Do scientists understand the relationships between societies and their for-profit publishers?
The recent kerfuffle
over the posting of some images from a paper on a blog has shown beyond a doubt that the answer is no and this could be problematic for the societies and for the publishers. Finally, days later, someone from
(it was an unidentified Wiley employee) points out that the society <> Wiley. Wiley wasn't complaining, it was the society.
Professional societies have journals as a service to/by their members. ASIS&T has JASIST, AAAS has Science, ACS has a million journals... Some societies do their own publishing (like AAAS and IEEE) while most pay a commercial publisher that may be for-profit or may be a university press (which act like they're for profit sometimes). Some societies wash their hands of the dirty little details like what the authors will have to sign away and how licensing will work while others, like AAS, absolutely insist that their members still have rights and that the pricing has to remain fair (that's why I think AAS is moving to a new publisher next year, IMHO). Some of the companies that do society publishing are: Blackwell (recently bought by...?), Wiley, MetaPress (different category?), Ingenta, Taylor and Francis (maybe now Informa), AIP, IOP...
So, anyway... the reputations of both the publisher and the society run together -- especially for non-members. If you're a society person and your publisher institutes an evil new policy, that reflects on you... and what with contracts and inertia and all, it's hard to move. Likewise (and I hadn't considered this until now), Wiley's getting beaten up and threatened with boycotts for something a society person did, as far as I can tell.
For a long time I've been arguing with fellow librarians not to confuse database producer with the interface vendor (like IET for Ebscohost). I think societies and commercial publishers should start a campaign to make their responsibilities and roles clear. I think the for-profit publishers are in tight competition now for the society business -- some of this should be made more explicit and societies should consider moving if they aren't happy with their service. (BTW- I was amazed the first time I heard an ad for Blackwell on NPR -- the ad was clearly targeted at societies looking for new publishers)
Update: I fixed a mistake and a typo. Iris asks in the comments, who are the societies, and who are the publishers? The societies are professional membership societies -- like American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) who publishes their own journal Science. Compare that to American Astronomical Society (AAS) who has their journals published by University of Chicago Press (as of right now). There are directories of the societies -- the Gale Directory of Associations (ask at any public library or academic library and most special libraries). You might also look in at a meta-society, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers
(their list of members is available: http://www.alpsp.org/ngen_public/default.asp?ID=243). Take another example from their page, the London Society of Zoology -- if you click on them, and on their publications link, it shows that their journal is published by Blackwell. As for what the rules are, I don't know what money changes hands or what the contracts state -- the publisher does a lot of work for the society and they do it better than a small society could. Some non-profits are BioMed Central, PLOS, AIP, IOP (they are all very different from each other, though). If you're in the position to select one, you might talk with peer societies through ALPSP or some other meta-organization. Hope that helps.
Labels: scholarly communication, science publishing