CHWP D.1 Kling & Covi, "Electronic Journals"

3. Economic conditions and the shift from paper to electronic publication

To the extent that journals reflect the world views of their editorial boards, they also serve as relatively closed communication systems which innovate slowly. The most common conception behind new journals is the rise of new topics and new fields. But another key incentive for starting a new journal comes when a scholarly subcommunity has trouble getting its form of research published in highly legitimate or trustworthy journals.

The emergence of e-journals is driven by a few large scale social forces, above and beyond the technical capabilities and allure of low cost electronic distribution. Some of these include the continuing downsizing of US university budgets (relative to inflation), with a consequent flattening of growth in academic library budgets. At the same time, the costs of subscribing to scholarly journals has been generally rising much higher than inflation, with the largest price increases coming from for-profit European scientific publishing houses. These increases have been partly driven by the declining value of the US dollar against Western European currencies, and partly by increases in the cost structure of the publishing houses.

These economic conditions influence the nature of academic journals, as well as their circulation. The price of journals is highly correlated with their page counts, and both scholarly societies and trade publishers have been reluctant to increase page counts and prices, independently of the scholarly dynamism in the fields covered by a journal. Academic libraries have been cancelling journal subscriptions (but generally shifting their materials acquisitions budgets from acquiring monographs to maintaining journal subscriptions).

These economic conditions make it harder for scholars who want to initiate new journals to develop a workable circulation. Academic (and sometimes industrial laboratory) libraries are a major subscription base for scholarly journals. But when libraries are cancelling subscriptions, scholars face an uphill battle in having their library add new journals. Some university libraries are marked by the balance in their collections between old and new journals: they have respectable collections of established journals, but relatively few subscriptions to newer journals. This balance can undermine their abilities to support scholarship and teaching in new or emerging fields.

These conditions could also foster the development of e-journals, but e-journals have not yet become legitimate publication outlets. As with paper publications, articles that are submitted to e-journals may be lightly edited or tightly reviewed by an editorial board with strong academic standards. Today, many scholars are confused about the formats and intellectual quality of e-journals. In extreme cases, they feel that e-journals must be of lower intellectual quality than p-journals, because they sense something insubstantial and potentially transient -- ghostly, superficial, unreal, and thus untrustworthy -- in electronic media. In practice, some refereed e-journals publish high-quality articles, but they are not well known by their existential critics.

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