than the traditional citation. "Clicking"
on the link invokes a process that copies the referenced work from a remote
site. Such a link, when used, becomes a way of incorporating another work on
demand into a document. Link-use is not contemplated in existing copyright
10. Some authors are posting complete collections of their
personal works on servers where others can locate them easily simply by knowing
the author's name.
In effect, the three key moments of the traditional process -- submission,
acceptance, and publication -- are no longer distinct or in traditional order.
The moment of publication is, with the help of public servers, increasingly
likely to precede the moment of submission. The moment of acceptance is becoming
the moment of imprimatur. Printed publication is becoming less important to
authors. The responsibility for archiving and indexing is gradually being
abandoned by librarians, who cannot afford comprehensive collections or the
software tools for electronic archives.
ACM's Response as a Society Publisher
These breakdowns, and the other changes in means of publication and
distribution, show that the scientific publishing enterprise is being
transformed. The broad outlines of what will emerge are already discernible in
the practices of some publishers and in the visions many are expressing of the
future. These outlines are centered around a structured database containing the
society's published works.
o Journals will become "streams" flowing into the society's
database and will retain their identities as "database categories"; at the
moment of acceptance, a paper will be placed in the database rather than into
a print queue at the publication house. Separate issues and page limits will
o Societies will offer facilities and mechanisms whereby
authors can post collections of their works and obtain public comment on early
versions of them.
o Individuals will cease to purchase journal subscriptions and
will instead purchase a right of access to the entire database. They will post
interest-profiles and will be automatically notified when new items matching
their profiles are posted. They will read from the database and will be
responsible for their own printing. The publisher may provide print copies on
demand or by fax for a fee.
o Publishers will distribute "notices of availability" rather than
journals or documents; readers will locate and obtain copies on demand using new
software tools. Local agents specializing in print-on-demand will be established
in print shops, copy shops, and libraries, especially at universities.
o New kinds of services such as search, extract, and repackaging will be made
o New kinds of works including hypertext, picture, graphics,
- The ACM Electronic Publishing Plan part 1 of 2 David Farber (Feb 09)