Commercial vs Society Journals

Richard E. Clopton septate at
Sat Mar 19 15:01:26 EST 1994

I make a few observations in light of the grumbling about the cost of many
"premier" journals:

1)  It should not be surprising that Elsevier has captured another large
market, and it should not be a surprise if it continues to happen.  These
are COMMERCIAL enterprises working on an expansion schedule.  Offer a
journal with no page charges aand a fast turn-around time--people start to
publish.  The hidden result is that these same people are now sending their
best work to a commercial business (and signing the copyright away, I might 
add) instead of sending their best work to their own society journal.  Over
time the pressure to publish extensively and quickly drives more and more
good science to commercial journals--the loser ends up being the society.
In the end the society simply can't compete.  Why not?  The society
asks its members to offset the charges of publishing (through dues and
page charges).  In return, the member gets a reasonable subscription rate
(usually part of the due structure), and the society can ensure wide
distribution to libraries because they don't have to charge inflated
prices.  If it costs you $194.00 usd to subscribe to a journal, I'd 
guess that it costs the library MINIMALLY an order of magnitude more.
There is no free lunch -- no page charges=very high subscription rates,
especially for libraries (simply because the library cost is invisible to
the average scientist, but not the average librarian).

2)  Commercial journals continue to succeed because they can enter new
fields and use profits from journals in UNRELATED fields to subsidize
their initial costs--they don't have to ask for page charges from the 
helminthologists (hypothetically), because they've already got the
ecologists over a barrel.

3)  This scenario has even more dangerous implications.  As more and more
authors are drawn to quick, cheap, commercial journals, more and more
of the society's best work is published outside the society journal.  In
the end, the society journal can't keep up with the "high cite rate" game
because the base has been stripped away.  In the end, the journal fights
for it's life (usually incurring higher costs e.g. Transactions of the
American Microscopical Society), and often loses.  When all of the
society journals in a field have been beaten back by the commercial
journals, do you believe that the commerical journals won't charge
fat page charges?  In the end, we may have no choice.

4)  "Highest citation rate" is, IMOHO, not the critical issue for 
scientific publication.  Every article you publish represents a legacy
that you cannot retract.  Your reputation, now and for future generations,
is a product of the quality of your published work.  Perhaps we should
ask which journals contain papers with the "longest average citation rate".
I think that in our disicpline, the Journal of Parasitology wins, hands down.

5)  Journals do not become critical by accident.  They become critical reading
because the best minds in a field publish their best work within one or a
few journals.  If a commercial journal can be made in less than 10 years, 
Society Journals can be retained as critical reading much longer.

Moral:  Support your society journal.

Rich Clopton

R. E. Clopton		Center for Urban and Public Health Entomology
septate at 	Department of Entomology
Gregarines			Texas A&M University (Gig'em Aggies!)
"I don't mind a parasite, but I object to a cut-rate one." - Mr. Rick

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