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Editorial: C&EN’s industry readers

by Michael McCoy
April 10, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 12


I met my dream American Chemical Society member, Ginger Rothrock, at the ACS Spring 2023 meeting in Indianapolis last month.

Let me explain. While I am C&EN’s interim editor in chief, I am also the magazine’s executive editor for business and policy. I’ve been a chemical business reporter or editor for more than 35 years, and at C&EN my job has long been keeping ACS members up to date on news and trends in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

And when I picture the ACS member I’m writing or editing for, the person I have in mind is someone like Rothrock. She earned her BS in chemistry from Furman University and her PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the research group of Joseph DeSimone and Royce Murray.

Rothrock went on to cofound a company, Liquidia Technologies, and later work for other organizations, including the nonprofit research institute RTI International. She is now a senior director at HG Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Heritage Group, an Indianapolis-based family business involved in specialty chemicals, environmental services, and materials for construction and road building.

Rothrock and industry members like her use their chemistry education—both the knowledge itself and the intellectual rigor it instills—to build successful careers in chemistry and other fields. That’s the kind of person C&EN’s business reporters write for.

And our industry members cherish the magazine. Our latest reader survey, conducted last summer, found that 80% of industry readers were satisfied with C&EN, compared with 81% of academic readers. When readers were asked whether they plan to continue reading C&EN, 88% of industry readers said they do, the same level as for academic readers. All satisfaction figures are an improvement from the last survey, in 2018.

But alarmingly, ACS’s industry membership has been declining. The society had almost 43,000 industry members in 2015; by 2020 that figure had dropped to less than 31,000.

ACS leaders have thought a lot about the reasons for the decline. In a Comment that appeared in C&EN in February, Wayne E. Jones Jr., chair of the ACS Committee on Professional and Member Relations, pointed to the decline in corporate sponsorship of memberships in professional societies. Folks are happy to join ACS if their companies pay for it, less so if the dues come from their own pockets. Jones wrote that his committee has formed a task force to improve the industry member experience and an advisory board to enhance engagement of industry members.

Harder to determine is how to bring industry members back. One answer is more events like the start-up company pitch session I attended at the Indianapolis meeting. That’s where I met Rothrock.

In a follow-up call, Rothrock told me that she first joined ACS in 1998. She let her membership lapse a decade ago and then came back about 5 years ago, mostly to receive C&EN. As a businessperson, Rothrock doesn’t get as much out of ACS meetings as she once did, though she said she likes start-up company sessions such as the one in Indianapolis.

She also gave a great plug for C&EN, saying she appreciates how it covers topics such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from scientific, regulatory, and business angles.

Moreover, whereas Rothrock said she has trouble trusting the mainstream media on science and engineering topics, she feels she can trust C&EN. Plus, she said we’ve gotten a little hipper in recent years and aren’t afraid to throw in a pop-culture reference once in a while!

I don’t have the answer to ACS’s industry readership problem. But as long as people like Rothrock are part of the society, I’m going to do my best to give them the news they need to do their jobs.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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