As if print publications in the academic community have simply and finally given up altogether, my experience with Science Magazine over the past year has been emblematic of a business model that is struggling for survival. Let me give you some background:
Summer of Science
Last summer, as the sun was shining and the birds were chirping and I was feeling the urge to expand my mind so that I can take it all in from the heavens, I decided to support my academic community and the print industry by subscribing to Science Magazine/Journal – one of the premiere science journals in the world, trumped only by Nature (which I’m also a subscriber to). Science is also a business unit of AAAS or the American Association for the Advancement of Science – the world’s largest general scientific community as they claim on their website, so this is not some rinky dink journal in the middle of nowhere, but it is the industry standard – getting published in Science is a big deal and can be followed by job promotions, grants and all kinds of cool things for researchers and academics. Perhaps this is why I had some high expectations for their subscription program, but I quickly became disappointed because the problems I faced started right away.
At the outset, as I was trying to order my yearly subscription I found the website to be unintuitive and difficult to use, but that wasn’t the issue – the issue was that I was somehow redirected from the Science Magazine website to the AAAS website to sign up, and I was automatically asked to be a member of AAAS. Wait a minute! I may have wanted to be a member of AAAS, but I didn’t want to be forced into it – All I wanted was to subscribe to the damn journal – but no big deal – I was planning on becoming a member anyway, so fine!
I was given 2 or 3 options for the subscription – online only, online and print, and I think a third option that I don’t remember. For the life of me I am almost 100% sure I chose the online and print option and paid for it – and later I found out that maybe I didn’t. Now I was happily awaiting the arrival of my beautiful, crisp, printed journal – there is really something to be said to having a hard copy.
I received an immediate notification for my online subscription, and even logged on and tested it out, and it looked like I could view the journal articles I wanted that were originally behind the online pay wall, but still I was much more excited about the physical journal arriving by mail every week – so I waited, a week, two weeks, three, four – the original subscription was on July 10th, 2016 – by middle/late August I decided to do something about it.
I got curious on why my magazine was not arriving by mail, so I went back and looked at the original digital receipt and yep, as it turns out the system had actually subscribed me to the digital only version of the magazine – a mistake which is half mine but half due to the confusing nature of the AAAS/Science magazine subscription portal. So I politely contacted AAAS/Science and they were gracious in offering to change my subscription to print only:
Dear AAAS Contact Us Inquiry,
According to our records, you are subscribed to our digital version. This allows you access online and through the app but does not include physical copies of the journal. Please let us know if you would like to switch to the print subscription which has the physical copy but no access through the app
And, thank you for being a member and for helping AAAS accomplish our mission to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.
Office of Member Services
Main Office: 202-326-6417
Secure Fax: 202-842-1065
What do we Want? Our Journal! When do we want it? Now!
At this point I thought I was done! Mission accomplished, right? After waiting for a couple of weeks the Journal started arriving – yay!
But, in December I wanted the journal to arrive at a different address – a normal request I also made for my subscription service with Nature, so I logged onto the membership portal on AAAS and I did what I thought was a very easy thing to do; I changed my address on the system. Nature took a week to change my subscription address to the new one without a hiccup, but Science Magazine simply stopped delivering. I waited a week, two, a month, and frankly just forgot about it altogether.
I finally remembered towards the end of March as my schedule had finally started easing up. So, once again I sent an email to AAAS/Science and let them know that I have received no more than 8 issues of the promised 40+ I should’ve received by that point, and that I have yet to receive a single issue at the new address: SILENCE! Not a word so far (It’s been more than 2 weeks without a reply from AAAS/Science membership services. My question had now become, what the hell is going on?
Maybe this is why the Industry is Dying?
For me, the whole experience is just an example of why the print journal business is dying a slow death. And, why open source and online journals continue to eat market share slowly but surely. No longer is the art of print and subscription customer service a priority for organizations – Science Magazine is not unique in that, but part of the problem is that those same organizations are not doing “online” well either – at least from my experience with the AAAS/Science site, where very little investment had been made in User Experience and Design.
I just thought that money-maker business lines, like subscription-based services would get a lot more attention by their owners and special attention would be paid to subscribers as a result. Not receiving a reply from AAAS/Science is not the problem ultimately – it’s the fact that I’m going through all this to begin with.
Photo by torrez