In the spring of 2020, ACM began a multiyear transition to become a fully Open Access (OA) Publisher. One of the publicly stated requirements for that transition was to develop and implement a sustainability plan to ensure ACM Publications could continue to operate at a high level with the quality of its publications and the services it provides to the community. This includes the ability to continue investing in the ACM Digital Library platform and our Publications Program as well as investing in important initiatives for the scientific community such as Research Integrity, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); Public Policy; Education; and Professional Development programs for researchers, practitioners, and students around the world.
As a non-profit and mission-based organization that impacts approximately 2.5 million individuals annually, ACM Publications and the ACM Digital Library are a core part of ACM's past and future success. As a publisher, we are committed to providing trusted information resources in the form of journals, conference proceedings, magazines, books, and newsletters delivered through what has become one of the computing community's most vital resources for research, practice, and education.
When ACM launched the ACM Open model in January 2020, we made a commitment to the computing community and to our institutional digital library customers that we would be completely transparent about the financial impacts of the transition to OA, before, during, and after the transition is complete. This transparency first manifested itself in the form of an article published in the May 2020 issue of Communications of the ACM that provided significant details about ACM's 2019 calendar year publications-related income and expenses, in addition to a narrative explaining the nuances behind the numbers. In December 2021, we published a similar article focusing on 2020 calendar year figures. This article now reports the 2021 figures and includes additional information about how the transition to OA is progressing. Over the past few years, there has been a significant lag in the time we received financial information and were able to report on those figures and provide a narrative in this format. ACM normally reports financials on a July through June fiscal calendar, so converting to calendar year takes time. Going forward, It is our intention to reduce this lag and also report on calendar year 2022 publication finances in the early fall of this year or sooner, which will bring our reporting completely up-to-date.
Looking at the 2021 figures, several key themes emerge:
- ACM Publications-related income is accelerating, but expenses are growing faster. 2021 calendar year income grew approximately 3.5% over calendar year 2020 as compared to 1.0% income growth over the 2019–2020 time period. Nevertheless, expenses grew faster resulting in a net margin of 2.3% in 2021 compared to 2.5% for 2020 and 2.8% for 2019. The transition to ACM Open was still in an early stage so the impact of ACM Open income was limited. Over the past year, growth of ACM Open has accelerated, but so have our expenses (such as, production expenses, digital library expenses, ethics and plagiarism related expenses, and staffing expenses are all on the rise). Inflation relating to the economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic were also a major factor in rising expenses.
- Article Submissions and the Number of Published Articles increased significantly in 2021, resulting in increased expenses. In 2020, ACM published just under 2,000 articles across its portfolio of 60+ journals. In 2021, that figure increased to nearly 2,900, an increase of approximately 30%. As a result, article submission and production related expenses skyrocketed. Many of ACM's journal-related expenses are based on the number of articles we publish, including services such as peer review software, copy-editing, composition and typesetting, metadata tagging, and long-term digital preservation expenses.
In addition, ACM has become more proactive about launching journals in important and emerging research areas in the computing community and these launches have started to kick in over the past few years supporting the article trends we experienced in 2021.
It is our sense that ACM conference submissions and published conference articles also increased significantly during this same time period, although it is harder to quantify since the hundreds of ACM conferences and ICPS conferences utilize dozens of different third-party submission systems, so obtaining aggregated data from these systems is difficult. What we do know is that since many ACM and ICPS conferences temporarily removed the requirement to register and attend conferences in person during the pandemic lock downs, this likely favorably impacted the growth of submissions and published articles in 2021 and our expenses related to the use of these various submission systems rose significantly from 2020 levels.
These factors, coupled with above average inflation and expenses from our third-party service providers (such as, software providers, production vendors, and print distribution) account for the expense increases we experienced in 2021.
- Digital Library "Read Only" income declined for the first time in its history, but this was offset by an increase in ACM Open-related income resulting in sufficient growth to overcome the expense increases. ACM Open income increased from $516,000 in 2020 to $1,287,471 in 2021, but this still only represented a very small percentage (5%) of the overall ACM Publications income. In future years, this growth percentage will be one of the key metrics to determine whether we are on track with our transition to "sustainable" Open Access.
- Author-Paid Article Processing Charges (APCs) increased significantly from 2020 to 2021. Net income from APCs increased from $88,400 in 2020 to $347,200 in 2021. This is not the total annual "gross" income from APCs, but rather the net income that ACM reports as income after deducting APC income returned to institutional customers as part of ACM's commitment to not "double dip" through the transition to full Open Access in the ACM Digital Library. APC income will likely become a more significant income stream for ACM in future years as we transition to an Open Access publisher, as we expect authors from institutions not participating in ACM Open to be required to pay APCs to publish with ACM.
- Conference Proceedings-related expenses increased significantly due to higher submission and peer review software expenses and the continued expansion of ACM's XML-based production system (aka TAPS). As with journals, an increase in the number of conference submissions and articles published accounts for some of these expenses, while much of the increase can be attributed to the increased costs associated with delivering HTML versions of all conference articles in the ACM Digital Library. Put simply, the combination of article inflation, economic inflation, and the need to provide more flexible article formats in the DL, which aid with discovery and use of ACM Publications in the ACM DL, explain these increased costs.
- Increased investment in Research Integrity initiatives continues to rise. Over the past five years, we have experienced a steady increase in the number of credible allegations of publishing-related misconduct. To manage the increasing load while maintaining a lean organization, ACM has increasingly turned to third-party professionals experienced with investigating allegations of wrongdoing. We report high-level data about the number and types of allegations and investigations we receive (see http://bit.ly/3y6icOR for details).
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