Published online 17 June 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.576

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Chemistry publisher moving towards online-only journals

American Chemical Society puts squeeze on print editions.

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The American Chemical Society (ACS) is taking steps towards turning most of its academic journals into online-only publications.

According to a letter seen by Nature that was sent by Susan King, senior vice-president of the ACS's journals publishing division in Washington DC, to ACS associate editors, the move has been prompted by the "accelerated decline in demand for print subscriptions and the diminishing financial return from the print format".

Kings writes that "printing and distribution costs now exceed revenues from print journals" at the ACS. To save money, most ACS journals will, from July, begin printing two pages of reduced text sideways on each page.

Excepted from this condensation will be the society's flagship journal, Journal of the American Chemical Society, and two review journals, Accounts of Chemical Research and Chemical Reviews. At the same time, subscribers will be offered incentives to switch to online-only access.

In 2010, ACS members will no longer be able to buy print subscriptions of journals, and the publications division will monitor print renewals from institutional subscribers. In general, King foresees a "move beyond print to an electronic-only scientific publishing environment".

King would not reveal further details of the plan to Nature, saying, "we do not comment on confidential correspondence".

Uncontroversial and green to boot

Svetlana Korolev, a science librarian at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and head of the executive committee of the ACS Division of Chemical Information (CINF), says that in her personal opinion the move is uncontroversial.

Korolev says that her university cancelled all of its ACS print subscriptions a year ago, and even moved archived print journals to off-campus storage. "We did talk to all the faculty, and no one said that they were going to use the print," she says.

James Milne, editorial director for the Cambridge, UK-based publishing division of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), says that the ACS's decision to reformat the layout of print journals in the middle of the year is surprising. Publishers usually redesign journal layouts at the end of the year, he says, to coincide with the subscription cycle. He adds that the RSC has no plans to move away from publishing its journals in print: "If our customers want print we will provide print," he says.

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Harvard University biochemist Stuart Schreiber feels that the transition of all journals to online only is both "inevitable" and a better way to disseminate and acquire scientific information. And chemist Reza Ghadiri at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, also approves of the trend. "It is about time," he says. "Why do we want print anymore? Everything is online. It is more than cost saving, it is environmentally friendly too."

But William Fenical of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, also in La Jolla, says that he'll miss the physical journals. "I really enjoy thumbing through Organic Letters," he says. "If I had only the electronic option I would do more filtering with keywords, and not see every page. I am finding that I am encountering less and less science outside of my personal area of research. We are losing something — how important it is remains to be seen." 

Additional reporting by Katharine Sanderson.

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