The role of scholarly societies
- The core mission of most scholarly societies is the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.
- However, in order to subsidize non-publishing activities some societies charge excessively high prices for the journals they publish. Complicating the issue is the fact that many of these non-publishing activities — public education and advocacy, member scholarships, and low conference rates — are worthwhile and core to the societies' missions. On the other hand, the American Chemical Society, in 2002 paid its executive director a $750,000 salary.
- Societies often turn over their publishing operations to, or partner with profit-maximizing commercial publishers, leading to further price increases.
- High and rapidly rising prices inevitably create barriers to access, reduce the potential impact of the scholarly work they seek to promote, and severely limit the goal of broad-based exposure and knowledge advancement.
As a member of a society, you can make a difference
- Encourage your association to maintain reasonable prices for its publications.
- If your society contracts with a commercial publisher, suggest alternatives such as moving to a non-profit publisher. Examples include:
- BioOne, an aggregator that provides cost-effective, online access to journals published by small societies.
- Allen Press, publisher of some 120 journals.
- HighWire Press, a division of Stanford University Libraries, has partnered with almost 200 scholarly societies to produce online versions of their journal.
- Discuss alternative forms of dissemination that use technology effectively. Explore the possibility of making the society's journals open access.
- Suggest that your society separate its publishing operations, keeping publishing revenue at cost recovery levels and keeping subscription prices low.
- Explore ways to support society activities from sources other than escalating subscription prices.
- Encourage your scholarly society to allow authors to keep their copyright; this will give the authors flexibility in disseminating their own work via repositories and personal websites and give them the freedom to make derivative works.
Making Change Work For You
From Create Change. Discusses how scholars can encourage change through their roles as authors, editors, and members of scholarly societies.
Letter to UC Faculty (PDF)
From George Blumenthal, Chair of UC Academic Council, and University Librarians on the challenges of negotiating subscription renewals for academic society publications, January 2005.
Nature Web Focus: Access to the Literature
A series of specially-commissioned essays from leading scientists, librarians, publishers, and other stakeholders. Includes essays — on all sides of the debate — about society publishing.
The Role of Scholarly Societies
From Reshaping Scholarly Communication by the UC Office of Scholarly Communication. Includes a Best Practices Checklist highlighting policies among a small sample of societies.
Scholarly Societies and Scholarly Communication (PDF)
One of five white papers by the UC Academic Council Special Committee on Scholarly Communication responding to challenges facing scholarly communication.
What Do Societies Do With Their Publishing Surpluses?
This report commissioned by the Association of Learned and Professional Societies Publishers (ALPSP), reports on a survey of some 68 society publishers.
Working with Societies (PDF)
From the UC Berkeley Faculty Conference on Scholarly Publishing, March 2005.