Transforming AGU Publishing In an Evolving Marketplace


7 June 2012

As you know, in the summer of 2010, AGU adopted a new strategic plan that is designed to support and build upon our reputation as a preeminent scientific union that advances our science and its societal impact. One of the key goals identified by the plan, Scientific Leadership and Collaboration, outlines ways that AGU can secure our position as a “leader, collaborator, and sought after partner for scientific innovation, rigor and interdisciplinary focus on global issues.” The number one objective supporting this goal is to “Transform the future of AGU’s scientific publishing in an evolving marketplace.”

At its core, AGU is a scholarly society, not a publisher. As a scholarly society, our volunteers and staff should focus their efforts primarily on mission-driven work that “promotes Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity,” such as recruiting, retaining, and supporting the very best editorial teams and authors, publishing more leading-edge research, and pursuing new opportunities, including interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary initiatives. However, under our current publishing structure, significant staff and volunteer time and effort is spent on day-to-day operational management of AGU’s journals—time and effort that could be better devoted to advancing our strategic goals.

Discussions about how to evolve AGU’s publishing have been occurring for several years and in early 2011, we commissioned a third party strategic review of journal publishing. This review included consultation with and input from the AGU Board and Council, a group of editors, and the Publications Committee chair. Areas of focus included journal quality, industry best practices, opportunities for growth, and alternative business models.

One of the recommendations that surfaced in the review was that, while AGU should always retain editorial control and ownership of the journals and the scientific aspects of publishing, securing a publishing partner for the production and logistical portions of the publishing process would allow volunteer leadership and staff resources to be focused on advancing scientific content, improving quality, and sustaining editorial excellence in an uncertain publishing market. It would also address rising concerns over needed operational improvements, including AGU’s outdated publications technology platform that would require significant financial investment in the coming years.

In consideration of these recommendations, the Board directed AGU staff to circulate a request for proposals from leading third party publishers of scientific journals to partner for the operational functions of publishing, namely: production, sales, distribution and subscription management. After reviewing preliminary proposals, the Board voted unanimously to further pursue the option of partnering for publications.

Currently, evaluation criteria are being developed through direct input of the Board, Council, Publications Committee, all journal editors, and members through their Council representatives. The criteria will be key determinants in deciding whether to move forward with a third party publisher, and in recommending a preferred publisher for executing a contract. Using those criteria, a Board working group will further evaluate the proposals we have received and develop a final recommendation to bring to the Board.

We anticipate that the review process will be completed and a decision will be made by early July. If the decision is made to move forward with a partner, the transition would be completed by the end of 2012 and the new publishing model would begin in January 2013.

All AGU staff are aware of the process that is currently underway, and we are sharing new developments with them as they take place. Should the decision be made to move forward with partnering, AGU is committed to providing resources to help all those affected.

I am confident that these efforts will improve AGU’s business-related operational capabilities, but more importantly, I am confident that they will improve our ability to serve our members and advance our science, thus building upon and strengthening our reputation as a pre-eminent scientific society.

For additional information, you can read the rationale and frequently asked questions (FAQs) posted on the AGU Publications main web page. As always, if you have any questions, I encourage you to contact me at [email protected], Carol Finn at [email protected], CEO/Executive Director Chris McEntee at [email protected], or one of your Section officers on the Council.


Mike McPhaden

President, American Geophysical Union

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