APS News

Board Sends Publication Plan to Oversight Committee

The changing nature of APS' research publications and of their finances were discussed extensively at the June Executive Board meeting. As a result, a resolution was passed asking the Publications Oversight Committee (POC) to consider a five-point plan for APS' journals and report back its recommendations for implementation in time for the September Board meeting. The points are the following: 1) that a fixed "page budget" for APS journals be instituted, 2) that editorial expenses be reduced by 25 percent over the next five years, 3) that increases in journal prices for libraries be held to less than 10 percent per year, 4) that alternate page charge schemes, consistent with the financial viability of the journals, be considered and 5) that all the Physical Review journals be available electronically within the next five years. POC will meet in early September to discuss and fill in the elements of this plan.

Most of the funding for APS publications has traditionally come from library subscriptions and from page charges. Member subscription prices are set very close to the cost of printing and mailing the "last copy" and therefore do not contribute to defraying the editorial and composition expenses. The costs of publishing APS' journals have increased steadily for many years, driven more by the rapid growth in the number of manuscripts submitted and published than by inflation in unit costs. Moreover, the number of library subscriptions has declined by about 3 percent per year for many years. These factors have conspired to increase library subscription prices by about 15 percent per year. Libraries are under severe financial constraints and large increases in prices simply are not sustainable in the long run.

Page charges used to be a significant source of income for APS' journals. Recently the percentage of authors honoring page charges has decreased, although a majority of U.S. authors continue to pay them. Members of the particle and nuclear physics communities have been particularly concerned about the assessment of page charges. Both Physical Review C and Physical Review D are faced with competition from strong European journals that have no page charges. As a result, page charges for PRC and PRD can induce authors to send their articles to these journals, which could weaken the quality of APS' journals. A three-year experiment (see APS NEWS, March 1992, p. 1) that eliminated all page charges for PRD and for compuscript submissions to PRC caused a large increase in submissions. Unfortunately this rapid increase in the size of PRD, and thus in its publication costs, with an accompanying decrease in revenue has caused the journal to run at a substantial deficit.

With all of this in mind and knowing that increased revenues are hard to find, the Executive Board is searching for ways to cut costs. The three major factors in the cost of journal publication are editorial, composition, and printing and distribution. APS recently signed a new agreement with the American Institute of Physics for the composition of PRA-E. This will reduce APS' cost per page slightly, with larger savings if more authors submit their articles in electronic forms that are easily processed (RevTex, LaTex, etc.). On the other hand, paper and postage prices rose precipitously earlier this year. It is hoped that in the future electronic distribution of journals will help cut these composition and distribution costs significantly, but for the next few years producing both paper and electronic forms of the journals will actually increase them. Editorial costs seem to be the factor that might yield a significant reduction. The fact that APS editorial costs are considerably higher than those of some other physics journals has put pressure on APS leaders to reexamine the editorial process. Finally, halting the growth in the size of the journals - which has recently averaged 8 percent per year - can make a large contribution to containing costs, while at the same time not only maintaining but even enhancing the quality of the journals. Halting growth is in consonance with the recommendation of the Merzbacher Task Force (see APS NEWS May 1995, p. 1) to tighten acceptance standards by 10 to 20 percent. If sufficient savings can be brought about, income from page charges will become less critical.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin