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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal

10.2.1 Future of the journal as artefact

Changes in communication technologies have always taken time to be adopted. Typically, it takes a while for the implications of the new technologies to be appreciated. The conclusion is that the scholarly journal will continue its transition into an online environment but will do so in two overlapping phases.

The first phase chronologically is the development of new e-journals which have never had a separate print existence (of where the print is clearly secondary). With the exception of a few early projects this commenced in the early 1990's and is continuing today. These e-journals often have features impossible to provide in print but still provide printable versions (often in PDF or HTML) of their articles. This still ties the articles to the lowest common denominator of print. The technology for reading on screen will improve. People will become more accustomed to using the interface features (hyperlinks, searching, zooming, interactivity, dynamic content, etc.) that are impossible in paper. Workable onscreen annotation systems will appear. Gradually, the gap between the online and print versions will become so great that authors will write for the online environment and their articles will not be printable in any usable way. Print will gradually wither and die. People will not have shelves full of journal reprints, but disks full of journal 'rebytes'. Only then will we have the true hypermedia online journal.

The second phase is the move to parallel publishing by the existing print journal publishers, driven by a variety of factors. In time (perhaps as soon as next year), the parallel publishing initiatives will start to drop print and provide the journal online only (with a printable version, probably as PDF) for users who wish to use this. Once this transition starts, the print journals will continue along the same path as the original e-journals with about a five to ten year lag-time.

The transition to online delivery only for the overwhelming majority of scholarly journals will be complete by 2020. The transition will not be linear, but will follow the classic sygmoid (S-shaped) curve. Different disciplines will move at different rates and for different reasons. The drivers for this transition are complex (and have been discussed already) but will certainly include journal economics, speed of communication, and the limitations of static media.

The journal as a genre will continue but in altered form. It has always been a means to an end, not an end in itself. In its current print incarnation it has been (until recently) the best way of performing the various functions necessary for efficient and effective scholarly communication. A better set of technologies should enable the same functions (and probably additional ones) in a better way.

Last modified: Monday, 18-Sep-2017 03:28:41 AEST

© Andrew Treloar, 2001. * *