Earlier this year I cancelled my ACM membership. Here’s why:
Dear Vicki Hanson, dear ACM renewal,
A few months ago, my ACM membership expired. I am a senior member of ACM and I’ve been a member since the early 2000s. For several years now, I am having doubts about renewing my membership, because the ACM keeps its publications closed access in its Digital Library (or “clopen” according to Moshe Vardi’s infamous 2009 CACM article). For the past 25 years, I see SIGIR stagnating (even though web search became *the* killer application on the web!), while related fields like Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) thrive – communities that embraced open access early and fully. When I started my career, the ML and NLP communities were similar in size or smaller than the (SIG-)IR community, but now their communities are much bigger, more diverse (including many researchers from low-income countries that cannot afford subscriptions), and their papers cited and downloaded more. Of course, I cannot make a scientific claim about the different developments of ML and NLP vs. (SIG-)IR, but the positive effect of open access on citations and downloads is well-researched and well-documented in many fields, including computer science.
Dear Vicki, your email below did not have the intended effect of pursuing me to renew. On the contrary, I felt that the “commitment to open the DL and make ACM’s publications freely available to all” you mentioned was misleading given ACM’s history and given the fact that ACM publicly denounced open access by signing the letter of the AAP last year.
I would like to change my membership to a SIGIR-only membership, because I really value the SIGIR officers’ commitment to the field. They are doing their work as volunteers, even taking vacation time from their jobs to work on making SIGIR and the SIGIR conferences a success. For years, the officers too, have been misled by the ACM, for instance by the openTOC (open table of contents) policy that puts the burden of open access publishing on the conference organizers and volunteers that change every year. This year, confused by ACM’s misleading statements, the SIGIR executive committee claimed at the SIGIR business meeting that “all ACM SIGIR publications are permanent open access on the DL”. Needless to say, this is not the case, and will not be the case for another 5 years, if I read your email right.
I followed the ACM discussions on open access quite closely. I believe ACM Open, ACM’s transition to an “author-subscription” fee, is problematic in at least two ways. First, it’s risky, because a small number of institutions, the tier 1 institutions, can blow up the deal. Institutions like UC Berkely and MIT know that they’re doing most of the work, and this business model gives them a very strong bargaining position. Second, and more importantly, the $700 to $1,700 article-processing fees for authors of non-participating institutions will hurt the researchers of institutions in low-income countries and the global south. This model (like the current closed model) is effectively excluding researchers from Africa, Middle and South America, South Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, etc. I know that ACM is not getting many subscriptions fees from institutions in these countries now. Therefore, ACM is not having many members from those countries. That’s one of the problems we need to fix.
ACM needs a volunteer-led, diamond open access digital library, where the author does not pay, the reader does not pay, and the entire mechanism is self-funded, running on the volunteer work by authors, reviewers, editors, technicians, admins, and on micro-donations by friend organizations such as universities and research centers. Such a DL fully aligns with ACM’s member-driven and volunteer-led activities. Sure, this means that ACM will have less income, but our colleagues at related professional societies and journals, such as the ACL Anthology and the Journal of Machine Learning Research, show that this is a viable business model for scientific publishing that in the end benefits the community, and the society’s members, the most. I will re-apply as a full ACM member once that happens.