American Chemical Society to fit two pages on one for print versions of its journals to save money, space and trees

Readers of the print versions of journals published by the American Chemical Society may find themselves doing a double take when they open the next issue of Analytical Chemistry or Nano Letters. In a move that recognises the inexorable shift towards online publishing, the ACS’s journals division has decided that from July print versions of nearly all its publications will be presented in a ’rotated and condensed’ format - essentially squeezing two pages of editorial content sideways onto one printed page. 

The new configuration will apply to all ACS’s 34 journals with the exception of the flagship publication Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), and two review journals. In addition to the change in format, libraries will no longer be offered discounts on print subscriptions.

New media

Susan King, senior vice president of the journals publishing group at the ACS, explains the reasons for the move. ’It reflects what we are seeing from our library customers, our readers and our authors. The online journal is where they are going for their research, with the print version becoming more of an archival product. The move will also reduce the amount of shelf space occupied by our journals. It is also greener - a lot of trees go into producing print.’

King adds, ’We think that one of the reasons that ours is an attractive approach is that it is simply condensing the content - it is not changing it in any significant way.’

Anne O’Melia, who is responsible for journals production at the ACS points out that while two pages of print will now occupy one page of the journal, the actual size of the printed page will be reduced by only 30 per cent, not half, by making better use of space.

The paperless library

The move by the ACS is symptomatic of the revolution in digital publishing and its adoption by academic researchers, such as Bill Clegg, a crystallographer at the University of Newcastle in the UK. Clegg, who himself launched and edited for eight years an online-only section of Acta Crystallographica, is not surprised by the new development. ’While I haven’t come across the idea of producing a smaller print version of a journal, frankly it does not surprise me,’ he says. ’The economics of journal production make the move to largely or solely electronic inevitable. People have talked for years about the paperless office, but I think we could well be heading towards the paperless library.’

At the University of Liverpool, paperless is indeed the way things are moving. ’We have not been taking print journals from the ACS for a number of years now,’ says Terry Bucknell, the university’s electronic resources manager. ’Most of our users do not want to come to the library to read journal articles when they can access them from their own PC. There is also a strong economic argument - often you can choose between a print and online subscription for the same price before VAT [value added tax], but a combined subscription is usually more expensive.’

Does this mean the end for the academic librarian? No, says Bucknell. ’In general, online material is not free to buy, so staff will still have a major role in selecting which journals to subscribe to and in making strategic decisions involving information resources in universities.’

’The move to online access [in academic libraries] will continue,’ says Julian Hill, subject librarian for chemistry at the University of Bristol in the UK, ’Though there are some journals, especially ceased titles, which are not yet available online which we will need to keep for the time being. Where we have guaranteed access to online journal content we are likely to start disposing of print runs, so we can use the space freed up for the increasing numbers of students, and their computing needs.’

Trend setting?

Will the ACS move set a trend? James Milne, editorial director at the Royal Society of Chemistry, which publishes over 20 scientific journals, says that the RSC has no plans to follow suit. ’The ACS idea is quite innovative, but to a large extent it really depends what the customer wants,’ Milne says. 

’Our view is that while our customers still want print in addition to online access, then we aim to accommodate these customers’ needs. There has been a modest decline in print circulation, [but] all our journals have sufficient print subscribers to warrant us continuing with the current dual format.’  Rather than alter the print journals, Milne says the RSC’s strategy has been to concentrate on innovations to improve the quality and functionality of the online products. 

While changing habits among students and researchers have meant that online resources are increasingly popular, old-fashioned print journals are likely to linger for at least some time yet - though may have to undergo the odd nip and tuck to compete alongside their younger, electronic rivals.

Simon Hadlington