The world's largest scientific body, the American Chemical Society, has launched an on-line organic chemistry journal priced at a fraction of the cost of competing journals produced by commercial publishers.
The new e-journal, called Organic Letters, aims to publish and distribute peer-reviewed research results faster and at about two-thirds of the cost of existing print journals in its category. Its subscription rate is $2,300 (Pounds 1,437) compared with $8,602 for a competitor journal.
As part of a special introductory offer, the ACS is giving free web access throughout 1999 to institutions that purchase the print version. The journal offers a completely online system of manuscript submission, peer-review, editing and publishing.
The initiative has resulted from a collaboration between ACS and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an international grouping of university librarians based in the United States.
A SPARC spokeswomen said: "In recent years, researchers and academic librarians across the US have protested against spiralling journal subscription costs. As a result of these price hikes, university libraries have begun cancelling subscriptions, a move that has driven some publishers' prices even higher. This initiative aims to help address the problem."
Organic Letters is the first of three e-journals the ACS, a non-profit making publisher, will produce in collaboration with SPARC, whose 166 academic libraries have a combined purchasing power of $750 million.
Toby Bainton, secretary of the United Kingdom's Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, a member of SPARC, said the launch of Organic Letters was "excellent news... the ACS is a serious player".
Mr Bainton said keeping journal prices low is now a major concern of some learned societies as it ties in with what they regard as their core activity, scholarly communication.
He added: "It is not unknown in Britain for a learned society to take a policy decision to hold journal prices down, even if that means curtailing other activities that have up to now been subsidised from the publishing side."
ACS director of publishing Robert D. Bovenshulte, said that from pricing to peer-review, the new journal is "extraordinarily important, not only in itself, but because it is testing innovations that could change the face of research publishing".