A New Way to Publish: Journal Databases Evolve on the World Wide Web
Hugh W. Jarvis
As the impact of the World Wide Web is deepening, journal publishing is evolving to suit this new niche. While paper periodicals continue to be produced, new forms of publications are emerging. An exponentially increasing online readership, significant savings in production and distribution costs, much faster dissemination rates, and the potential for interactive and enhanced documents are the lure. An unforeseen side effect is that there is really no longer a need for bundled “periodicals”. A number of anthropological publications are helping to lead this revolution.
Journal publishing is a complex business that includes the challenge of channeling the work of scholars into a form useful to their colleagues. The advent of the World Wide Web as a publishing medium adds yet another dimension to this complex business, solving some problems while creating new complications and twists. An evolutionary transformation of journal publishing has begun as journals migrate online and change in the process.
Is the Web a Reality for Publishing?
Initially, let’s look at the current potential of the Web and the Internet as a publishing medium.
The first question one might ask is how many people actually use the Internet? Unfortunately, accurate Internet use is almost impossible to measure.
One way to gauge at least potential Internet use is through Census data (see Table 1), which shows acceleration in the presence and use of computers throughout the United States. The number of households with computers has doubled every five years. Additionally, the number of people who may not actually own a computer, but use one in the course of their regular lives — be it at school, work, home — has risen about fifty percent every five years (see Table1).
Unfortunately there is no corresponding progression of data for Internet use. For 1993, the only year from which data is available, 10 million people (4% of the population) spent at least some time reading e-mail at home.1 Presumably this number is much larger now, but we will not know for sure until the upcoming 2000 census has been completed.
Despite the recent attempts by Microsoft and Intel to begin tagging individual computers and stories that appear in the popular press, tracking or analyzing online activity is virtually impossible. Instead, most knowledgeable analysts use more robust measurements. One approach is to count the base number of host servers — the means by which people connect to the Internet — and then extrapolate anywhere from one to twenty users per host. While this count may not provide an exact number of Internet users, it does closely reflect changes in the level of demand for Internet access.
Fantastically, the number of hosts has been doubling about every year (see Figure 1), from only four in the comparatively early days of 1970, to a staggering 43 million by January 1999. This exponential increase suggests anywhere from 43 to 430 million users worldwide, and those figures already are several months old.2
Another way to indirectly measure users is by examining the level of Internet traffic itself. The data in Table 2 show that the amount of digital data moving around the Internet has been rising at an increasing rate, from just 200 megabytes per month in 1980, to 100 million megabytes per month in 1996. This flow is doubling almost every hundred days, and the growth rate is unlikely to level off soon.3
Web Commercial Productivity
In addition to reading e-mail and downloading pictures of archaeological site excavations, Internet users are so eager for Web information, that they are creating their own sites at an astronomical rate (see Figure 2). The number of Web sites, another difficult phenomenon to count, has grown from fifty in 1992 to an estimated 1.2 million in 1997. And not only are these people avid Web readers, they also are willing to spend hard cash. Electronic commerce has grown 400 percent per year, from $10 million in 1996 to an estimated $240 million in 1998, with sales projected to reach the tens of billions or even a trillion dollars by 2002.4
Journals Follow Suit
Publishers have not ignored these developments, and the number of electronic journals and newsletters is growing very rapidly, as shown by Table 3. Data have been collected only since 1991, when there were 110 such periodicals. Since then, the numbers have grown to 3,414 in 1997, of which 1,049 are peer reviewed. Of these, 28 percent are focused on social science topics.
Eighty-six percent are scholarly in nature — arts and humanities, life sciences, physical sciences, technology, and social sciences — and 14 percent are categorized as recreation and general interest.5 By contrast, there were an estimated 7,000 print journals in 1995 and about 14,000 journals of all types in 1999.6
Recognize that these numbers reflect more than just the birth of online journals. In the last few years, publishers have begun to put some or even all of their publications online, in addition to print versions. Indeed, the American Chemical Society now has full text equivalents online for all of its journals7 and commercial publishers like Reed-Elsevier (over 1,200 journals), Springer (360 journals), Academic Press (174 journals) are following suit.8
In summary, there is an exponentially growing market of readers willing to spend increasingly large sums of money online and desperate to read information, and publishers are shifting to meet this demand by migrating online.
Why Publish a Journal Online?
Still, one might ask, why would traditional publishers want to spend time and money developing new formats for the electronic medium? Surely they are quite successful already. Why would they or their subscribers want a change?
Speed of Dissemination
With online publication, the production cycle is significantly shorter. Issues can be published within hours of their clearing the editing and layout stages, months or even years less time than it would take for them to complete the printing, binding and distribution process.9 If the individual article becomes the unit of production, rather than the whole issue, this process is shortened even further.
Online publications can offer a wide range of features that are simply not possible for their print relatives.10
- no article size limits;
- no limit to the number of graphs, tables and other figures;
- internal hyperlinks linking text sections and to references, tables, and appendices;
- external hyperlinks connecting to the authors’ e-mail and to online versions of cited or relevant references and Web sites;
- links to expanded data sets, including entire
external databases with search interfaces;
- complex multimedia such as picture galleries, three-dimensional images, video clips and audio files;
- attachments such as reader and editorial comments;
- embedded software so that readers can test their own data; and
- “living articles”, such as dynamic — or even interactive — ongoing experiments.
Reduced Subscription/Publishing Costs
It is possible to see a direct economic benefit from shifting a journal online. Naturally, the eventual real savings will depend on the nature of each publication. Commercial publications aim for profit, while scholarly societies tend to be non-profit or even to publish at a loss. Scientific journals carry much more complex graphical information than those in the humanities. The actual baseline costs of publications vary, with some printed and bound quite cheaply, while others are produced much more expensively. Some publications are mostly text, while others include expensive images, equations, or figures, and have associated costly layout and production concerns.
Tenopir and King11 discuss the costs of publishing journals, primarily based on scientific journals. “First copy” costs, such as review administration, editing, illustration preparation and layout, can reach an annual total of $200,000. In addition, marketing, subscriber maintenance, amortization of startup costs and overhead can run another $200,000 per year. The manufacturing process, the cost of paper, printing and binding, plus the cost of distribution averages $30 per subscriber. While the first two costs are somewhat independent of the medium, online publications have no physical manufacturing or distribution costs. These savings can be retained by the publisher as increased profit or passed along to the subscribers. Indeed, it would only be fair to reduce the prices of online editions, since a fraction of what the publishers save in terms of printing and distribution is actually passed along to the end-user for Internet connection fees and local printing costs. Prices also should equalize for all individuals as the higher distribution costs for international subscribers no longer apply.12
Journals have been caught in a pricing spiral. In an attempt to increase revenue, publishers have raised subscription fees. Personal subscription prices rose 85 percent in real dollars per decade over the last twenty years. In response, personal subscriptions have fallen from an average of 4.2 subscriptions per university scholar in 1977 to only 3.9 in to 1993.13 Over the same period, non-university subscription levels have fallen even further, from 6.2 to 2.6.14 To compensate, publishers raised prices even more, and the vicious trend has continued. Readers have turned to libraries to fulfill their journal needs but, except for popular journals, many items not available locally must be sought through expensive interlibrary loan and document delivery services. The net effect is no real savings to users, since they ultimately pay for rising library subscription costs and special delivery fees. More importantly, users have been subjected to a sharp rise in inconvenience and access delays, while publishers have suffered large revenue loss.
Online journals offer a wide range of features not available in print formats. They also can be produced much faster and cheaper than traditional publications. Whether this saving will be used to restore falling profits or passed on to subscribers is not yet apparent.
How is Publishing Evolving to Meet This Opportunity?
As noted above, publishers have not failed to take advantage of the Internet as a medium. But the transition is much more extensive than this.
Publishing is Going Online
Do not be fooled by the continued presence of print versions. Robert Bovenschulte, Director of the American Chemical Society Publications Division, feels that electronic journals will completely supersede print journals within ten years, and Peter Boyce, an associate at the American Astronomical Society, feels this will occur in just three years.15 While some print publications almost certainly will continue to be produced, there is a significant migration occurring to the Web. While this transition may be slower for the social sciences and humanities than the hard sciences, this change is so credible that many libraries are discontinuing print subscriptions, while some, such as the Technical Knowledge Center and Library in Lyngby, Denmark have phased out print publications altogether.16
Publishing is Shifting Away From Bundled Articles
A second phenomenon also is occurring. For example, all American Chemical Society journal articles are published online as soon as they complete the editorial process. They call this “ASAP” — “As Soon As Publishable” — and boast this allows scholars to access them as much as eleven weeks earlier than they will appear in print.17 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has funded a project, the Astrophysics Data System, that includes an abstracting service with over 1.2 million items accessible in an online database.18 A related project is the Los Alamos National Laboratory e-Print Archive.19 Started in 1991, this online database houses preprints of articles in physics, mathematics, neuroscience and computer science that are submitted directly by their authors. These services have become the primary means of communication for scholars in these disciplines. Plans to develop a similar project are underway by biomedical scientists.20
Print periodicals typically suffer scheduling and manufacturing constraints, related to bundling individual articles into journal volumes. On the Web the need for bundling disappears. A handful of publishers in the humanities and social sciences have taken the publishing process to its logical next step, producing dynamic databases of articles instead of periodicals. As examples –
- Reviews in History is published by the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London and began publication in 1996.21 They publish scholarly reviews of two to three thousand words covering books on European and UK history that are available on their site.22
- AnthroGlobe is an international project located in V ancouver, Canada.23 AnthroGlobe is intended to provide a friendly platform for authors to post drafts or completed works. The items are not refereed. Readers’ comments are encouraged and the articles are expected to evolve on-site.
- H-Net Reviews (Figure 3) is a project based at Michigan State University.24 H-Net lies at the heart of a large number of e-mail discussion lists that focus on many aspects of history. Once a review is posted to a list, it is housed in the main database.
- The Anthropology Review Database (Figure 4) is a project at the University at Buffalo Department of Anthropology.25 Launched in 1997, and run solely by an international network of volunteers, ARD currently has about 250 items in its online database, including both its own refereed reviews and links to reviews located in other publications.
- The Bryn Mawr Electronic Resources Review is published by the Bryn Mawr College – Center for the Study of Architecture. This new project is producing reviews of electronic resources, including CDs and Web sites. The reviews are available in an online database26 and also are distributed through e-mail lists as they are produced.
While most of these projects have chosen to focus on publishing reviews, the model should work for more traditional journal articles as well.
Journal publishers are shifting to online formats, while some, particularly in the hard sciences, predict a complete digital migration within three to ten years. Additionally, some online publications no longer use a bundled format of individual articles in issues and have begun to publish items individually as they are completed.
The Web is a dynamic medium with exponential growth and tremendous potential for publishers. Online publications have numerous advantages over their print relatives, not the least of which are the potential for savings in production and distribution costs. Accordingly, many journals have begun to migrate online and there is strong indication that this may represent the beginning of the end for print publications. A final transformation may be that journals will no longer be periodicals, per se, and instead articles will be published individually.
1. Table A. Level of Access and Use of Computers: 1984, 1989, and 1993. US Census. www.census.gov/population/socdemo/computer/ report93/compusea.txt.
2. Internet Hosts Worldwide. Matrix Information and Directory Services, Inc. (MIDS). www.mids.org/growth/internet/html/hosts.html Internet Domain Survey. Network Wizards. January 1999. www.nw.com/zone/WWW/report.html.
3. Gregory Gromov. History of Internet and WWW: The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History. Internet Valley, Inc. 1999. www.internetvalley.com/intvalstat.html.
5. Dru Mogge, “Forward.” ARL Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists. 7th Edition. Washington: Association of Research Libraries. 1997. www.arl.org:591/foreword.html.
6. Sophie Wilkinson, “Electronic Publishing Takes Journals into a New Realm,” Chemical and Engineering News. 76.20 (1998): 10. “About the Gale Database of Publications and Broadcast Media.” Gale Database of Publications and Broadcast Media. Detroit: Gale Research Inc. 1999. galenet.gale.com/m/mcp/db/gdpbm/intro/about.html.
7. Wilkinson, 12-13.
8. Declan Butler, “The Writing is on the Web for Science Journals in Print,” Nature 397(1999): 195-200.
9. Wilkinson, 12.
11. Carol Tenopir and Donald W. King, “Setting the Record Straight on Journal Publishing: Myth vs. Reality,” Library Journal 121.5 (1996): 32-35.
12. Ibid. Wilkinson, 14.
13. Tenopir, 33. 14. Ibid.
15. Wilkinson, 12.
16. Butler, 195.
17. Wilkinson, 12.
20. Butler, 195.
22. Anne Shepherd, “Book reviews on the Net,” History Review 28 (1997): 55-57.
23. www.webzines-vancouver.bc.ca/ AnthroGlobe/.