Thursday, May 25, 2006

Talking to Publishers

A few publishers showed their wares at STOC. This is a good opportunity to talk them about book ideas or about publisher's policies and how they operate. You can also get some good books at a discounted price; I picked up J. Michael Steele's The Cauchy-Schwarz Master Class from Cambridge University Press based on a recommendation.

I had a lengthy conversation with Sweitze Roffel, who took over Chris Leonard's position as publishing editor of the Elsevier theory journals. Sweitze is quite aware of the negative perception of Elsevier in the theory community and wants to talk to the community about their concerns. So talk to him at conferences or send him email and tell him your concerns about Elsevier's policies. A couple of nuggets.

  • Sweitze will move the offices for his journals from Amsterdam to New York to emphasize the global nature of Elsevier and be closer to editors.
  • Elsevier has an arrangement with Microsoft's Academic Search but negotiations with Google Scholar are going slowly because of Google's "secretive" policies.
  • Elsevier plans to give contributors (editors, referees, authors) access to their Scopus system. Elsevier also has their own free academic search site Scirus.
  • The free access experiment of Information and Computation continues.
  • Elsevier is exploring starting their own version of Springer's Lecture Notes in Computer Science series and also a Review journal.
I also talked to Lauren Cowles, an editor for Cambridge University Press who wrote a good comment on a publisher's view of putting books on the web. She pointed out Victor Shoup's A Computational Introduction to Number Theory and Algebra is available for purchase and also freely available online.

10 comments:

  1. At this stage it will take more than a couple of nuggets to win back the good will of the community. Perhaps an announcement like Libya's announcement of making peace with the West, and followed with some quick actions to back it up...

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  2. Why is New York more international than Amsterdam???

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  3. The Cauchy Schwarz Master Class totally rocks. Way harder than Lordi, even.

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  4. So Elsevier strives to appease America by offending Europe???

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  5. It was interesting that the copy of JCSS that was available was the special issue from FOCS 2003 -- the last of the STOC/FOCS special issues in JCSS.

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  6. New York is more "international" than Amsterdam, in the same way that London and Paris are more "international" than Amsterdam: They're better, and betterness cuts across borders and nationalities.

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  7. Publishers provide our community with several different types of products:

    * Conference proceedings

    * Journals

    * Monographs

    * Textbooks

    ACM, IEEE and other societies do a great job for the first two and these days make plenty of money from the online access. Springer LNCS seems also to have found a good niche for conference proceedings. However, I find LNCS volumes much less accessible than other proceedings. Their access online through SpringerLink is sufficiently expensive that our library refuses to pay for it and only subscribes to the hard-copy LNCS conference proceedings through a multi-university consortium. Part of this is the volume of proceedings that LNCS publishes, which ranges from longstanding conferences like ICALP and CRYPTO to some very marginal fare.

    In journals, societies these days seem to have a clear edge over the for-profit publishers both in price and quality. I've said my piece before on this but Elsevier has a long way to go to become competitive with ACM, SIAM, and IEEE.

    For monographs the societies seem to be well behind publishers like Cambridge and Springer. Cambridge has had an excellent ratio of quality to price for many years. Although some of the older titles of Springer are quite expensive, books produced more recently with more author involvement in production seem to be hitting fairly good price points for our community. SIAM used to produce good volumes in the CBMS series but these seem to have stalled.

    In textbooks there are many more players but there are also some outrageous actors. Rosen's "Discrete Mathematics" text from McGraw-Hill has been one of the most extreme for 'textbook churn'. The 5th edition sells for an amazing $132 on Amazon and the book is going into its 6th edition this summer, the sole purpose of which seems to be to eliminate the re-sale market. Although there was some re-organization in the 5th edition there is little content that has changed in the 16 years since it first came out. (Some glitches in the 1st edition still have not been fixed.) I am teaching the course in the fall and am trying to find a good source of used editions. This kind of pricing seems every bit as predatory as the for-profit journal market does.

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  8. "New York is more "international" than Amsterdam, in the same way that London and Paris are more "international" than Amsterdam: They're better, and betterness cuts across borders and nationalities."

    Sure, NY beats Amsterdam in some aspects, but for the purpose of keeping in touch with authors, editors and readers worldwide? Any place with decent mail services will do.

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  9. As Paul pointed out, Cambridge has been doing interesting things with textbooks.

    For example, there is a very nice intro textbook: Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms,
    published by Cambridge UP (~60$) that is also freely avaliable from the author's web page (like Shoup's). Each page has a footer, saying that you could buy the whole book for about 60...

    I wonder whether the availability of the free download, with the advertising in each downloaded page makes it more or less likely for people to buy the book.

    LNCS is an illustration of why quality is important: Springer is way too liberal in accepting for publication third-rate conference proceedings. Conference organizers get extra recognition by promising participants that the proceedings will be published by Springer. The unfortunate consequence is that hundreds of volumes are published every year, and the collection strains or exceeds the shelf spaces and budgets of most libraries, and as a result access to some really good conference proceedings is not as good as it could be.

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  10. Eyal Rozenberg6:56 AM, May 30, 2006

    I don't get this... where do publishers get off not providing free online access to all content? Why has the TCS community been tolerating this restriction of public access to knowledge? As for charging for print copies, that's fine, I guess, as long as it's non-profit, but I see no reason for publishing houses to line their pockets at the public's expense.

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