Chemical Information Bulletin, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 1981 Page: 2
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Dr. D.H. Michael Bowen, Director of the ACS Books and Journals
Division, spoke at the Divisional Luncheon held in Atlanta during
the Spring NatiLnal ACS meeting. Dr. Bowen's presentation, "Jour
nal Publishing Faces the 80's", is published here in its entirety for
those unable to attend.
. JOURNAL PUBLISHING FACES THE 80's
One of the disadvantages faced by a luncheon speaker is that he
is likely to be talking to an audience that is both sober and attentive...a
disadvantage not shared by the after-dinner speaker whose
main task has to be that of keeping at least half the audience
awake. One advantage that the luncheon speaker does have is that
the audience can be expected to take seriously at least some of the
points the speaker makes. I hope that will be true today.
I chose the title of this talk many months ago in the true spirit of a
speaker who is not sure when he is invited what exactly he will talk
about when the time comes. The challenges faced by journal
publishing in the nineteen eighties seemed to be a topic that could,
if needed, cover any points that I conceivably wanted to make...and
so it turned out when I first began to prepare my remarks.
First of all, it has to be said that journal publishing is, by and
large, in remarkably good health. Considering that journal publishers
have for at least five years been listening to predictions that
developments in computers and electronics will render the printed
journal as dead as the dodo before 1990, it is perhaps surprising
that many publishers, especially in the commercial world, continue
to start new printed journals just as fast as they can. Even the ACS,
which hasn't launched a new basic journal in over ten years, is
starting one next year. The fact is that in almost every case with
which I am aware, publishing companies make far more money
from journals than they do from books, even though in several large
commercial publishing houses the books program is bigger. The
"twigging" phenomenon in science has been paralleled, since
World War II, by the splintering of big journals into smaller ones and
by the formation, especially by commercial companies, of small,
specialized journals intended to be profitable with just a small
subscriber market. To be honest, there are few signs to date that
the rush of new journals is abating, though, as I'll describe later,
there certainly are warning clouds on the horizon.
Driving all this activity and commerce is one inescapable fact:
scholars, including chemists, of course, want and need to publish
in printed journals. In periods of financial tightness-such as that
we are currently experiencing-the pressure to publish becomes
even more acute. Indeed, an article in the March 13 issue of Science
suggests that "publish or perish" is becoming "publish and perish"
as authors write more and more, fragmenting their work into many,
small publishable bits in order to lengthen their personal
bibliographies. The Science article cites the case of James Watson,
who at the time he became associate professor at Harvard, had 18
papers listed on his c.v.; the article contends that a similar
associate professor today would probably list 50 to 100 papers. Coauthorship
is on the rise and, according to Science, the length of
papers is going down, as what would have been a single paper is
subdivided into three of four smaller ones. (I must say parenthetically
that ACS journals have not experienced the reduction in
average length that Science notes in the medical literature; on the
contrary, average length of articles in JACS and JOC, for example,
seem to be rising.) Strong competition for grant money and for
tenured positions both seem to me to assure that journals will not
soon have to go around begging for manuscripts. Page budgets are
under pressure almost everywhere, putting further pressure on
Authors still prefer peer-reviewed journals. Despite the fact that
peer review (like democracy) has been called the worst system in
the world...except for all the other systems, peer review is still the
best assurance to the user of journal information that he or she can
place some credence in what is published. The better peer-reviewed
journals have become so desirable as places to publish that their
editors are frequently at odds with authors who "can't get in" and
some of the journals themselves have become behemoths-JACS
last year published over 8,000 pages and the Journal of Chemical
Physics closer to 14,000. Nevertheless, it should be said that there
is perhaps no more cost-effective way for a subscriber to get 8,000
pages of chemical information than to pay $200 for JACS ($50 for an
ACS member). The problem with the big journals is that any given
issue is likely to contain only a very few articles of interest to any individual
As I said earlier, there are some storm clouds on the horizon. In
the nineteen seventies, inflation started to impact strongly on the
publishers of journals and even though most of them, including
ACS, fought back by adopting newer, more efficient technologies
for composition and printing, costs rose inexorably. Rising costs,
coupled with a strong trend toward tighter budgets in libraries, with
2 CHEMICAL INFORMATION BULLETIN
which you are all aware, combined to start a vicious cycle of increased
subscription prices and reduced circulations. The circulation
of ACS journals to nonmembers (that is, essentially, to
libraries) fell 12% during the nineteen seventies. Nonmember
prices of the larger ACS journals typically rose 300-400% during the
same period. At the same time, ACS member circulation of the journals
fell by 45%. Libraries started to borrow from the book acquisition
budget to fund periodical purchases, and when that process
reached its practical limit, started setting up programs for cutting
multiple subscriptions, then cutting journals that were seldom
used, a process euphemistically called "deselection." Journal publishers
are all familiar with the process, but most of us seem to
think that our journals are so essential that we will not be hurt in the
process. I hope that at least some of us are correct in that assumption.
The way in which scientists become aware of what is in the
literature is changing; fewer and fewer have personal subscriptions
to journals in their fields, partly because prices have risen and partly
because their institutions have subscriptions. There is more and
more reliance on secondary services for alerting...the printed
subsections of CA, a CA Select Service or Current Contents, for example.
And then, of course, there is the dramatic growth in online
searching of bibliographic data bases. King Research, in a study
done for NSF in the late seventies, discovered that at that time, only
a small fraction of the literature was read as a direct result of an
online search. King expects that fraction to grow greatly during the
nineteen eighties. The next effect of all this is that the need for access
to individual journal articles is going to be greater than ever.
The question is how is the article going to be delivered to the user
and are journal publishers going to have much say in the matter.
Online searching brings the existence of a document to the attention
of the user quicker than ever before. Now how does he get the
document? I would expect that document delivery services will expand
greatly in the next ten years. One can't talk about this subject
in detail without talking about copyright, which I dont' intend to do,
but I do think that copyright concerns must be and will be constructively
In addition, we in the ACS are experimenting this year with online
searching of the full texts of journal articles. We frankly do not
know whether this will ever be the predominant means, or even a
common method, of addressing the content of primary journals,
and there are lots of technical questions to be answered along the
way. But we do intend to be prepared for different means of
dissemination to supplement distribution of printed journal copies
through the mail.
At this point, I would like to bring to your attention what I see as a
dichotomy in the area of journal publishing: authors of scientific
papers in our journals see the whole area of journal publishing in a
completely different way than does the "information community,"
if I can use a general descriptor like that.
I have repeatedly been told by a well-known and respected
academic chemist who shall remain nameless that journals are
published for authors first, readers second, and libraries last. Indeed,
it is quite true that journals are basically author-driven. For
more attention is paid in practice to the desires and needs of
authors than to those of readers or, if you like, users. Because
publishing in a printed journal, per se, is so important a function of
scientists authors, they really do not see the printed journal as part
of a larger system which supplies the information needs of people
not personally known to them. In the jargon so beloved of us all,
they are not "user-oriented." This view is not confined to the very
best scientists who are "prestigious" and who publish most often
in journals. It is quite widespread in the scientific research community.
It is manifested, for example, in the very cold reception
given by chemists to the idea of synoptic journals-which are
designed for the general alerting function. Chemists fear that the
full-paper, traditional printed journal could somehow be supplanted
by a product oriented to users, not authors. Our own experience of
experimentation with synoptic and condensed versions of the Journal
of the American Chemical Society was an object lesson in this
regard. At the other end of the spectrum, many in the information
community look upon the information in journals as a commodity
that can be digitized, bought, sold and leased, without apparent
regard for how that information is produced in the first place and
whether in fact it will be produced if the printed journal does not exist.
At the moment, I see very little common ground between the two
sets of views, though as a journal publisher we in ACS are perforce
in the middle.
I submit that we have a very important role to play in bridging the
psychological gap between researchers who publish and the new
technologies that give rise to the concept of electronic publishing.
We understand both sets of views because we have feet in both
camps, and we are ideally positioned as go-betweens.
The newer technologies such as OCR, videotext, cable TV,
satellite transmission, and so forth are alluring in themselves, but
Here’s what’s next.
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American Chemical Society. Division of Chemical Information. Chemical Information Bulletin, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 1981, periodical, Summer 1981; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc5683/m1/4/: accessed March 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .