Journals Going Digital Only

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article about the American Chemical Society ending the print editions and begin producing only online journals for all but three of their journals.  It was a financial decision.  “Printing and distribution costs now exceed revenues from print journals,” according to a story in Ars Technica which The Chronicle sites. 

On the biomedical side of things BMJ was one of the first journals to use the online version as their official version instead of the printed version.  BMJ’s “continuous publication” means that all articles appear on bmj.com before being included in an issue of the print journal. While this has caused some among readers and librarians, it is clearly a just the beginning of what is soon to come. 

Adverstising dollars, subscriptions, and even article submissions are all affected in some way as the switch from the printed issue to the online issue happens within the publishing industry.  In some areas there are great opportunities and promise with an online article such as the multitude of ways that data, images, sound, etc. can now be better represented.  But for every growth opportunity there will be some growing pains. 

As we move away from the printed issue librarians and readers will need to ween themselves off of page numbers and rely upon the doi for citation and reference purposes.  It is a little awkward but doable.  One big hurdle we librarians must start to deal with is archives.  If a journal goes all online such as the American Chemical Society journals, there is no printed issue subscription to hold in archives on our shelves.  The debate about keeping the print copy for just in case circumstances becomes pointless if there is no print edition to keep.  ILL issues need to be ironed out a little better.  It is common fair use policy to ILL a copy or scanned image of the printed article to another library via email or Illiad.  Things get murky when dealing with the online copy.  Some journal publishers have adopted the same fair use policies for their online editions as they have for the printed editions.  Other publishers have far more restrictive policies on fair use and ILL of the online article.  A great many publishers do not have any policies regarding ILL and their online articles. 

Finally we as librarians need to start looking at ourselves and our libraries to see how we are set up to handle the transition.  We are already beginning to see some of this in the shifting perception of the library as a repository of information to an information services provider.  As librarians we need to evaluate how we personally are ready for this kind of shift.  Do we know our IP ranges?  Are we aware of the journals that have wonky ILL policies for online editions?  Do we have access methods established (A-Z, LinkOut, etc.)?  Do we have education and elevator speeches ready to help some of our patrons?  How are we doing in “training” our administration to not be fooled into thinking that just because it is online it is cheaper or free?  There are other issues and challenges to consider, these are just a few that I can easily think of and describe. 

Thankfully this transition isn’t going to happen over night.  We have time to work on a lot of the areas that we are lacking in.  However, now is the time to work on it.  To sit by and still invest in the print with no eye toward the future changes would be very costly in money, time, and potentially personal and library usage.

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