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.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-4-23-12-pm

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!