The American Astronomical Society responds to "Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?"

A month or so ago I posted on Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?, basically on the challenges that scholarly societies face in the digital age. I got a few good comments, getting a nice discussion going.

I also posed a few questions directly to scholarly societies but unfortunately didn't get any comments from any of the various societies themselves. I did find that a bit disappointing in that the public conversation seemed to be happening without them. Never a good thing in the digital age.

Today, however, Kevin Marvel of the American Astronomical Society added a comment to my original post. And a great comment it is -- thanks! With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting it here on it's own.

The call is still open to all the other societies out there: Send me your answers to these questions and I'll post them right here. Or contact me (jdupuis at yorku dot ca) and we'll arrange an email interview with more customized questions.

The rest is from Kevin.



I'm the Executive Officer for the American Astronomical Society and will answer your questions for Scholarly Societies:

Does your society subsidize member programs with profits from it's publications program?

No. Our journals have always been budgeted to cover the cost of peer review, production, dissemination, preservation and administration. We view our journals as a key component of the scholarly process in astronomy, not as a money-maker for the Society.

What kind of outreach do you do to the next generation of scholars?

We work hard to draw astronomy students at the undergraduate and graduate levels to our meetings and to become members. Primarily this is done through communication with their professors and advisors. We provide substantial career enhancing opportunities at our annual meetings as well as discounted membership rates for early-career members.

What do you tell them is the "value proposition" for joining your society?

The value proposition centers around community and communication. Being a member provides access to colleagues, especially through meetings, working in similar fields. We also have an active public policy program that works to enhance astronomy funding in the US. Recognition of accomplishments, through prizes and awards, also play an important role.

Do you facilitate your members online networking and professional development?

We certainly facilitate professional development through workshops at our meetings, especially of note are sessions on project management and negotiation. We are exploring the best way to efficiently (read cheaply) facilitate online networking.

What are your thoughts on an Open Access business model for scholarly society publishing?

We are not opposed to open access, in fact, our journals have a delayed open access of 24 months right now. We have urged the government to proceed carefully as they develop any policies or rules in this area. Our journals business model includes both author charges and
subscriptions.Author charges cover the expenses of peer review, copyediting, production and so on, items directly tied to dealing with manuscripts, while the subscriptions cover the costs of online hosting, printing, indexing, cross-linking (and other similar expenses) and preservation. Both share the administrative expense. The subscriptions (and author charges) are set as low as possible to cover the costs involved. A sudden open access mandate would mean our authors would have to shoulder all costs, increasing our author fees somewhat. A sudden shift could have negative ramifications for scholarship in our field. It has taken many decades for our system to develop and it serves our community very well at low cost to authors and subscribers.

Do your members often mumble your name under their breath with the words to the effect of "just don't get it" or "waste of money?"

No. We work very hard to ensure our members are happy, including a substantial investment in answering their questions via phone and email as they arise.

Do librarians often mention your name in the same sentence as Elsevier?

No. The AAS is well-liked by librarians. Our pricing increases are moderate and only when necessary (we had 3 years of flat subscription rates from 2007-2010). We involve librarian representatives in our publications board.

Do you have a librarian advisory group to work on issues of mutual interest?

Yes. See previous answer. The SLA has an astronomy-focused roundtable that we regularly reach out and communicate with.

What's your biggest competition?

We operate the world's leading scholarly journals in astronomy and astrophysics. We organize the world's largest astronomy meetings (our most recent DC meeting had 3500 attendees...we have 7500 members). Our biggest competition is clearly the growing power of the Internet to connect and enable our members to build their own communities.We will continue to work with and for astronomers in North America to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the Universe.


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"I can attest to what he says - AAS is one of the good guys."

Better, faster, cheaper: Pick two.


Could you elaborate? In this context, I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

That all sounds pretty good, except for the two year embargo.

The value proposition is often phrased in terms or access and networking, but this is a value that a physical meeting will provide less and less of as time goes on, so while it'll be nice to meet people face-to-face at annual meetings, it'll not the the place where most of the initial networking goes on, and scientific societies should be able to adapt to this.