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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 14, 2012

Walking Away From the ACS

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Posted by Derek

Here's a look at the scientific journal situation from the viewpoint of the people who have to shell out the money for institutional subscriptions. This librarian (from SUNY-Potsdam) ended up deciding that the American Chemical Society journal package just cost too much, especially for an institution of her size:

We also learned that their base price and pricing model, when applied to much larger institutions, did not produce the same unsustainable pricing – I cannot provide numbers, as they are marked SUNY Confidential, but I can easily say that what our ARL peers pay for ACS in support of their doctoral programs is, in my estimation, in no way fair or reflective of the usage, FTE, or budgets of those institutions as compared to the pricing offered my institution for my usage, FTE, and budgets. It seems to me that the tiered increases may be fair and be reflective, but the problem lies with the base price underlying their pricing model. That base price is unsustainable for small institutions. And, unfortunately, the ACS sales team is not currently interested in negotiating on that fact. In response to any suggestions of ways that SUNY or campuses might collaborate or negotiate to reach a place where we could sustain our subscriptions – one which might well be applied to other campuses, other consortia by ACS – we were repeatedly told “but that’s not our pricing model.”

Wouldn't want to upset the pricing model, that's for sure. The slow earthquake in scientific publishing continues to rumble on.

Comments (50) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. WCA on September 14, 2012 8:13 AM writes...

They aren't going to let something minor like access to scientific information get in the way of maximizing profit.


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2. John Wayne on September 14, 2012 8:14 AM writes...

Well done. How did they react when you told them that overpaying for content is not a part of your 'buying model'?

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3. p on September 14, 2012 8:28 AM writes...

Perfectly fair post. However, I thought it was going to be about practicing chemists dropping their membership. Including myself, most of my colleagues have.

It just doesn't provide much benefit and I'm not terribly proud of the behavior of the organization (e.g. this post).

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4. earth23 on September 14, 2012 8:40 AM writes...

Content delivery is evolving - those that cannot adapt will be replaced (e.g. RIAA, Encyclopædia Britannica, etc).

What we need is a new model, can we get a PLoS Chemistry?

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5. Rico on September 14, 2012 8:51 AM writes...

Of course we must defend the "pricing model" - we have to be able to pay our senior executives of the 501(c)3 that is the American Chemical Society. here is LINK to some salaries ( This is what happens when non-profits that exist to represent a field of science become too lucrative...they lose sight of why they existed in the first place.

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6. Anon on September 14, 2012 9:02 AM writes...

Proud ex chemist who changed careers here. I took a look at the salaries. ABSURD. Jacobs pulls in almost 1M. For doing what again?

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7. RB Woodweird on September 14, 2012 9:11 AM writes...

The ACS is like one of the old company unions. These were outlawed for blue collar workers in 1935, but us chemists still suffer one.

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8. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on September 14, 2012 9:11 AM writes...

The title caught my eye because just this past week I decided I won't be renewing my ACS membership next year, after being a member for 26 years! It was quite simply a matter of asking myself "what do you get for your membership fees, other than C&EN"? When the answer was "nothing" it was a pretty simple decision. I really miss doing chemistry but I'm glad I'm not a chemist anymore, if that makes any sense.

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9. Teddy Z on September 14, 2012 9:33 AM writes...

This is just part of the problem with ACS. For the consultants (and that's where laid off chemists go to have a career), you get 25 free journal articles per year from ACS pubs, but after that it is most likely 35$+ to get one article (unless you are lucky and the authors paid to make it free). The ACS has no thought about making articles accessible for the very low % of unemployed chemists that are members (HA!). I constantly think about dropping my membership (this year will be 20 years for me), but there are some benefits (like the rental car discounts) that make up for the 140$ cost. Overall, the ACS is one of the worst organizations at serving its members.

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10. Anon on September 14, 2012 9:42 AM writes...

I'll throw my hat in with #3 and #8 as a young current chemist who sees no reason to waste my (or, more accurately, my companies) money on an ACS membership. Poor journal access, prohibitively high cost of subscriptions for small companies that leave me begging pdf's from friends at other companies or interns, meetings that are too expensive, etc, etc. But I do get a mug each year and all the C&E webinars about diversity that I can handle. Where's the value, where does all that money go? Apparently it goes to administrator salary and lobbying congress on behalf of large pharma to increase the supply of chemists for jobs that don't exist (which, incidentally, affects my personal bottom line). If I need to attend an ACS function - which I have rarely done in 10 years - I'll buy a membership then.

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11. mmol on September 14, 2012 10:07 AM writes...

This is becoming a huge issue everywhere and fundamental to this, esp wrt "open access", is that the ACS, the RSC and other "professional bodies" who many think are supposed to be acting as a voice for their membership community while are also commercial publishing houses. The day was that many only refereed for “learned societies” (not “commercial publishers”) on the basis that they didn’t fleece us and that there was a quid pro quo involved. Let’s face it, the ACS and RSC are hard nosed commercial publishers who put that profit first – and maybe need to to keep the rest afloat – but we risk the membership side of the house collapsing if, what is fundamentally a conflict of interest, is not acknowledged.

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12. Cialisize Me on September 14, 2012 10:12 AM writes...

Well, this reminds me of the old CAS pricing system for SciFinder (3+yrs ago). They were basing the price on *total* number of employees at your organization, so at a small 25+ person bio-heavy institution with 2 chemists, price was $25K per yr or something. Even for a non-profit institute. Would have been the same if we had 20 chemists I think.
They finally changed so they have more econominal programs to deal with situations like this, but for many years that was their pricing model. C.M.

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13. Chrispy on September 14, 2012 10:37 AM writes...

Wow those salaries are astonishing! (#5)

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14. LittleGreenPills on September 14, 2012 10:40 AM writes...

@10 You get a mug? I never get a mug from them! I must have check the tons of junk mail box, not the free mug box.

@12 They did change the pricing situation, but not by much. And if you are one of those small companies who happens to use a lot of the "unlimited" access, they then tell you that you are going to have a price increase because you are a high volume user. By the way the KMP feature of SciFinder can occasionally add a lot to your usage. Something that they do not tell you.

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15. K. Capek on September 14, 2012 10:54 AM writes...

I "walked away" from my ACS membership several years ago, and never regret it. However, when I get invited to talk at ACS National Meetings, I now consider asking for my membership dues to be reimbursed so I can submit my registration and abstract to an organization that I do not wish to support.

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16. Am I Lloyd peptide on September 14, 2012 11:09 AM writes...

The ACS: Our own version of "Let them eat cake". Pathetic.

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17. Bender on September 14, 2012 11:47 AM writes...

They've stopped giving annual mugs as far as I know, I haven't gotten one for the past few years. They do seem to be sending certificates for 5, 10, 15, etc year memberships now though, if that's any consolation.

It's funny how few industrial chemists maintain their membership unless the company pays for it. Or how many do get it covered, but let it lapse anyways. To me that indicates a severe disparity in what the ACS claims it can do for industry compared to what it actually does. And if that doesn't let you know exactly what the purpose of ACS is, then I don't know what else will.

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18. Snarky on September 14, 2012 12:12 PM writes...

I think at this point, ACS exists to ensure that ACS exists. Maybe it's an industry lobby group, but I can say I ever had the feeling that it was on the side of the workers. Yeah, it aggregates some insurance, but so does AARP and AAA and a whole lot of other places. Some of their choices for conference location are orthogonal to the needs of the commercial members (Salt Lake? Indy? St. Louis?) but useful to get young folk.

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19. okemist on September 14, 2012 12:17 PM writes...

The ACS is reminicent of the huge music publishing bussinesses of the '90s. The electronic sharing of information will eventially be their downfall.

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20. JoJo on September 14, 2012 12:59 PM writes...

@3,8 and 15. I dropped my membership a year or two ago because of the politically-oriented editorials in C&EN. These were consistently one-sided, and besides being unnecessary, were unhelpful. Decided to "vote with my feet" and have not regretted it at all.

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21. drug_hunter on September 14, 2012 1:04 PM writes...

Kudos to the SUNY-Potsdam librarian! He or she is not alone...

At the risk of piling on, let me agree with everyone else to say: ACS and CAS both charge way too much for access to tools & information. I really feel bad for the consultants who have to pay for articles at $30 a pop. The good news is that it is getting easier to democratize information e.g. as journals become open access and alternative sources of information become more available.

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22. Canageek on September 14, 2012 1:31 PM writes...

I became much less supportive of the ACS when I learned that for years and years they lobbied the US goverment for more spending on chemical weapons research. They still put out some really nice journals though, and have a great website, so I'm glad my uni still plays for access.

I do feel really bad for the students at that school though; most of the papers I've had to read have been ACS. What happens when you stop having an ACS subscription? You just stop reading research from those journals?

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23. Pieter on September 14, 2012 2:12 PM writes...

Left the ACS altogether years ago, was sick of the left-wing BS.

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24. reader on September 14, 2012 2:31 PM writes...

I left the ACS when they sent me a 5 year certificate instead of the mug. I did not know what to do with this certificate that says I'm a member of the ACS. At least I used the mugs to drink my coffee.

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25. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on September 14, 2012 3:18 PM writes...

Now I'm really pissed. I've NEVER received a mug, in my entire 26 years! Last year when I hit 25 years they sent me a pen. A pen. Back in my college days, way back in the mid-80s, I got a service pin that contained a little diamond for working only 5 years at Red Lobster! And all I get from ACS after 25 years is a pen?

But dammit @18, you reminded me that I have supplemental life insurance through the ACS group plan. I have to look into what happens to that if I drop ACS.

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26. partial agonist on September 14, 2012 3:27 PM writes...


28 years as an ACS member for me and not a mug or even a pen, that I recall, has showed up in my mailbox

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27. newnickname on September 14, 2012 3:32 PM writes...

When I excitedly joined the ACS as an eager student, I think there were a few requirements; I know I needed two signatures from members in good standing (and got two famous profs to sign my application!).

I later realized that all I really needed to join was a pulse and a check (payable in US$). Now, I don't even think a pulse is required. Just send the money and you're in. Heck, your dog could probably join the ACS.

I left the ACS years ago and haven't thought about re-enlisting.

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28. WCA on September 14, 2012 3:54 PM writes...

I'm with 25 and 26. Been a member for 20 years, never received a coffee mug. Maybe my company got it...

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29. Magpie on September 14, 2012 4:11 PM writes...

I joined the ACS as an undergrad and left after a year because I didn't see the point. I did get the hydrogen mug, though. Well, I joined again after leaving grad school and after a year, they shipped me the same 1-year anniversary mug. Thing is, they used a thin cardboard box with NO packaging and it came in several pieces. Screw this! I'm out for reals this time.

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30. CL on September 14, 2012 4:39 PM writes...

I think it became very clear where ACS' real interests lie when they tried to convince Congress to shut down PubChem - promoting science by providing chemists with easy access to chemical data seems not to be among their top priorities.

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31. Chemjobber on September 14, 2012 5:33 PM writes...

I believe I have heard an explanation for the lack of mugs, blankets*, etc.,: they order a certain amount every year and when they run out, they run out.

A couple years ago, I got a neat little keychain medallion for being a 10-year member. Fell apart in a month or two.

[I find the proliferation of cheap, poorly-made branded goods to be given away for free by American organizations to be a fascinating byproduct of Chinese currency/manufacturing policy.]

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32. Anonymous on September 14, 2012 9:03 PM writes...

I stopped paying my dues as soon as I saw Jacobs' salary. Waste of my money - no more.

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33. Anonymous on September 14, 2012 11:37 PM writes...

embrace Open Access...

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34. Chris Swain on September 15, 2012 4:42 AM writes...

@5 Out of curiosity are there details of current salaries, those figures only go to 2008 and are eye-eateringly high.

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35. Chris Swain on September 15, 2012 4:42 AM writes...

@5 Out of curiosity are there details of current salaries, those figures only go to 2008 and are eye-wateringly high.

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36. Anonymous on September 15, 2012 10:44 AM writes...

Related to what CJ said, if you look on the bottom of any of your anniversary mugs, note that the AMERICAN Chemical Society does its best to support the US economy by having their mugs made in China.

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37. Chemjobber on September 15, 2012 11:18 AM writes...

@35: I have linked in my handle the latest IRS Form 990 from ACS (2011), which I believe is from the 2010 calendar year.

The relevant angry-making numbers are as follows:

Madeleine Jacobs, ACS CEO: 818k
Robert Massie, President of CAS: 1.08M
Brian Bernstein, ACS CFO: 574k
Rudy Baum, (now-retired) editor-in-chief of C&EN: 305k.

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38. MadDog on September 15, 2012 3:05 PM writes...

Can we make 2013 the year that chemists took back the ACS? No more membership renewals from Pharma chemists would be a strong show of solidarity and then how to spread the message to the broader chemistry community. How about an add in C&E news?

Could this blog be the starting place of the social media revolution to affect significant changes in the ACS? I am not a member of any social media platform (Facebook, twitter, etc), but I would be in a heartbeat if those outlets could be used to impact change in the ACS. If this info went viral in the broader chemistry community could it serve the multiple tasks of reducing bloated ACS salaries, democratizing chemical information, silencing the mouthpiece that is the ACC (funded by ACS...don't get me started on how twisted that organization is).

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39. Jenica (Director of Libraries at Potsdam) on September 15, 2012 8:15 PM writes...

Wow. Thanks for all the positive feedback, and the new perspectives on what more in the industry think.

Interesting fact: ACS sales guys tell us (librarians) that we are the only ones upset by their pricing structure, and that members are very pleased with their benefits. And then they express befuddlement that we are so very concerned by their very reasonable prices that their core industry and members approve of.

I guess they don't talk to any of y'all. :)

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40. Jenica (Director of Libraries at Potsdam) on September 15, 2012 8:15 PM writes...

Wow. Thanks for all the positive feedback, and the new perspectives on what more in the industry think.

Interesting fact: ACS sales guys tell us (librarians) that we are the only ones upset by their pricing structure, and that members are very pleased with their benefits. And then they express befuddlement that we are so very concerned by their very reasonable prices that their core industry and members approve of.

I guess they don't talk to any of y'all. :)

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41. Sisyphus on September 15, 2012 8:30 PM writes...

Membership has no privileges. Not an ACS member since 2004.

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42. Postdoc on September 16, 2012 12:15 AM writes...

Jenica, it wouldn't surprise me if the sales guys actually believed what they were saying. Very few of the people working for ACS seem to know much about how they're perceived outside of their office.

After Madeleine Jacobs wrote her opinion piece scolding that mother who warned her daughter about the difficulty of careers in science, Glen Ernst (one of C&EN's own bloggers) wrote a rebuttal letting Madeleine know just how out of touch she came off to industry insiders.

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43. MoMo on September 16, 2012 9:45 AM writes...

Congress should look into the ACS monopolization of scientific information, as it goes against all that is American.

See if this definition of monopoly doesnt fit the ACS-
A monopoly is an enterprise that is the only seller of a good or service. In the absence of government intervention, a monopoly is free to set any price it chooses and will usually set the price that yields the largest possible profit.

Then there is the fact that our Tax Dollars fund most of the research that goes into their journals.


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44. startup on September 16, 2012 11:47 AM writes...

Folks, don't be so hard on ACS. Give them credit for coming up with one of the most brilliant scams in history. Just think about it - you take results of the research done using public funding and then sell it back to the people who did the research in the first place. And then, then you use these very same scientists once more to avoid paying taxes. That's a level of the Chair of Philanthromathematics.

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45. My 0.02 on September 17, 2012 10:55 AM writes...

@Startup, So well said.

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46. Sili on September 17, 2012 11:49 AM writes...

Are the RSC really as bad as the ACS?

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47. newnickname on September 17, 2012 5:35 PM writes...

I just loved Madeleine Jacobs' editorial (1990s) about her frequent trips to museums, theatrical events and symphonies on her ACS business trips and how chemists should be well-rounded and culturally informed. We should all take time out for such things when we travel. She might have even said that she sets aside time for at least one such cultural activity on EVERY one of her trips.

I used to have to travel red-eye by red-eye and to ask for an overnight stay to recover before taking a flight the following morning was anathema to my company ... unless you're in management.

At only $818,000 per year, I hope Jacobs can afford to subscribe to the ACS journals.

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49. Slurpy on September 18, 2012 11:43 PM writes...

Wow, she doesn't have a real PhD?

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50. borohydride on September 27, 2012 12:34 PM writes...

They are simply not interested in dealing with smaller customers and are frankly nasty to people asking about anything other than BIG deals.

How many of us have asked a friend or colleague to get the single article you need (and would happily buy if you could).

Not exactly, totally legal - but left with no other option and NEEDING the article, what can you do?

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