[Received February 27, 1998.]
I would like to respond to three items relating to Elsevier Science that appeared in Newsletter 200. Although we kept open communication with our library customers over the years concerning Elsevier Science's policy on exchange rates, apparently confusion persists.
Let me start by addressing Items 200.1 and 200.2 -- Danny Jones and Dana Roth -- in succession, as these two items are related.
In 200.1, Danny cites foreign publisher increases above 10%. I'm perplexed by his categorization of some Elsevier Science journals, as I do not know what he means by: (1) Elsevier NY @ 12% (this is not a foreign publisher and domestic prices would not reflect the stronger dollar); (2) Elsevier Oxford @ 23% (possibly UK-published titles carrying the Elsevier imprint but would titles published in Ireland be included in this grouping?) and (3) Pergamon Elsevier @ 13% (a difficult category to understand since titles carrying the Pergamon imprint are published both in New York and in Oxford).
Since it is unlikely that anyone will mention facts that might reflect favorably on Elsevier Science, I would note that we had around 260 titles whose 1998 dollar increase was less than 5% (mostly titles published in Amsterdam) and 60 titles that declined in price for 1998 (mostly published in Switzerland).
Also, let me emphasize that while the dollar has been stronger relative to European currencies, it has been generally weaker relative to the British pound. Most of the foreign publishers included in Danny's list are UK-based.
Finally, a point regarding Danny's comments on Kluwer. Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer have announced an intent to merge; this does not involve an acquisition. Reed Elsevier does not nor would it in future "own" Kluwer, assuming the merger goes through later this year.
In answering Dana's comments (200.2) about the current strength of the US dollar relative to the Dutch guilder, let me recap Elsevier Science's process for establishing dollar conversion rates for European-published journals.
1. Prior to 1993, Elsevier Science negotiated "spot rates" which were set sometime in the early summer and would depend on the value of the dollar relative to the European currencies on the day the currency futures were purchased. Futures would be purchased, usually in July, for actual currency delivery in January (i.e., six-month forward purchases). The difficulty in this approach was that we were all dependent upon the dollar's value on currency markets during a very narrow window of time during the summer.
2. In 1993 Elsevier Science implemented a policy to spread forward currency purchases, in monthly installments, over a twelve-month period running from July - June, in order to smooth the peaks and valleys of exchange rate fluctuation that can occur with spot rate purchases. This policy has remained intact since that time. While this arrangement does not eliminate the impact of a general upward or downward trend in the dollar's value, it does lessen extreme swings. We distributed a letter to North American librarians, in July 1993, explaining this policy. Anyone wishing to receive a copy of the letter, please send me your mailing address at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. I think a somewhat closer look at how this process works is warranted, using the context of 1998 prices. In July 1996 we started purchasing dollar futures for 1998 subscriptions. This process continued throughout June 1997. In July the preceding twelve months' forward purchases were calculated to determine the exchange rate applied to dollar prices for 1998. The dollars, collected during December 1997 and January 1998 when the renewal period peaks, were finally delivered to the banks shortly after the new year. Hence we are dealing with as much as an 18-month lead time between the initial futures purchase and actual delivery of the currency to the banks. The dollar started gaining significantly against the guilder in February 1997, almost three-quarters through the cycle of forward purchases for 1998 subscriptions. The dollar has gained further strength in the past seven months, none of which could be factored into our futures purchases that determined 1998 subscription prices (firm prices in dollars being set in July 1997).
4. Rates offered in currency transactions for long-term futures purchases differ from the daily rates, since the longer the term, the greater the risk involved.
Just to add one further complicating factor to the mix -- although we bill either in dollars or guilders (depending upon the subscriber's location), we continue to produce, print and dispatch journals from those five countries where we have publishing offices. Therefore, the economies of those countries and the strength of their currencies on international currency markets continue to influence subscription prices in our two definitive billing currencies -- dollars and guilders.
For 1998, we find that dollar prices for Dutch and Swiss published titles show the effects of the dollar's strength relative to those currencies. The exchange rate used (US $1.00 = Dfl 1.74) shows a less dramatic change than prevailing daily rates of the past six months, but it is reflective of the period in which we contracted our forward currency purchases and it does reflect the upward trend in the dollar's value. For example, BBA/complete increased by 2.9% and Brain Research/complete increased by 3.4%, with each having a modest expansion in the number of issues between 1997 and 1998. Titles whose dollar prices declined include: Jrl of Electroanalytical Chemistry by 5.8%, Jrl of Financial Economics by 1.2% and Thin Solid Films by 2.1%, with each maintaining the same number of issues.
The dollar has performed poorly relative to the British pound and the Irish punt (where many of Elsevier's medical titles that may or may not be on Danny's list are published), hence dollar prices for journals published in those countries are adversely affected.
Is the policy that we have followed perfect? No. Is there a policy that guarantees the customer the optimum dollar price on foreign goods every time at bat? No, again.
Working in a global economy, we have attempted to find a path that stabilizes exchange rates for the largest number of subscribers worldwide. This has meant that in some years we are close to prevailing rates, in some years our rates are less favorable and in other years we offer better than the prevailing rates. Yes, the latter has occurred a number of times (i.e., in 1995 and 1996).
Now, do you still have strength to address Dana's comments in 200.4 regarding conference proceedings in journals? I'll be brief!
In item 200.4 Dana Roth raises a number of questions about the inclusion of conference proceedings in journal issues and, in particular, references an advertorial, prepared several years ago, that discussed the concept of journal special issues, with a particular focus on proceedings issues. Without reiterating the text of the entire advertorial (I'll gladly send a copy by mail to anyone who contacts me at email@example.com), here are some of the key points involved:
1. Inclusion of proceedings in journals offers advantages of speed and economy in the sense that the information is dispatched automatically through existing distribution channels and involves a less costly and time-consuming alternative than producing, marketing and distributing a monograph. The information also gets into the secondary services faster as part of the routine indexing of the primary literature.
2. Many scientific communities have expressed a preference for inclusion of proceedings in journals -- particularly in such fields as physics, chemistry and material science. At Elsevier Science, we are sensitive to the preferences of the various communities for whom we publish and produce proceedings issues in journals in areas where the scientists have endorsed this approach. There are many journals in which we do not publish proceedings, and the decision whether to include or exclude proceedings papers is made with the agreement of the journal's editor and editorial board. Also, we are sensitive to maintaining a balance between regular journal issues and proceedings issues.
3. The principal criteria for inclusion of proceedings papers are scientific quality and consistency with the journal's scope. Papers are refereed according to the standards of the journal in which they are published and we usually do not publish all papers from a conference. Individual papers must pass the peer review process independently. This delays the publication process somewhat but it also provides a quality control measure. (Hence the difference between preprints published at the time of a conference and papers published subsequently through traditional journal production channels.)
4. As to the question of quality, our studies of impact factors indicate that proceedings issues score comparably well relative to regular issues.
5. Much cutting-edge research, particularly in specialized fields, is delivered in papers at conferences, and the distribution of these topical, timely manuscripts through an existing quality-controlled publication system (i.e., journal issues) has been favorably received by authors and readers for the reasons outlined above.
As to the specific turnaround cycles for the two issues (1991 and 1992) that Dana cites, I cannot really comment. Some journals do better than others; sometimes there are delay factors relative to the authors or organizers of a particular conference or any variety of circumstances. Let's just go on the record as saying that it is our goal to offer fast turnaround when publishing proceedings papers in primary journals, and we continue to try to improve that time frame.
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