Are printed journals heading for extinction?
Jan 22, 1999
The growth of the Internet has been a challenge for the publishers of research journals for most of the 1990s. Indeed, some libraries have decided to phase out the printed versions of journals and rely completely on electronic versions available via the World Wide Web. According to a six-page report in this week's issue of Nature, the Web "could yet spell the end for many print titles."
Scientific publishing is still a highly profitable business. According to Nature, the scientific side of the Reed-Elsevier publishing company made a profit of $378m on sales of $938m in 1997. However, the growth of electronic preprint or "eprint" servers, such as the physics server at Los Alamos, will soon radically change the way researchers publish their findings and libraries buy journals.
Publishers are experimenting with new business models such as making journals freely available over the Web and recouping costs through page charges to authors. This approach is being tried on the New Journal of Physics, a joint venture by the Institute of Physics (who publish PhysicsWeb) and the German Physical Society. Libraries, meanwhile, are encouraging academics and not-for- profit publishers to launch new journals in direct competition against high-priced journals from commercial publishers. And for journals with low circulations, one option being considered is to abandon printed versions altogether and rely on the Internet for distribution. However, the problem of future-proofing the archives of electronic-only journals against advances in hardware and software has still to be solved.
The Web is also leading to innovations behind the scenes at journals. For example, a software robot at the Journal of High Energy Physics, an electronic-only journal, scans papers submitted by email to select suitable referees - a task normally performed by the editors.