Tenopir & King's (2000a,b) book is an excellent review of all the factors involved in publishing and their evolution from the traditional to the increasingly electronic environment. Speed, economy and new possibilities for interaction are the major factors favoring electronic publishing. The authors extensively acknowledge this fact. The only minor point where the book should have extended its analysis concerns different ways in which electronic publishing could aid in the establishment of a more logical publication system, more in agreement with academic values, where availability and speed predominate over other, mainly economic, considerations.
2. The definition of what an electronic journal is seems obvious. However, covering a long period of time, as this book does, coupled with quickly changing technology, makes it necessary to define explicitly what we mean by this concept. At the present time, electronic publication must operate on the following principles:
(i) Electronic submission and communication among authors-editors-reviewers.
(ii) Electronic storage of the accepted paper in one of a variety of formatting modes.
(iii) Possibility for "online" access to the information over the Internet (not simply a local network).
Obviously, the above requirements can be supplemented by other types of information support, but these three conditions are, in my opinion, the key starting points for calling a publication "electronic". The mere use of computers for composition (first stage in Lancasters model, 1985; see also Hawkins, 1992) and the inclusion of other minor features not tied to the two key points, electronic media and online access to the information over a network, are not sufficient. It is also interesting to add other possibilities to the above basic requirements, such as interactivity (see Lancaster, 1985), but this further development remains only a possibility at the present time and should not be considered essential.
3. Tenopir & King's book is an extensive review of all the factors involved in scientific publishing. In a startup section, the authors analyze the situation of the scientific journal in the modern science system together with the data sources and methods for the subsequent analyses. In the next section, the different factors (scientists, librarians and publishers) are studied, to end up finally with the question of electronic publishing. Overall, I think the book provides an excellent objective review of all the factors involved in the traditional scholarly publication process. It also presents a worthwhile evaluation of the main aspects of electronic publishing.
4. The most significant consideration with regard to the present state of affairs in electronic publishing is that its penetration is well below what it should be. The current and widespread availability of computer technology and networking in the university environment (the main consumers of scientific information) should already have given rise to wider availability of all scholarly journals in a predominantly electronic format. Tenopir & King recognize this state of affairs, although they could have delved more deeply into the reasons for this situation and the possible ways in which the current situation may lead to a true and desirable scientific electronic publication system.
5. In the framework described above, I think electronic publication can improve both the speed and quality of the decision-making process for each manuscript and it is also more economical. I will briefly discuss each of these points below.
6. Electronic publishing can significantly accelerate the current publication process. There are two main factors contributing to the "delay" in publication: first, the duration of the actual review process and, second, the interval from acceptance till actual publication. As Tenopir and King indicate, there is a significant delay owing to the time required by reviewers and action editors to make a decision. This delay is unavoidable and is similar in traditional and electronic publication. However, the actual communication delay among reviewers, authors, and editors is eliminated in electronic publishing (step 1 in the initial definition). This already represents a significant gain in time. However, electronic publishing also has the means to make the information immediately available to scientists once the paper has been accepted. This is a very significant parameter, which, taken into account, means a global reduction of at least 50% in time delays in the dissemination of scientific information (step 2 of the previous definition). Just to give an example, electronic publishing can make it possible to post a manuscript at a web site and make it available in a definite or temporary format as soon as it has been peer reviewed. Although the invisible college may have previous knowledge of the research in question, this system would generalize its availability to the entire scientific community.
7. Even better, the electronic peer review system may improve the traditional print system with the introduction of modifications impossible to implement in the present system. A full and documented answer to this question can only be given after a careful analysis of the biases and negative factors presently influencing a decision. But electronic publishing may make peer review more open (p. 137) and transparent. For example, after an initial acceptance decision, a manuscript can be made temporarily available for further review and improvement, thus leading to a more refined final version. Every paper can also be systematically supplemented with a limited number of comments and elaborations by a reduced number of experts in the field, etc.
8. The above two goals can be accomplished while keeping the cost insignificant. The book concludes in several parts (e.g. p. 371) that the cost of electronic publishing is a bit lower than traditional print publishing. In my opinion, this is not a necessity of electronic publishing but rather of commercial publishers. Electronic publishing obviously saves on reproduction, distribution and paper costs (p. 371). If dedicated commercial systems have to be set up, including storage, software and specialized personnel, then these additional costs, at least initially, may offset the savings. However, electronic publishing offers the opportunity to avoid this intermediate link altogether and provides the possibility of using very modest computer equipment tied to academic institutions or scientific societies as a publishing system. That is, electronic publishing allows the publication of scientific information guided exclusively by academic objectives and with few intermediaries. Even with very few economic resources, electronic publishing makes possible the immediate review of a paper in any part of the world and its availability to the same audience. The current print system does not allow for this possibility. To make things clearer, although both systems, traditional and electronic, need the same "know-how," only the former requires a quantity of economic resources available only to either commercial publishers or big scientific societies (American Psychological Society, Psychonomic Society, to give two examples).
9. The journal and the paper author are the two basic poles of the publishing system. Particular journals and individual scientists interact competitively for limited resources, which can basically be reduced to impact and recognition. It is well known that a very limited number of publications have a maximum impact, and, hence authors compete to publish in those journals. The paper-electronic transition will be fully implemented when the "electronic" paper has the same value as its traditional counterpart. This may begin to happen, but it has not, yet.
10. The above situation makes the introduction of new publications very difficult, even with the advantages of the electronic ones. The most desirable situation would be one where traditional journals evolve towards a predominantly electronic format in the near future. In my opinion, the academically rooted publishers (e.g. scientific societies) are in a better position to fully implement the main advantages of fully electronic publication.
11. Some time in the future when the transition has taken place, electronic publishing will make a more logical organization of the publication process possible, meaning a few universal databases and a different conceptual organization of the "papers". These databases will be relatively cheap and easy to maintain. Additionally, the papers will be accessed immediately from any part in the world. I think that if publications supported by scientific societies take the step of converting to a "predominantly" electronic format, electronic publishing will be laid out more in accordance with academic values and with the specificities of scientific information. Although Tenopir & King's book is excellent, a deeper analysis of all these possibilities might have helped us see even further into the future of electronic publishing.
Hawkins, D. T. (1992). Forces shaping the electronic publishing industry of the 1990s. Electronic Networking, 2, 38-60.
Lancaster, F. W. (1985). The paperless society revisited. American
Tenopir, Carol, and Donald W. King (2000a) Towards Electronic Journals: Realities for Scientists, Librarians, and Publishers. Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association. http://www.sla.org
Tenopir, Carol, and Donald W. King (2000b) Precis of: "Towards Electronic Journals" PSYCOLOQUY 11(084) ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/2000.volume.11/ psyc.00.11.084.electronic-journals.1.tenopir http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?11.084