American Chemical Society describes important publication changes to its journals

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2009 — With its customers expressing strong preferences for accessing research advances online, rather than in print, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Publications Division is pursuing a series of product, platform and pricing initiatives in 2009-2010 designed to meet the information demands of scientific readers and the research libraries that support them. ACS publishes 36 highly regarded peer-reviewed journals and a weekly news and industry magazine, Chemical & Engineering News, in print and digital formats. In 2009, ACS Publications’ Web platform was awarded Best eProduct, Website or Platform of 2008 by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers.

Key among the changes is an immediate shift from traditional size print to a novel “rotated and condensed” print format that will be used for most of the Society’s publications. Three ACS titles — the flagship Journal of the American Chemical Society (the most cited journal in chemistry), Chemical Reviews (the highest impact factor journal in chemistry) and Accounts of Chemical Research — will remain in their traditional format. The weekly magazine Chemical & Engineering News, which is subscribed to by the Society’s base of 154,000 members, will also remain in its traditional format. In addition, effective in 2010, ACS will end two discount programs, one for libraries and one for its members, applicable solely to its print-format journals. The Society will maintain its practice of offering deeply discounted electronic subscriptions as a benefit to it members. It has also announced a time-limited, print-to-digital upgrade program in 2009 to further assist customers in controlling costs, ending subscription duplication, and transitioning to ACS’ award-winning Web platform.

Susan King, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Journals Publishing Group, notes that most subscribers and readers now prefer to access ACS journals online. Nonetheless, the cost reductions associated with the move to a new two-up, rotated and condensed print format will enable the Society to extend the viability of the printed format to institutional customers whose users continue to demand that medium, she says. In order to share the cost-saving benefits of the new format with library customers, ACS has announced plans to keep prices flat on its print journals for 2010. What the Society elects to do thereafter will depend on market conditions and customer demand during the next 12-18 months, King reports.

Brandon Nordin, ACS Publications’ Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Web Innovation, cited two interconnected trends driving the changes. One is the decade-long shift in preference to the Internet for time-sensitive creation and delivery of journal content. The other is the economic downturn that has particularly squeezed budgets of institutional libraries since 2008. “Earlier this year we were asked by consortia representing our largest customers worldwide to think creatively to help libraries retain access to highly valued content essential to research in the face of a flat-to-down funding environment,” Nordin says. “Reducing print publishing costs allows us to focus resources on the ACS Web Editions preferred by the majority of our customers and readers,” he notes. To further illustrate the point, Nordin points out that while total print subscriptions typically number in the hundreds per journal title, ACS services more than 70 million article requests a year online.

In briefing customers about the format change, ACS also announced a Print-to-Digital upgrade program for its institutional library customers. This program credits customers who cancel their discounted print subscriptions before Sept. 30, 2009, with a rebate equivalent to 30 percent of their 2009 print purchases to be applied to their 2010 ACS Web Editions renewals. Several of ACS’ largest customers have already taken advantage of this program. “Most institutions find their users prefer the easily searched, 24/7-accessible, and quickly accessed Web editions of journals. Librarians are further attracted to the more attractive pricing and low cost per use of ACS Web Editions. ACS will continue to monitor both readers’ views and library customers’ purchase patterns to determine its future product media and formats,” Nordin explained. “But for today, and throughout 2010, online access and print subscriptions both remain options for ACS customers to select based on their own preferences,” he emphasized. “Unfortunately this move has been misinterpreted in several blogs — and subsequently picked up in mainstream media outlets — and then erroneously reported as a complete end to ACS print-based journal distribution. Such assertions are incorrect.”

Reader reaction to the print format change has been muted thus far, King says. Most admit they seldom, if ever, use the print versions beyond scanning the table of contents. Indeed, for every comment received expressing concern about the reduced size and legibility of the condensed format, others suggest ACS is not moving to an all Web-and-mobile digital publishing mode quickly enough, she notes.

ACS Publications issued the following summary clarifications regarding its recently announced actions:

  • All ACS journals will continue to be available in print, with most in the new condensed print format. Three ACS journals, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Chemical Reviews and Accounts of Chemical Research, will remain unchanged throughout 2010, as will Chemical & Engineering News.
  • Condensed printing rotates pages into ‘landscape’ mode and displays two pages per physical printed page. This maintains approximately 70 percent of each standard page image. Researchers frequently elect a similar option when printing digital PDF documents in Adobe’s popular Adobe Reader, to save themselves both printer costs and paper, and to enhance document portability. More on ACS condensed print.
  • In evaluating its actions, ACS Publications was guided by its customers and readers. Over the last decade and half, since ACS introduced its first online journals, users and subscriptions have been migrating to a Web-delivered experience. This trend has accelerated in the last three years, fundamentally changing the economics of printing and distribution for the Society’s journals.
  • Beginning in 2010, ACS will no longer extend the special sales program that offered institutions a deeply discounted print rate as an adjunct to their Web editions purchases. This program, originally introduced to help buffer libraries from the costs of maintaining duplicate subscriptions in print and digital format, represented less than 10 percent of ACS library subscriptions in 2009, and was no longer cost-effective to maintain.

Similarly, given market data showing the majority of its active member users preferred to access scientific research via the Web, ACS is ending its discount on print editions that had been maintained as a special benefit for ACS members. The Society will continue its popular practice of offering members discounted subscription access to Web editions of journals on a title-by-title basis for personal, non-commercial use.

More information about these changes, including guidance for customers interested in taking advantage of the 2009 sales incentive programs for early renewal of 2010 electronic subscription licenses, is available.


Media Inquiries:

Charmayne Marsh