ACM DL and Open Access

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Today ACM announced a way for authors to pay for publishing open-access papers in the ACM DL. For a mere $1100 per conference paper ($1300 per journal article) for ACM members, authors can grant free access to their publications to anyone who wants it. I am all for open access to academic publications, but I have my doubts about this scheme.

First, the discrepancy in prices will lead to a decrease in journal publishing. Since journals are still preferred over conference papers by some tenure review committees, this creates an awkward situation for junior faculty trying to optimize their small budgets.

Second, as a lot of CS research is funded through NSF and similar granting agencies, this policy will create an incentive to pass the cost of publishing onto the grant provider. The net result, then, is that this ACM policy creates a mechanism for channeling government funds to the ACM.  Since ACM does not really have any competition (you cannot chose a different publisher and still get a  CHI paper or a ToIS paper), this unilateral price setting does not seem quite right.

Another issue is the implicit discrimination against the little guys, the small departments, the grad students without much funding. They are less likely to be able to afford the fees, and thus less likely to have their work be available through the open-access publishing mechanism.

Finally, it should be pointed out that ACM’s policy already permits authors to post their own papers which are findable through the search engine of your choice, so ACM’s paywall doesn’t prevent non-members from accessing many of the documents anyway.

So what’s a good solution that balances ACM’s need to make money with having an equitable publishing policy? While I don’t claim to have any particular insight into ACM’s business model, it would be easier to make more informed decisions if ACM were more forthcoming about their expenses. I was able to find information about (for example) the SIGCHI budget, but not about the ACM’s. Is charging for open access publication advancing computing as a science and a profession? It’s just not obvious. ACM needs make its case clearer, and needs to engage its membership in the policy debate. Have alternatives been considered? What are the tradeoffs? How much would membership fees need to increase to cover publication costs? What happens if the DL requires a membership fee to access documents for the first two years, and makes them free after that? There are many ways to provide equitable access, and we as a community would benefit from this discussion.