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Discussion with the ASHS President
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President Carl Sams is interested in feedback from ASHS Members. Please read the following article and provide any feedback in the form at the bottom of the page. You must sign in using your member information to see the response area.

 

There are Storm Clouds on the Horizon

Open Access ASHS Journals

 

ASHS needs to move to instant and worldwide access for our journals. As I stated in my January “Reflections”, it is my opinion that our society should move toward Open Access publications as soon as possible.

Given the current status of our publications, I believe that we should begin to make that move now.  Publications are the most significant source of revenue for our society.  Income from our journals is derived largely from subscriptions (personal and library), and publication fees.  There has been a steady decline in subscriptions from 2013 to 2017.  While membership, manuscript submissions, and conference attendance are increasing, personal subscriptions have declined 54%, and library subscriptions have declined by 33%, on average, for all of our journals. As a result of this decline in subscriptions, total subscription revenue decreased by 16%.  This occurred even with a 5% increase in library subscription pricing for all three journals in 2017.  These data on our income from subscriptions present clear evidence that our society needs to make a change in how we publish if we are to remain economically sound in the future. Other major scientific societies are facing this same situation.

Open Access provides greater visibility for our research, and the time from submission to publishing is shorter. With greater and faster visibility, our authors and our journals will be cited more often and have greater impact.  Although I must admit that I am not particularly in agreement with accepting impact factors of research presented in a journal as a direct indicator of the quality of that journal, they do provide evidence of the number of people accessing that journal.  It is also apparent that many people who might be interested in an article might not have the resources or the desire to pay these fees to gain access.  Thus, an extremely positive benefit of Open Access is that our work will be assessable to those who cannot afford to pay the subscriptions fees.

ASHS authors will see an increase in citations of their work, and their work will be more widely recognized and utilized if our journals are all Open Access.  The decline in our subscription income indicates that many individuals and institutions prefer the greater access that Open Access provides for their work.  Starting in 2016, NSF requires that a copy of all manuscripts that result from any experiments that were fully or partially funded with NSF funds must be submitted to the NSF online repository, where they will be available to anyone free of charge whether they were published in Open Access journals or journals that retain copyright (NSF 18-041). Other federal agencies are also considering requiring open access. 

The current decline in institutional subscriptions is highly likely to continue, and perhaps accelerate.  There are librarians that recommend that their patrons participate in Open Access publication to avert increases in library costs associated with journal subscription fees. While many universities have funds to supplement the cost of Open Access publication fees, some will not subsidize articles for publication in our journals because they are “hybrid” Open Access (which means institutional subscription prices are not reduced based on the number of Open Access articles publishes). This latter opinion is growing among our libraries. Open Access is preferred, and the opinion has been expressed by librarians that faculty should not pay to publish in a journal and then pay to see that work in their institutions library.  There is more than a little logic in that statement.  It is how things have been done, and it has worked for most of my career; but it is not 1980 anymore.  As a scientist and a horticulturist, I have been proud to work for change that benefits society.  I think it is now time to make the change to Open Access and to the advantages it brings to our society and the world at large. 

It is my recommendation that we take a positive step in that direction, and I am proposing at the Spring 2018 ASHS Board meeting that we make one of our journals full Open Access by January 2019. I think that the logical journal to take that first step is HortTechnology. I recommend trying full Open Access with HortTechnology as our first move toward full Open Access because HortTechnology was proposed to provide an outlet for our most adaptive research–research aimed at technology transfer and results aimed at communication with extension workers, teachers, industry professionals, and practitioners.  This segment of potential users is also likely to have the least access to an institutional library that pays for subscriptions.  I believe that the work presented in HortTechnology has tremendous potential to help society in our country and worldwide.

HortTechnology currently generates approximately 48% of revenue from subscriptions, with the other half coming from publishing fees. Obviously, publishing fees would need to recover the lost subscription revenue.

If we all believe that the future of Horticulture as a profession and ASHS as the leading society promoting the Science of Horticulture will be directly impacted by how well the next generation of students is informed about our professions, then we need to reach teachers, county extension agents, and perhaps the students themselves to let them know what we are doing and how it will impact their lives and their careers.  Our society has taken a positive stand supporting Seed Your Future for some of these same reasons.  Those who participate in and have a positive impact on that program and others with similar goals in the US and worldwide will benefit from the knowledge of our members.  I also believe that the impact of our work in this area will be increased in a visible way, and we will see an increase in the impact of HortTechnology once it is open to the world.

I will present to the board my recommendation that we start the move to Open Access with HortTechnology as I have stated.  I will also present a plan to move forward with making HortScience and the Journal full Open Access over the next 3 years, pending results from our efforts with HortTechnology.  I will present the potential financial impacts for HortScience and the Journal to the board.  The financial risk is greater in the short term for these journals; but in the long term I feel it is necessary to move to full Open Access, or we will continue to see a decline in our subscriptions and income from our publications. Since publications are our main source of income, if we do nothing, we may be in a situation in the near future that would require increases in membership fees or meeting registration costs to offset decreasing journal revenues.  I prefer to keep membership and meeting costs near break-even.  I believe that we can accomplish this by moving to Open Access, which will also increase visibility for our authors, our journals, and our society. 

 I welcome and seek input on the ideas expressed in, and the content of, this column. Please feel free to contact me at carlsams@utk.edu; or, preferably, fill in the form below where all members are invited to provide input in an open discussion. I hope to hear from our membership on this issue. 

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