Editors' Corner

Editors’ Corner

Eighteen years ago, on June 30, 1998, the American Chemical Society (ACS) announced a partnership with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) to launch a new scholarly journal in the organic chemistry field. This journal, the first of three new journals launched in accordance with ARL's Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), would later be given the name Organic Letters, the first issue of which appeared in July 1999. SPARC was created as an association of eighty-one ARL member libraries "as a result of the growing concerns among librarians and researchers over the rising cost of academic publications, particularly scientific journals"1. Although the press release does not state so explicitly, it seems that Organic Letters was intended to be a lower-cost alternative to Tetrahedron Letters, an Elsevier publication. Whether through libraries and other institutions deciding to cease subscription to Tetrahedron Letters in favor of the new journal, or through authors deciding to send important manuscripts to Organic Letters rather than the established journal as a protest against high prices, the existence of a competing journal was supposed to create downward pressure on the price of Tetrahedron Letters. Of course, the risk was that SPARC's initiative would simply add another "must have" journal for any institution wishing to keep up with developments in organic chemistry and that the strain on these institutions' library budgets would simply increase.

Figure 1

Now that nearly two decades have passed since the launch of Organic Letters, one may ask: has the ACS-ARLSPARC initiative worked? First of all, has the new journal been diverting papers, and in particular the highquality papers that drive journal subscriptions, that would have gone to Tetrahedron Letters? Fortunately, journal page counts (Figure 1) and impact factors2 (Figure 2) are readily available on the Internet. Although there is a sudden drop in the page count for Tetrahedron Letters between 2007 and 2008, it seems unlikely that this is due to competition from Organic Letters, since there is no corresponding increase in the page count for the latter. Regarding impact factors, it appears that while Organic Letters has managed to attract highly-cited papers, this has not affected Tetrahedron Letters, for which the impact factor has remained steady for the last two and a half decades.

Figure 2

Has this had an effect on the subscription prices for Tetrahedron Letters? Neither the Wayback Machine3 nor Elsevier itself4 was able to give a complete table of subscription prices for the years 1995 to 2016. Figure 3 displays the data we were able to obtain. Unfortunately, we have only one data point that is before the launch of Organic Letters, so it is impossible to conclude anything with statistical confidence. It is, however, suggestive that the lone data point for 1997 falls below the trend line (fitted exponential curve) for the period 2003 to 2012, which does not support the idea of a price decrease due to introduction of the new journal.

Data were gathered on the page count and impact factor for Tetrahedron Letters and Organic Letters. It does not appear that the addition of Organic Letters to the set of available journals has led to any compensatory change in the page count or impact factor for Tetrahedron Letters. In addition, the institutional list price for Tetrahedron Letters for various recent years was obtained. Unfortunately, only one price data point was obtained for the period just before the launch of Organic Letters, so no conclusion can be drawn at present. If any reader of this article has records of the institutional list price for Tetrahedron Letters for the period 1990-1999 (note that this may be different from the price a particular institution actually paid for Tetrahedron Letters), we would like to know, so that the question of the impact of the launch of Organic Letters on pricing for Tetrahedron Letters may be examined.

Figure 3

David Shobe

1 Press release, American Chemical Society, June 30, 1998, archived in the CHMINF-L discussion list by Gary Wiggins on July 1, 1998; Web site accessed April 9, 2016.
2 https://www.researchgate.net/journal/0040-4039_Tetrahedron_Letters and https://www.researchgate.net/journal/1523-7052_Organic_Letters, accessed February 9, 2014.
3 https://archive.org/web/ directed to http:elsevier.com for various dates.
4 Personal communication from Ramesh Mehto (Elsevier Customer Service).