Paper over e-books

I just read a very interesting article about the challenges of e-book publication and it reminded me of my review of literature a decade ago looking at the future of electronic publications. Here is a link to the article I am talking about.

Book Production: Paper over e-books

The unpublished litereature review on electronic journals I wrote way back in the 1999, was of a slighlty different angle — but in essence looking at the same thing.

“Even though early electronic journal designers attempted to meet efficiency criteria, it was the social aspects of the scholarly culture that ultimately interfered with widespread adoption of … electronic journals”. Discuss the growth of electronic format for journals and the potential for acceptance of the scholarly electronic journal.

This was the topic that I had to address, making informed and coherant conclusions on the statement based on the ongoing discourse on this topic.

For those who are reading the following, please note that this was written as a requirement as an assignment for Information and Society for Master of Commerce (Library and Information Management) course at University of New South Wales, in the year 1999.

One and half decades and we have seen huge changes in the landscape of publishing and yet, we still see the print publications also going strong. In the last few years there appears to be a stronger trend in embracing the digital versions of books as well as journals. Nonetheless, books/journals are still being published, for those who want it in print.

Now without further ado, I will reproduce my essay on the topic.

 Even though early electronic journal designers attempted to meet efficiency criteria, it was the social aspects of the scholarly culture that ultimately interfered with widespread adoption of … electronic journals”. Discuss the growth of electronic format for journals and the potential for acceptance of the scholarly electronic journal.

Journals are the main medium through which scholars communicate. Communities of scholars interact with one another, read each others’ papers and closely follow work that is related to their own. Scholarly journals have been in existence for several hundred years. In fact, according to Schauder (1994) the first scientific journals appeared in 1665 in London, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, and in Paris, Le Journal des Scavants. As Harter (1998) points out the scholarly journal has remained essentially unchanged in form and function since its inception. However, the costs associated with producing paper journals as well as the high increase in the subscription charges accompanied by the developments in the computer and communications technology have led to a shift from print to electronic formats. This essay aims to discuss the growth of electronic formats for journals and identify the potential for acceptance of the scholarly electronic journal.

An electronic format for journals has been in evolution from about the last twenty years. Today, the electronic journal is defined as those full-text journals that are disseminated primarily in electronic form and available Online over the lnternet. However, earlier definitions of the electronic journal considered any serial produced, published and distributed via an electronic medium whether on disk, CD-ROMs or any other electronic storage device. As Rowland (1995) states, the machine-readable versions of the major abstract journals such as Chemical Abstracts, lndex Medicus, Biological Abstracts, and Physics Abstracts might be considered the earliest electronic publications even though the term ‘electronic journal’ was not used. These files started to become available in the late 1960s and Online information retrieval based upon them came into existence in the 1970s. Once these were well established it was not surprising that the prospect of electronic primary journals began to excite some academics (Rowland, 1995). The next stage would have been services like CARL UnCover, formed in 1988, where records were created corresponding to the tables of contents of each journal issue supplemented by a brief abstract of each paper. Another stage is the capturing of bit-map page images of journal articles and storing them in electronic form. The disadvantages of these were that since it was a page image produced by optical scanning of a paper version, it was not full-text searchable and it usually suffered from resolution difference between formats. This technology has very much improved and so has the electronic journal.

The next stage in the development of the electronic journal is the use of communications technology, namely the Internet, to exchange scholarly information, whereby scholars send and receive research papers through electronic mail over the Internet in a similar fashion to the post but faster. As Hitchcock, Carr & Hall (1997) states, it was only with the emergence of the Internet as an international public utility that sustainable, networked electronic journals became viable. Furthermore, it became popular for a mass audience with the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1989 as an easy to use Internet service. The introduction of Mosaic browsers around 1994 led to the popularity of the web for information dissemination for example the ‘web journals’. There has been a notable growth in the number of peer-reviewed electronic journals from 25 in October 1994 to 1300 in October 1997 (Hitchcock et al, 1997). The latest list would undoubtedly contain more. This impending change in scholarly publication from print to electronic formats could be mainly due to the growth in the size of scholarly literature, the growth in electronic technology (Odlyzko, 1995) and the ever increasing cost of journal subscription. The first peer-reviewed electronic, full-text electronic journal including graphics was Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials, which began publication in 1992 (Keyhani, 1993 cited by Harter, 1998).

The exponential rise in electronic journals from 1996 onwards can be attributed to the advantages posed by the Internet. It is assumed that the cost of publishing as well as distribution of electronic journals will be less, as the cost of handling of information electronically is cheaper (eg. cost of postage, paper for printing). The cost for libraries also should be less since, if the cost of publishing is cheaper, so would be the subscription cost, and in addition, as electronic storage takes up little space, libraries would be able to save on storage space. Another advantage is the reduction in the publication time. Electronic journals can be accessed much sooner as the time taken for printing and distribution is reduced, while print journals can take months to reach the reader. Submission of the manuscript on disk should shorten the production process, and availability in electronic form should make the article available to readers sooner (Baldwin, 1999). In addition to text and illustrations, the electronic journal could incorporate images, sound and video. Furthermore, hypertext links can be incorporated to the references, which can be linked to abstracts or even full text of the references. The Internet also provides authors the opportunity for self-publishing as anyone can create a home page and put up web sites of their own. Electronic journals provide the capability to search and browse easily, identify a relevant article and print it out on the spot, if needed. Key benefits from readers’ point of view would be convenience and time-saving in access (Baldwin, 1999). ln addition to time, readers save on physical effort as they do not have to physically go to libraries – they can access the information from their desktop. As Cox (1997) states, “electronic media have opened a whole new range of possibilities for authors and readers of research literature”. Electronic journals will make access available around the clock from the convenience of the scholar’s study (Odlyzko, 1995). Moreover, a reader does not have to be deprived of reading an article just because someone else is reading that same article or another article in that issue. Electronic Online journals have the potential to be used by an unlimited number of people at the same time. Utilisation of electronic medium could minimise the time taken for peer reviewing. As Wills & Wills (1996) states, distribution of preprints can be greatly assisted by ‘conferencing” among other interested parties prior to the circulation of the draft through e-mail in a fraction of the time paper circulation might take. Such a process speeds up the reviewing process and hence publication can be achieved much more speedily.

Despite the economic push of having to cope with increasing cost of present system and the attractive pull of the new features that electronic publishing offers (Odlyzko, 1995), there is a considerable resistance in the acceptance of the electronic journal. This resistance is partly due to the drawbacks of the electronic format – which might be eliminated with time. However, as Bradley (1998) proclaims, it is the social aspects of the scholarly culture that interfere with widespread adoption of electronic journals. There are many issues affecting the use and acceptance of electronic journals, not the least being their acceptance by university committees for promotion and tenure purposes (Milne, 1999). A number of factors have been identified as inhibitors of electronic journal proliferation including: the uneven and limited availability of computers and computing infrastructures (Woodard, Rowland, McKnight & Pritchett, 1997), document formatting and strong preference for having print version of articles facilitating browsing, reading and annotating (Schauder, 1994), scholarly reading habits, increased concern for plagiarism, copyright concerns and inadequate graphics quality (Wills & Wills, 1996).

Not all potential readers have their own networked computers at their workplace or at home. lt is true that in developed countries many of the academics do have a networked PC; however, this is not the case with university students who mainly depend on university laboratories. The case is worse in less developed countries where networked computers are unlikely to be widely available. Even if assuming that everyone had access to the network, the lack of standardisation in the hardware and software for the access of electronic journals is a major factor. Some journals require special viewers such as Adobe Acrobat or Real Page to be mounted on the computers. Readers have to be computer literate, which is very inconvenient for those suffering from computer phobia. From the publication spectrum, the electronic journal eliminates paper, printing, binding, storage space and transportation cost; however, the technology requires heavy capital investment in computer equipment that needs to be renewed every two or three years which, in effect, does not reduce the overall cost of publishing (Cox, 1997). Reading from screen is difficult and usually, most extensive reading is done during leisure time or travelling far from a computer – thus a paper copy has to be made of the desired article. Consequently, even though paper is saved at the publishers’ end, it is not totally being eliminated. Another major drawback is that the incorporation of images, sound and video can make the system slow and cumbersome leading to slow access.

Furthermore, electronic journals are effective for searching a known article but not very efficient for browsing, Browsing of journals is very critical in the information seeking process to fill the information gap. Studies have shown that, with paper journals, users in most cases scan the table of contents, the bits and pieces on the cover page – and if anything interesting is identified, the readers open the journal on the relevant page and scan or skim through to decide whether it is worth reading. As

Missingham (1999) states, browsing is a significantly more time consuming venture in the electronic environment. ln addition, the electronic journals raise the question of permanence and in fact, the problem of long-term storage has been barely examined. Libraries might save on storage space, but storage in electronic devices is more costly as in addition to maintenance, the files have to be updated to new formats as the former becomes obsolete.

The hindrance of the acceptance of the electronic scholarly journal within the scholarly community is mainly due to the social aspects of the scholarly culture rather than the efficiency criteria outlined above. The scholarly community has accumulated procedures and policies that have become traditions, including deliberative and objective peer reviewing and the permanent availability of published papers as part of the eternal scholarly library (Cox, 1997). Researchers want to read high quality material and to contribute to journals that are well regarded by their research community. For authors it is important to publish in journals that are accepted as appropriate outlets by their research community, by funding agencies, and by university committees concerned with promotion (Gomes & Meadows, 1998). They also wish to contribute to journals which are easily accessible, both now and in the future, to all the significant people in the fields (Meadows, 1997). Tenure, promotion and the grant of research money depends on the applicant’s publishing record (Cox, 1997). A high-prestige journal is one that attracts papers from important researchers in the field. In this respect, the new electronic journal, like the newly created print journal, has a low prestige rating. Peer reviewing is another factor that contributes to the prestige of a journal. The number of electronic journals has increased considerably but only a small proportion follows a peer-review process similar to the print journals. A recent authoritative list of electronic journals shows that only 100 out of 675 titles are refereed journals (Woodard, 1995). This discourages the publication of important papers from eminent authors in the journals where the primary form of publication is electronic as the career progression of academics is very much dependant on factors like the impact factor of a journal where an academics paper is published. For the same reason, self-publishing is questioned by the scholarly community as far as quality and authenticity are concerned. Furthermore, the electronic information has the potential to be altered, thus again the authenticity is at question. Another major retardant is perceived to be the anxiety by editors and authors that a widespread adoption of preprints may lead to plagiarism (Wills & Wills, 1996). Furthermore, the electronic journal has an ephemeral nature, hence the permanence of the electronic journal is uncertain – many websites change their address and even remove the site altogether.

As Okerson (1995, cited by Harter, 1998) states “one can fantasise endlessly about electronic Journal’, but without active authorship and readership there is nothing”. As Cox (1997) states, printed word is still seen as being the authoritative medium and format for the publication of peer reviewed research articles. ln time, the electronic journal might evolve, if proper peer reviewing and refereeing is followed, to gain the same level of prestige printed journals receive. However, it is very unlikely that the scholarly journal will be accepted primarily in electronic form as it lacks the portability, credibility, visibility, representation, and especially proper archiving for future use. The probability of acceptance of the electronic journal on its own without a print counterpart is highly unlikely. So far, well-established prestigious journals are adhering to the print even if some are providing electronic version as a value-added service. Today, there is wide spread discussion in the literature about the increase in electronic journal – however, as Kling & McKim (1999) state, the reports of exponential growth of electronic journals really means the exponential growth of print journals with an electronic version. Consequently, due to the many complications of handling electronic media, many institutions are dissuaded from persevering with Online versions when the printed version remains available (Cox, 1997). SuperJournal, a recent research project in the UK electronic libraries, indicated that

all readers want both print and electronic versions for the foreseeable future, and view electronic access as simply a more convenient way to get to a relevant article. As Bradley (1998) states potential users of scholarly electronic journals must not only change how they interact with journals, but also must make adjustments to a set of cultural and social norms concerning their accustomed scholarly communication.

In conclusion, with time and proper refereeing, electronic journals might come to be perceived as significant to scholarship; however, the print journal will predominate the scholarly communication process. Harter (1998), indicates that electronic journals have had relatively little impact on the academic community as evidenced by the scarce number of citations emanating from e-journal sources. Furthermore, he comments that many more authors and readers will need to view electronic journals as legitimate publication vehicles before they can assume a significant role in the scholarly communication process. The ultimate solution could be parallel publishing in both print and electronic form. However, this would be counterproductive, as this does not solve the major problem why electronic format was sought in the first place – the cost of subscription. The cost of subscription, if anything, will be higher now since subscribers will have to pay extra if they wish to have access to both formats. However, this might be the only way to get the larger social system to approve the use of electronic media for formal scholarly communication. The most promising outcome for the electronic journal could be the hybrid e-p journal indicated by Kling & McKim (1999) which is primarily distributed electronically but with a limited or a cumulative distribution in paper.

Taking all these factors into consideration, it has to be concluded that a great deal in expenditure and networking facility will be needed to facilitate the acceptance of the electronic journal in its purest form. Electronic journals are convenient and time saving as a reader could search, browse, and print an article from the desk. However, print form is still needed and preferable. As Baldwin (1999) state, in spite of the key benefits of convenience and time savings identified by the readers, they still want both print and electronic versions for the foreseeable future. Parallel publishing is and would be very effective and is now expected of the prestigious journals. It would take time, that is, if it is at all possible, before all the readers of a journal are prepared to receive electronic versions only (Meadows & Singeleton, 1995). The common reasons being the lack of access to appropriate facilities to all concerned parties, level of prestige given to that journal, also the preference for easily portable reading matter.


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I did get a good score for the work, with very positive comments from Mari Davies, lecturer for the Subject. “An excellent discussion of the advantages & limitations of electronic journals as well as description of potential for acceptance and reasons for the future tentative adoption so far by academics. And a good set of readings which has informed your work.”


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I write as I think. I think as I write.

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