Thursday, December 20, 2012

RIP—Print JSR. Like Pulling Band-Aids Off Hairy Arms....

“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Now is a time to stop.  As many readers know, JSR is moving to an all digital format in 2013 – SEPM will no longer print hard copies of the journal.  This change is a major shift in the journal, which has published on paper continuously since 1931, as the oldest journal in sedimentary geology.  This change has been coming for years, but apparently still surprises and disappoints some dedicated JSR readers.  For example, here is a recent email note from an SEPM member, copied verbatim.

Shocking news from SEPM concerning its politics to get out of general printing of J. Sed. Res. and Palaios and to publish preferentially electronically in future…. This might be the way of the 21th century, but I always appreciated the days, when the new issues of the journals arrived at home, to sit in a comfortable armchair, scroll  through the content and to read interesting or even stimulating contents. Last not least it was a pleasure to put the issues on the shelf, where I assembled J. Sed.Pet. since 1981 and Palaios from Vol. 1 (palaeontologists apparently are collectors).  Compared to 2012, the subscription prices for 2013 for “print on demand” increased in such an dramatic rate that I will not afford that. I am not interested to receive electronic version for my private pleasure.  I therefore decided – and not so easily – to cancel my membership … after 31 years.”

As with SEPM as a whole, we at JSR aim to serve the community of sedimentary geologists and paleontologists, and so receiving a letter like this is somewhat disturbing.  As such, we would like to take the opportunity to briefly explain some of the reasoning behind the decision.

SEPM journals form the financial backbone of the society.  The vast majority of the society revenue comes from the journals, and this net positive revenue supports the Special Publications, Annual Meetings, Special Conferences, and so on.

Historically, however, trends in journal expenses and revenue are clear and illustrate that: 1) on-line versions are more profitable than the print versions; 2) the number of those receiving hard copies has steadily declined; and 3) continuing to print the paper versions has become more and more expensive with time – actually representing a revenue drain, for an increasingly smaller number of print subscribers.  In fact, the society has published paper editions of the journals at a net loss annually, estimated to be in excess of $75,000 for 2012.  Although your humble blogger has forgotten the numbers with that last glass of egg nog, the cost of printing each and every issue of the year was equal to the annual revenue from subscribers – and the difference between the cost and the price paid was basically subsidized by everyone else, those who elected to receive only the electronic version.

[To be clear, however, SEPM does provide Print-on-Demand at cost through a vendor.  Or you can print out your own hard copies.  More info on POD will be forthcoming….]  

These financial constraints worked in concert with changing perceptions and utilization of journals.  Increasing journal prices and decreasing library budgets lead to constraints, and many libraries are opting to go for only one version – the on-line version.  Similarly, many (but certainly not all) of our consumers are requesting ease of access – facilitated by on-line publications.  The official version of JSR papers have been on-line for years now, and JSR is available your mobile device as well.

Although the majority of scientists suggest they search and read journals on-line, it is true that many still enjoy reading hard copies, including many SEPM members.  For us, the transition may be somewhat difficult – but we will make it.  But we hope is like one SEPM council member said during the discussion of the transition – “…phasing it out would be sort of like slowly pulling a band-aid off my hairy leg.  Better to yank! 

In The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom wrote,“All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time.” We thank our readers for working with us through this transition and we look forward to continuing to pursue unique avenues for communicating the best science!  We welcome your feedback.

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