APS Money: Where it Comes From, Where it Goes, and Why We Need You to Give Us More

By Harry Lustig, Treasurer

When The American Physical Society was founded in 1899, its budget was $285. In 1995, the APS expended $27,180,038. One of the reasons for the disparity - surprising as this may be to some readers - is that we did not publish the Physical Review for the first 20 years of its existence. Readers who helped us celebrate the centenary of that journal or who have read the wonderful book by Paul Hartman, will recall that the Physical Review was founded in 1893 at Cornell University and published by the Macmillan Company. It was not fully taken over by APS, as a non-profit service to the physics community, until 1913.

Another reason why our budgets have gone up is that in 1899 we only had 59 members; today the count is 41,670. Our expenses, and fortunately the revenues as well, have risen 135 times as fast as the membership. The explanation is not only that we live in an inflationary universe, but that the APS is now called on to do much more than the founders dreamt of. This is not because the Society's mission has changed. Remarkably enough, the APS Constitution says that it is exactly the same as it was in 1899: the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics. (Some of our impetuous and radical presidents and Council members have suggested that it may be time to consider a change).

The difference is that in 1899 the membership and the leadership of the Society were satisfied to carry out the mission by holding scientific meetings and publishing the Bulletin of The American Physical Society. As already noted, publishing the Physical Review came later. Today, we not only publish some 100,000 pages per year in seven journals, hold many large and smaller meetings, and provide a large range of services to members. More important for this report, and following a trend that began several years ago, we carry out many - we believe very cost effective - public information, public affairs, education, outreach and international programs.

The pie charts in Figure 1 depict APS' revenues and expenses for 1995, for our four operations centers: the research publications, the scientific meetings, membership operations and services, and public affairs programs. Figure 2 depicts the net revenues or deficits for each of these operations centers.

A glance at Figure 1will show the financially dominant role of the journals: they contributed 82.2 percent of the income and accounted for 74.7 percent of the expenses of the Society. The difference constitutes net revenue. The "surplus" - about 10 percent of revenues over the last decade - has been achieved in spite of the fact that our journals are extraordinarily low priced, per unit of information conveyed, compared to those of commercial and many other society publishers. Reflecting this pricing policy, our surplus, as a percentage of revenues, has been much smaller than that of many other publishers.

More than two-thirds of the Society's 175 employees are engaged in working with the journals and the number would be higher if we didn't farm out much of the production and distribution to AIP and to other vendors. These high numbers reflect, of course, the continued intellectual importance of the journals and the contribution they make to the advancement and diffusion of physics.

Organizing and running the meetings account for about 5 percent and the Membership Operations for about 9.5 percent of the budget. Public Affairs and Programs contributes very different slices to the revenue and expense pies: 2.1 percent and 10.1 percent respectively.

The economics of the journals will be discussed in a coming issue of APS News. For now, let me only say that 75 percent of the revenues come from library subscriptions and 10 percent - a declining fraction - from page charges. The expenses are roughly equipartitioned between editorial, composition and production, and printing and distribution outlays. As the future article will make clear, several factors, including continued growth, the crisis in library funding, a decline in page charge income, large but essential expenditures to convert to electronic publishing, and uncertainty about obtaining revenue from online journals, cause us not only to discount future surpluses but to worry about the long run financial stability of the journals.

Meetings income derives predominantly from registration fees. At $195 for "regular" members who preregister, the fees for the March and Spring meetings are still not high compared to those of many other professional societies. However, in consideration of the precarious state of research funding, the Executive Board has decided to keep the fees at their present level at least for next year. The Society wants its members to be able to participate in the meetings.

Dues represent the bulk of the income for funding membership operations and services. At $90 for "regular" members and considerably less for seniors, juniors, and students, they are at about the median for U.S. physics and related societies and well below that of other professional associations.

Dues pay for our share of Physics Today, for APS News, for a portion of unit expenses and newsletters, for governance operations and for the maintenance and improvement of the membership database. Again, probably as a consequence of the pressures on the physics community, after about 100 years of essentially monotonic growth, the last few years have seen small declines in the numbers of members - just at a time when we need more resources to help preserve and improve the health of physics. We are therefore reluctant to raise the dues.

It is not difficult to see why public affairs and programs are fated to operate at a substantial deficit. Income comes primarily from grants and contracts (which, of course, must be expended dollar-for-dollar for the activities contracted for) and from members' contributions.

Where does the money go? Into dozens of programs, large and small, - but all, we believe, important, cost-effective, andmember driven - in the areas of public information, public affairs and governmental relations, education, outreach, and international activities. Table 1 is a short, representative sample list of these programs and their 1995 costs. We will be happy to provide anyone with details, on request.

Panel on Public Affairs
Congressional Fellows
PG Net
Science Media Relations
Physics Planning Committee
Industry-Academic Government Roundtables
High School Teachers Days
Physics Olympiad
Physics Teachers/Scientists Alliance
Industrial Summer Intern Program
Minorities Committee, Scholarships & Speaker Grants
Women's Committee, Roster, Speakers Grants
Matching Membership
Former Soviet Union Programs (grant funded)
Committee on International Scientific Affairs
Committee on International Freedom of Scientists
Graduate Student Packet, Career Plus
Industrial Speakers List
Employment/Career Workshops

Even though much of the work is done by volunteers, we need to pay for staff and office expenses to help run the programs. Anyone who knows what these people accomplish and compares that with the staffing pattern in similar organizations will agree that our staffing is gratifyingly lean, about 11 FTEs for these departments. This is consistent with the fact that physicists (and the Society that represents them) are very frugal. (Some would say "cheap", but that is no more true than the observation that physicists are arrogant.)

So where are we and where do we go from here? Look again at Figure 2. A simple way to interpret the graphs is to say that in 1995 the surplus from the journals paid for the public affairs programs of the Society. A simple and sobering conclusion is that with the surplus threatened, APS must now wean itself away from reliance on it and must find other sources to finance the increasingly necessary public affairs programs.

Fortunately, the situation is not as bleak as the graph would seem to indicate. Over the last decades, the Society has built up a "reserve fund" which is now equal to about one year's expenditures. The original motivation was to enable APS to continue to operate for one year, in the absence of income or as a result of other dire events. Fortunately this fund has been well invested and now produces, in a good year, significant income. With the goal of keeping the reserve fund at one year's expenses requiring only modest annual additions and assuming that the journals must be able to pay for themselves and for part of the investments in electronic publishing, we can and will use some of the income to help fund the public affairs and outreach programs of the Society.

However, investment earnings are not enough and increased income from other sources is clearly needed. We will seek more grants, but these will generally finance only new programs that are of interest to the granting agency and not programs that the Society and its members want to continue or expand. The Campaign for Physics, launched in cooperation with the American Association of Physics Teachers, is an important new initiative, mainly designed to enhance pre-college science education (See APS News, December 1995). Corporate and individual donations are being sought to achieve the Campaign's goal of $5 million. Please contact the Campaign Director, Darlene Logan, at logan@aps.org or at (301) 209-3224, for more details.

The mainstay of support for many APS programs, such as those illustrated in Table 1, will need to come from more annual contributions from you, the members. This support has been habitually solicited with the renewal invoice, in the form of suggested voluntary contributions. In 1995 the contributions totaled $323,612. For several years the level suggested has been $25 for members and $50 for fellows. We are suggesting the same amounts on the invoices this year. The explanations that go with the invoice state that "if you would like to contribute at a level other than this amount, please adjust the suggested amount...." Needless to say, we would very much prefer the substitution of a higher rather than a lower amount. In fact, we hope to double the 1995 total. This can be achieved only by a rise in the number of members who honor the voluntary contribution and/or an increase in the size of the contributions. For the first 200 members who contribute $100 or more, we have an actual gift: a copy of the Hartman Memoir of the Physical Review. It is really a delightful and informative book, and at 212 pages, can be read in one evening.

We recognize that among the public affairs programs that APS carries out, members have their favorites and, in some cases, their antifavorites. You may designate on the invoice which group of activities your contribution will be used for.

For those who would like to consider becoming big-time donors, we have other suggestions, such as planned giving programs and bequests in the donors' wills. Please contact me or Darlene Logan if you would like to discuss any of these possibilities further. (If you just want to send in your $5,000 check, don't hesitate to do so.) I wish I could say it's only the spirit that counts, but it isn't. Every contribution will help the Society (with a capital 'S') in its efforts to enhance the welfare of physics and of society (with a lower case 's').

For further information contact Harry Lustig at: lustig@aps.org or 301-209-3220.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Barrett H. Ripin

May 1996 (Volume 5, Number 5)

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Articles in this Issue
Inside the Beltway
Beller International Lecture at DAMOP Meeting
FY 1997 R&D Budget Request Announced
International News
Physicists to be Honored at 1996 May Meeting
Career Corner
Physics Success Stories Provide Tools for Scientists
In Brief
APS Views
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