February 2012

ASBMB publications: great value in modern times

In 1983, while writing the introduction to my Ph.D. thesis, I wandered the library stacks at the University of California, San Francisco, to find historic articles related to my research. There were rows and rows of shelves holding bound volumes. I thumbed through those heavy books to study the glossy images and made photocopies of key papers to keep in my files. In those days, one could spend hours looking up a method or digging up the history of a particular finding. How strange that all seems today.

 pres_msg_fedor 
Martha Fedor of The Scripps Research Institute is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 

I used to subscribe to a number of journals that would pile up on my desk until I had time to read through them. Now I receive only a few science magazines; most of my journal reading is done online. How much time we save when a table of contents appears in our email inboxes, and papers can be captured as PDF files with a single click of a mouse and sorted by author or title on our desktops. When I need to find a method or a product, I can go online and within minutes have an answer or identify a vendor for a student sitting with me in my office.

This year, the Journal of Biological Chemistry has gone entirely online; Molecular and Cellular Proteomics has been published only online since 2010; and the Journal of Lipid Research is published in print and has been online since 1998. At least for the JBC and MCP, there are no more thick journals to occupy library shelves and fill up our mailboxes. For most of us, the heavy journals aren’t really missed— we stopped ordering them many years ago. Now that journals are being published online, authors wonder why page charges are still required. This is an important issue that I will try to address here.  

 pres_msg_dennis   pres_msg_witztum 
Edward A. Dennis of the
University of California, San
Diego, is editor-in-chief of the
Journal of Lipid Research. 
Joseph L. Witztum of the
University of California, San
Diego, is editor-in-chief of the
Journal of Lipid Research. 

First, whether a manuscript is published in a journal you can hold in your hands or in a journal online, staff members and editors are still needed to handle and assign it to referees. Reviews need to be tracked and decisions provided to authors in a timely manner. After acceptance, manuscripts need to be redacted— the text must be converted to the appropriate style and format, Internet links must be inserted, figures must be reviewed, optimized for the Web and scaled to the appropriate sizes, and the design of the manuscript must be converted to that of the online journal. These tasks require staff, and staff members must be paid.  

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology journal authors are savvy Web- and mobile-content users. They expect our journals to be timely and available on multiple platforms— accessible when and where they want to read them. Readers also expect our journals to harness the most up-to-date multimedia offerings. To meet and exceed these high expectations, ASBMB journals invest significantly in online- and mobile-content functionality and multimedia features. Manuscripttracking systems, online content-management systems, editorial services, online-publishing platform maintenance and enhancement expenses are just a few examples. Meanwhile, journal websites continue to add features, such as JBC’s new affinity group platforms, that seek to guide readers to papers of interest and provide extra value for specific constituencies. Our journals also need to invest in maintaining archival content. For example, the JBC’s fully searchable archive dates to 1905 and is heavily utilized at no expense to readers. Video files and other enhancements now added to modern manuscripts must remain accessible to readers in the decades to come. Page charges today cover all these expenses.  

 pres_msg_bradshaw   pres_msg_burlingame 
Ralph A. Bradshaw of
the University of California,
San Francisco, is co-editor
of Molecular and Cellular
Proteomics. 
 Alma L. Burlingame of
the University of California,
San Francisco, is co-editor
of Molecular and Cellular
Proteomics.

Why are there special costs for publishing color images in online publications? Some journals do not charge for the publication of color figures. It is important to note that for almost every journal that offers free color figures, page charge costs are higher. Vendors charge us more for color figure management (although that fee has been reduced for online-only production), and we will continue to seek contracts that minimize color cost. In short, cost savings associated with moving online do not necessarily compensate for the investment required to supply online peer-reviewed content in the ways that our readers and authors demand today and will continue to demand in the future.  

ASBMB journal editors have been pioneers in the area of online publishing and will continue to investigate online-publishing models that will yield cost savings that can be passed along to authors as well as reinvested in content improvements. ASBMB members very soon will be able to publish color figures at a very attractive low rate: $50 per figure. We will continue to work hard so that publication cost savings will continue to be shared. Our eventual goal is to be able to offer free color and all the features our authors expect, while maintaining reasonable pricing for our members.

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