In the comments to my last post ("Why does the ACM act against the interests of scholars?") ACM's Director of Group Publishing, Scott Delman, left a multiple-comment response. It's a response both to the views I expressed and to the views of others that I summarized. He agreed to have his comments posted as a post here; I'll leave my own thoughts for a separate post or the comments.
Ok, here's the other side of this, which I feel compelled to throw out there after reading Rob's post and a few of the related comments.
Like most things in life, things are not always as black and white as some would lead us to believe. In this case, I think there is a basic misunderstanding of the ACM and the AAP (which is incidentally an organization that does a great deal of good work on behalf of both publishers and the scientific community).
Let's start with the ACM....which is a non-profit organization founded in 1947 by members of the computing community with the primary mission of advancing the field of computing. The Association is organized as a 501(c)3 corporation with daily operations run by a small staff of approximately 75 individuals who ultimately take their direction from a volunteer leadership of hundreds of dedicated scientists, scholars, educators, practitioners, and students who graciously donate a significant amount of their time to direct the Association forward in a way that benefits the computing community as a whole. It is important to point this out, because there is an implication in the original post that the ACM is an entity that is in some way acting against the scholarly community, when in fact the ACM is an organization that is literally run by the scholarly community.
Keeping this in mind, we are either left with a situation in which the scholarly community is either acting against itself by the policies it sets and supports (such as ACM's copyright policy and ACM's subscription model) or something else is going on here. Since it doesn't seem logical or even practical that the top-decision makers at ACM (such as the ACM Publications Board of Volunteers or the ACM Executive Committee of Volunteers, who oversee all major strategic decisions of the Association) would support policies that actively work against the interests of their own community, I think it is more reasonable to suggest that what is going on here is that the issues are not as cut and dry or as simplified as some advocates of "immediate and unrestricted" open access to all scholarly literature would lead us to believe.
Whenever I discuss the topic of open access with colleagues and friends, I think it is useful to try to imagine what the world would look like if the US Federal Government or other Foreign Governments decided to pass legislation that required all scholarly material that is in some way supported by public funding be made instantly open and freely available to the world without any paywalls of any sort. Well, as ACM's publisher and someone who is intimately aware of the tangible costs of publishing and disseminating high quality scholarly literature, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the end result of this sort of legislation would be catastrophic for the scientific community and scholarly publishers alike. If in a blink of an eye, organizations like ACM were required to simply open up our archive of articles (the ACM DL) without the ability to recoup the costs of publishing and disseminating those articles (or all of the technically sophisticated services built around that content inside the ACM DL), ACM would cease to be the sustainable organization it is today and would eventually shutter its doors at some point in the future, instead of continuing to be the sustainable force for good that it is today. If this sounds like PR-dribble, I apologize, but I really do believe this!
What's more, the senior volunteers who are most familiar with ACM's activities and who sit on ACM's various committees and boards recognize and understand the tradeoffs that are necessary to maintain a sustainable organization. Over the past few years, I have participated in meetings with our Publications Board, which is the governing body for publications related strategy and decisions at ACM, where the issues of open access and alternative business models have been repeatedly discussed, and when all of the facts have been taken into consideration it has been overwhelmingly clear to these members of the community that ACM's approach is in the best longterm interests of the scholarly community. In fact, the ACM Author-Izer service, which is written about in the above post, was conceptualized at one of these meetings as the result of an in-depth discussion about how to balance the legitimate need of our authors to make the "archival versions" of their articles openly available while at the same time preserving the revenue stream that ACM relies heavily on to do its good work. ACM's pre-existing copyright policy already addressed the issue of posting "accepted versions" of an author's work, but ACM's volunteers decided that it was even more beneficial for the community if the "archival versions" could be made available from the author's site using the "Author-Izer" perpetual link. In general, while Author-Izer is still relatively new, the initial responses have been extremely positive and there is widespread recognition (including Rob's above) that this is a step in the right direction....
Let me briefly address the "opposing views" raised in Rob's post. First, in an instance where an author graduates, moves, or retires, it is always possible for the initial link to be replaced by a more up-to-date link. The ability to manage the URL that hosts the link is in the hands of the author, so I don't see a significant issue here and at the very least the effort on behalf of the author is no greater (and perhaps significantly less) than it would be to move their vitae or "pre-published" articles to a new website. What's more, ACM has simplified this process for authors and eliminated the confusion that is caused by having "multiple versions" of articles available on multiple websites by creating a centralized place (their ACM Author's Page, which includes all of their ACM and non-ACM publications) from which authors can update their Author-Izer links. By hosting the archival version of the article on a single and "sustainable" site, we strongly believe this is a better solution for the community.
In relation to argument from Russell O'Connor, I reject the plausibility or even the possibility that the ACM might "go evil" for the reasons I've outlined above. Since ACM ultimately carries out the well thought out wishes of the community itself since the decision makers are the very members of the community who are impacted by those decisions, it is just not possible for such a scenario to occur. Bankrupt is another story, since it is always impossible to predict how an organization's finances will be managed in the future, even though for the record it is exactly the kind of decision making I've mentioned above that currently keeps the ACM is a very strong position. Nevertheless, contingencies are in place for this unlikely scenario, as it relates to ACM's publications and all articles in the ACM Digital Library. Several years ago, ACM established partnerships with two very well established organizations (CLOCKSS & Portico) to ensure that ACM's publications would be preserved and made available to the scientific community (at no cost) in the unlikely event that ACM ceased to exist. [Rob's note: here's a press release about that.] Both organizations take different approaches to longterm digital preservation, but both are non-profits that exist for the sole purpose of maintaining a longterm perpetual archive for the scholarly community and nearly all major scientific publishers participate in one or both of these initiatives. ACM participates in both to provide an even higher level of redundancy than most other publishers. So, it is not clear what would happen to Author-Izer in the event of this doom-day scenario, but what is for certain is that ACM's archive would be made available to the scholarly community in any event.
Lastly, it is worth noting that the AAP is one of the publishing industries' primary advocates and they do an enormous amount of good work. Rather than deriding this organization that supports and protects the interests of over 300 well established publishers, including ACM, I would suggest that we focus on the spirit of what the Research Works Act represents, which is to limit the ability of the federal government to mandate decisions that would almost certainly have a longterm catastrophic impact on an industry that partners with and supports (and in our case is one and the same) the scientific community.
Director of Group Publishing
Assoc. Computing Machinery