from the president
IN AN EDITORIAL last month, ACM CEO John White reported on the outcomes of the November 2013 ACM Strategic Planning Retreat. The retreat generated
a number of important new ideas in
the areas of membership, confer-
ences, publications, community, and
practitioners. While they are likely to
have a significant impact on ACM’s ac-
tivities going forward, I view them as
defining only a relatively short-term
agenda not fully addressing some
deep issues facing ACM, issues we still
need to understand and deal with.
The challenges and opportunities
of open access served as the original
motivation for holding the retreat.
Despite setting the modern standard
for a liberal copyright policy in the
digital age (over a decade ago), opening more content under the discretion of ACM authors and SIGs, fully
embracing Green/Gold/Hybrid OA
publishing, and complying with government mandates, there is a sense
among a portion of our community
that we have still not done enough. A
sense that if an ACM publication sits
behind any sort of paywall—
regardless of it also being freely available
via an author’s site, an author’s institutional site, a SIG site, or even a conference site—we are somehow failing
to meet our commitment to nurture
the free flow of information.
This position informed much of
the retreat discussion. It led to our decision to encourage SIGs to open conference proceedings around the event
and until its next occurrence, and it
led to our decision to begin work on
understanding the “article of the future,” in the broadest sense, along
with the digital collection that might
serve as host.
But what it failed to do is lead us
into a discussion of whether there can
(even should be) a model for ACM in
which publication revenue plays little
or no role.
ACM has a pretty straightforward
business model. There are three
major revenue streams: membership
dues, conference registration fees,
and publication subscription fees.
Each has related sets of expenses.
Membership runs at a loss—mainly
because we subsidize students and
members from developing countries.
Conferences typically run at a surplus (not always—some conferences
have lost considerable sums), but
that surplus is retained by the SIGs
and invested directly into serving and
subsidizing their respective technical communities however they see fit.
That leaves publications.
Right now, publications overall
(but not universally) generate a surplus. That surplus is used to underwrite the membership loss associated
with subsidies for students and developing countries, and to significantly
supplement the operating funds flowing back to the SIGs.
It is also used to underwrite the
programs our volunteers and members want, build, and run—but for
which there is no revenue. This set
of programs (sometimes referred
to as the “good works” of ACM) includes: ACM-W—our 20-year effort
to support and see more women succeed in computing; the Committee
to Diversify Computing and the Tapia
conference—activities focused on
broadening participation in computing; CSTA—the organization for primary and secondary school computing teachers; the Education Policy
Committee that advocates for policy
changes to see real computer science taught in secondary schools;
significant support for the Computing Research Association; USACM—
the volunteer committee focused on
six major areas of technology policy;
ACM Europe/China/India—our ef-
forts to increase our relevance in
these regions by giving a special voice,
visibility, and autonomy to our mem-
bers there; the Education Board and
its five-decade effort to develop and
maintain international curriculum
standards for computer science; Com-
puter Science Education Week and
Code.org—opening computing to
millions of people around the world;
and the Practitioner Board and its development of Queue and the Practice
section of Communications.
These programs exist not because
some abstract corporate entity (“the
ACM”) built them, but because members wanted them, and in many cases
demanded they exist. And they thrive
because the community is committed
to funding the enormous work needed
What we did not do at the retreat is
look at a future ACM model in which
there is no publication revenue and
ask ourselves: “How do we the community do what we the community
wants done having only membership
dues and conference registration fees
to support us?” But when segments
of the community ask that ACM stop
generating revenue from publications, we need to address this question. Of course, addressing the question will mean taking a fundamental
look at membership structures and a
fundamental look at how ACM conferences should be run. We need to face
the fact that reducing or eliminating
publication revenue is a choice that
would have profound consequences
for the entire ACM community.
As president, I am committed to
engaging these hard questions; as a
first step I will be establishing a Presidential Task Force to take a deep look
specifically at future, long-term models for ACM. I also seek your personal
input on the difficult choices we may
need to make. We cannot simplistically engage in single-issue debates. I
ask your help in finding a way forward
that supports the broad interests and
needs of all our members.
Alexander L. Wolf, ACM PRESIDENT
Copyright held by author.
Dealing with the Deep, Long-Term
DOI: 10.1145/2674769 Alexander L. Wolf
Challenges Facing ACM (Part I)