Golden Open Access for the ACM: Who Should Pay?

In a move that I greatly support, the ACM Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN), is exploring various ways to adopt a truly Golden Open Access model, by rolling out a survey asking your opinion, set up by Michael Hicks. Even though I myself am most active in ACM’s Special Interest Group on Software Engineering SIGSOFT, I do publish at and attend SIGPLAN conferences such as OOPSLA. And I sincerely hope that SIGSOFT will follow SIGPLAN’s leadership in this important issue.

ACM presently supports green open access (self-archiving) and a concept called “Open TOC” in which papers are accessible via a dedicated “Table of Contents” page for a particular conference. While better than nothing, I agree with OOPSLA 2017 program chair Jonathan Aldrich who explains in his blog post that Golden Open Access is much preferred.

This does, however, raise the question who should pay for making publications open access, which is part of the SIGPLAN survey:

  • Attendants Pay: Increase the conference fees: SIGPLAN estimates that this would amount to an increase by around $50,- per attendee.

  • Authors Pay: Introduce Article Processing Charges: SIGPLAN indicates that if a full conference goes open access this would presently amount to $400 per paper.


Note that the math here suggest that the number of registrants is around 8 times the number of papers in the main research track. Also note that it assumes that only papers in the main research track are made open access. A conference like ICSE, however, has many workshops with many papers: It is equally important that these become open access too, which would change the math considerably.

The article processing charges of $400,- are presented as a given: They may seem in line with what commercial publishers charge, but they are certainly very high compared to what, e.g. LIPIcs charges for ECOOP (which is less than $100). These costs of $400,- come from ACM’s desire (need) to continue to make a substantial profit from their publishing activities, and should go down.

In his blog post, Jonathan Aldrich argues for the “author pays” model. His reasoning is that this can be viewed as a “funder pays” model: Most authors are funded by research grants, and usually in those grants funds can be found to cater for the costs involved in publishing open access.

On this point (and this point alone) I disagree with Jonathan. To me it feels fundamentally wrong to punish authors by making them pay $400 more for their registration. If anything, they should get a reduction for delivering the content of the conference.

I see Jonathan’s point that some funding agencies are willing to cover open access costs (e.g. NSF, NWO, H2020), and that it is worthwhile to explore how to tap into that money. But this requires data on what percentage of papers could be labeled as “funded”. For my department, I foresee several cases where it would be the department who’d have to pay for this instead of an external agency.

I do sympathize with Jonathan’s appeal to reduce conference registration costs, which can be very high. But the cost of making publications open access should be borne by the full community (all attendants), not just by those who happen to publish a paper.

Shining examples of open access computer science conferences are the Usenix, AAAI, and NIPS events. Full golden open access of all content, and no extra charges for authors — these conferences are years ahead of the ACM.

Do you have an opinion on “author pays” versus “participant pays”? Fill in the survey!

Thank you SIGPLAN for initiating this discussion!

One thought on “Golden Open Access for the ACM: Who Should Pay?

  1. Hi Arie, thanks a lot for your response to my post, and for your support of Open Access! I think we agree on the most important issue here.

    Regarding who pays, I don’t see “author pays” as being about punishing. Why would anyone think that? It’s simply that archiving a paper has a cost, and we have to decide who pays. To me it doesn’t make sense to impose that cost on attendees of a conference; they are just there to meet people and hear about research. Instead, publication is an inherent part of the research activity, and so in my view, whatever supports the research should also support the costs to publish it.

    That’s a rationale for “who should pay”, but we can also talk about “who should not pay.” You and I agree that authors without funding should not be asked to pay out of pocket, and I think it makes sense for conference and/or the ACM itself to step in in those cases. Where we disagree is on raising conference registration prices, which are already too high. While nearly all authors are funded (see below), there is a larger (I suspect) population of conference attendees who are not. So I think the policy that is most generous to the unfunded is to *avoid* raising conference registration prices for everyone, asking funded authors to pay and subsidizing publication costs for the few authors who are not funded. Let’s be Robin Hood asking the “rich” for their contribution, not King John taxing everyone!

    How many papers are funded? I looked at the first 10 papers from the OOPSLA 2016 program, and 9 listed funding agencies. The 10th was from people that I also believe to be well-funded, in general. Maybe these papers are not a representative sample–it is admittedly too small to draw strong conclusions–but it does line up with my own experience that most papers at top conferences come from projects and groups that are funded.

    You are right that ACM’s prices are too high, and that Usenix etc. are ahead of ACM in this respect. We are hoping to get the $400 bulk discount deal from ACM–it is not assured at this point, but they have done it in the past, and it is a substantial cut from their normal $700 member/$900 nonmember prices. So $400 is probably the best we can realistically do this year in an ACM conference (ACM owns the OOPSLA name, among other things), but I and others will *absolutely* keep the pressure on ACM leadership to reduce this further.

    All that said–if the survey results indicate stronger support for the conference pays model, I would certainly do that in order to make Open Access happen in a way that aligns with community preferences.

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