Monday, July 6, 2009

Science moves from the stacks to the Web; print too pricey; Ars Technica, 7/6/09

John Timmer via Ars Technica; Science moves from the stacks to the Web; print too pricey: If information isn't online, it may as well not exist. In the latest sign that the world of traditional print has become a world of hurt, the American Chemical Society is reported to be planning to switch to an online-only publishing model for its journals:

"A recent decision by a prominent academic publisher to switch to digital-only distribution was apparently motivated by simple economics: print no longer made financial sense.

The publisher in question is the American Chemical Society, which, in addition to being a professional society, produces a few dozen journals

With online content, literature searches can be squeezed in among the frequent but short breaks that occur within experiments. If anything, avoiding a trip to the library allows people to work harder.

And, in many ways, online content is simply better. Instead of the one-size-fits-all constraints on images imposed by print, visual data can be shown in high quality online, allowing interested parties the opportunity to get more detail in those cases that are important to them. The rise of supplemental data—related information that can't be squeezed into the word limits enforced by most journals—has also made online reading essential. Supplemental data started out as a way to include video (which doesn't translate to print) or peripheral data that was once omitted entirely via the phrase "data not shown." Now, supplemental data are often longer than the actual publication and contain information that is essential to its interpretation.

Finally, online publications are easier to integrate with everything else we do online: look for definitions of terms, search for related content, brush up on background, etc.

That's not to say nothing is lost in the transition away from print. Print makes it easier to stay up on the latest news and editorial material that many journals include, and it probably does a better job of enabling the (occasional) serendipitous identification of relevant information.

Still, the scientific community as a whole has embraced online publishing, and other fields are likely to do the same. A number of publishers have responded by creating online-only editions of their properties, or moving individual journals away from print. A couple of publishers—the Public Library of Science and Biomed Central—have also made online, open access publishing central to their strategy from the start. But, to my knowledge, this is the first time that a major academic publisher has chosen to transition away from print so completely."

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