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First Fruit of ARL's SPARC Alliance: ACS to Publish New Reduced-Cost Science Journals
by
Posted On July 13, 1998
At a press briefing held in conjunction with the recent annual conference of the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) announced that the American Chemical Society (ACS) will be its first partner in a collaboration aimed at distributing research results faster and at significantly less cost to library subscribers.

According to Duane E. Webster, ARL executive director, the partnership is "a major step forward in resolving the debate between libraries and publishers over academic journal costs and access, especially as the benefits and challenges of electronic publishing become more evident."

This is the first collaboration between a scholarly publisher and ARL's newly established Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Under the partnership, ACS will launch at least one new scientific journal each year for the next 3 years. The first journal will publish letters in organic chemistry.

In a phone conversation after the press briefing, Jack Ochs, ACS's general manager for new product development, told us that this journal is slated to begin twice-monthly publication in July 1999, at a projected subscription price of $2,300 per year for the print edition, pro-rated for the initial mid-year start date. The online version will be available to print subscribers for an additional 25 percent, in just one of a number of options for purchasing the electronic edition. Ochs expressed hope that the organic chemistry letters journal will increase to weekly frequency by the third year of publication, and he said that they do not anticipate a doubling of the subscription rate when that happens. By comparison, Ochs noted that the 1998 subscription price of Elsevier's weekly Tetrahedron Letters is approximately $8,000.

The new organic chemistry letters title will include the enhanced features ACS developed for all of its 26 journals that it began offering on the Web last year. The most important of these is "Articles ASAP" (As Soon As Publishable), which releases journal articles on the Web as soon as they are finished, accelerating publications by 2 to 11 weeks over print.

The Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition

SPARC is a newly formed alliance of libraries that aims to foster expanded competition in scholarly communication. Launched with support from ARL, SPARC has begun creating partnerships with publishers who commit to developing high-quality but economical alternatives to existing high-price publications. Through these arrangements, SPARC seeks to create a more competitive marketplace, reduce the prices of journals, ensure fair use and educational and library uses of electronic resources, apply new technologies to improve the process of scholarly communication, and reduce the costs of production and distribution.

Richard K. Johnson serves as enterprise director for SPARC, which is seeking additional publishing partners. "One of the key advantages SPARC offers to a publishing partner," said Johnson, "is the commitment of coalition members to subscribe to SPARC products. This reduces the time to market-acceptance and cost-recovery of a new title."

Composed of 90 ARL libraries (as of this writing) with a purchasing power of nearly $500 million, SPARC was created as a result of the growing concerns among librarians and researchers over the rising cost of academic publications, particularly scientific journals. Library materials budgets, which have increased over the past decade at almost 7 percent a year, have not been able to keep pace with the 12 percent annual increase in the average price of science journals. Both the high prices and steep annual increases charged by some major scientific publishers forced libraries to cancel thousands of journal subscriptions, prompting publishers to raise prices even higher to make up for the loss.

Spokespeople at the press conference said SPARC will influence the marketplace positively by encouraging publishers to enter markets where the prices are highest and competition is needed most--primarily in the science, technical, and medical areas. Through its activities, SPARC should reduce the risk to publisher-partners of entering the marketplace while providing faculty with prestigious and responsive alternatives to current publishing vehicles. To accomplish this, SPARC will solicit and encourage the introduction of new publications of high quality and fair price; provide a subscription base and market new products to potential subscribers; supply startup capital in selected cases; and generate support for SPARC projects from distinguished faculty, educational organizations, professional societies, and scholarly publishers.

Why This Venture Is Significant

The 81 founding members of SPARC represent two-thirds of the 121 ARL member libraries. Each of the founding members has made a financial commitment to the startup of the enterprise. SPARC is also developing a membership model that will invite the participation of non-ARL libraries who share the vision and values of the project. The clout of the ARL libraries is considerable, as they collectively house 40 percent of the information resources of the U.S., according to the ARL. With other major universities and research organizations involved, there is great potential for changing scholarly publishing. Libraries interested in more information about SPARC should contact ARL at 202/296-2296; http://www.arl.org/sparc.

The advent of electronic publishing has created concern among both publishers and librarians. Despite the distinct advantages of electronic over print in terms of delivery time, additional features, and flexibility, the scholarly community has been slow to accept it as equally credible. Other sources of tension between academic publishers and librarians have been higher subscription costs, licensing agreements for access, and the uncertainty of archiving. ACS will post the electronic version of the letters in organic chemistry on their Web site within 48 hours of receiving a corrected proof. This form of rapid communication adds value and utility for researchers. It will also encourage early indexing and abstracting. A print version will also be published within 2 to 11 weeks, meeting the need for validation and preservation. The peer review process will be maintained but facilitated with fewer readers.

The state of scholarly publishing is a global issue, making the ARL/ACS venture even more critical. Results may be slow in the short term, but over time will likely change the paradigm.


Laverna Saunders is dean of the library, instructional, and learning support at Salem State College, Salem, Massachusetts.

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