[March 2002 update]

Additional facts on ESA’s e-publication initiatives and their implications


T. J. Walker, member, ESA Publications Enterprise Committee

Scientific societies have long tried to maintain needed revenues from the journals they publish while fulfilling their mission of making members’ research results conveniently accessible to the widest possible audience. So long as libraries were the place to access research results, societies could do this by keeping subscriptions prices low. (In the meanwhile commercial publishers were rapidly raising their subscription prices and creating a "serials crisis" for libraries.) Now societies find that the Internet is becoming the preferred place to access research results and they are striving to maintain journal revenues while providing more convenient access to the articles in their journals.

From the standpoint of the author of a journal article, optimal publication is for the electronic version of the article to be immediately and permanently accessible, for free, to anyone on the Internet and to have the right to post the electronic version of the article in any Internet archive. Since January of this year, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) has offered optimal publication to those authors seeking it and both the society and its authors have profited.

Basic to this win-win situation is that for many years more than 90% of the authors in ESA journals have bought paper reprints of their articles. They usually buy 100, the minimum number, and ESA’s prices are modest compared to the prices some commercial publishers charge for reprints. For example, the ESA price for 100 reprints of a 7-page article is $120, whereas one commercial publisher’s price is $317. Authors use the reprints they buy to give or send to colleagues, to fulfill requests for copies of the article, and to include in promotion- and job-seeking packets. Storing and mailing paper reprints increases the trouble and expense of authorship. In 1997, ESA began to offer its authors "PDF reprints" at the same prices per hundred as traditional reprints. PDF reprints were created by making PDF files of the articles and posting the files on ESA’s server with a counter to track the number of times the files were downloaded. (A downloaded PDF file can be used to print copies of an article that are equivalent to a high-quality photocopy of the article.) In 1999, ESA sold PDF reprints for only 5% of the 618 articles published in its four principal journals. Most authors evidently did not think that counter-limited PDF reprints were worth the price.

In Dec.1999, ESA’s Governing Board voted to offer optimal publication (as defined above) in the form of "unlimited PDF reprints" and set the price for that service at 75% of the price of 100 paper reprints. Thus for $90, the PDF file of a 7-page article would be immediately freely available on the Web and could be downloaded without limits. Furthermore the author could post the PDF file of the article on any server and could print copies of the articles from the PDF file to satisfy needs for paper reprints. For the issues published from January through June 2000, authors bought optimal publication for 14% of the articles in the society’s four journals [58 of 405 articles]. For the July and August 2000 issues, authors bought it for 35% of the articles (44 of 127). This rapid increase in the sale of unlimited free electronic access to articles suggests that ESA’s authors consider the current price a fair one.

ESA is also pleased with the current price because the society profits more from selling unlimited PDF reprints for an article than it does from selling 100 paper reprints for the same article. The cost of providing free electronic access is much less than the cost of producing 100 paper reprints.

Those reading this may be thinking, "But what if all or nearly all authors buy optimal publication? Won’t that cause libraries to stop subscribing? Then how will ESA continue to pay the costs of publishing its journals?"

In June 2000, ESA’s Governing Board voted that the price of optimal publication would be adjusted upward to preserve net revenues if revenues from library subscriptions decline. How soon or whether this will be necessary is uncertain. In any case, ESA’s experiment with a new way to provide its authors with what they want suggests that there will be a market-driven answer to who pays for electronic publication. If authors and their institutions choose to pay the real costs of optimal publication of research results, there will be no need for subscriptions when journals become electronic only. If research institutions choose not to support free electronic access to journal articles, they will be choosing to continue to pay larger sums to buy institutional site licenses for electronic access to for-fee journals.


ESA’s four principal journals are Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Journal of Economic Entomology, Environmental Entomology, and Journal of Medical Entomology.

Access to PDF reprints posted by ESA is at http://www.entsoc.org/pubs/.

ESA is the first society to sell optimal publication to its authors. Perhaps the initial success of the sales will encourage other societies to do likewise.

The American Physical Society allows its authors to post the final, formatted versions of their articles (as PDF files) on their own Web servers, but not on the physics e-print archives at http://arXiv.org/

The question of how fast or whether library subscriptions will decline because of sales of optimal publication is addressed to some extent by the experience of the Florida Entomological Society, which has provided all authors in its journal optimal publication since 1994 (http://tjwalker.ifas.ufl.edu/FEWWWrpt.htm).

A number of societies, publishing more than 70 journals, now provide free Web access to articles in their journals a set period after initial publication (most often one year) (http://highwire.stanford.edu/lists/freeart.dtl).

ESA is committed to making its journals freely Web accessible no more than two years after initial publication. It is currently negotiating to post back issues on PubMed Central (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/).


Alan Kahan, ESA Director of Communications
e-mail: alan@entsoc.org
phone: (301) 731-4535

George Kennedy, Chair, ESA Publications Enterprise Committee
e-mail: george_kennedy@ncsu.edu
phone: (919) 515-1655

March 2002 update
Based on what is currently posted on ESA's server, ESA does not sell optimal publication. It sells immediate free Web access [IFWA] to articles posted on ESA's server but does not permit authors who buy the service to post their PDF files on their own or other servers or to make unlimited copies in lieu of buying paper reprints. When I wrote "Additional facts..." in October 2000, I assumed that the Governing Board had approved a more comprehensive version of IFWA. I was wrong, and no one saw fit to disillusion me. -- T. J. Walker, 4 March 2002.