Academic publishing traditions crumbling

VandenBos, Spinella, Mudditt

How does the Internet change and shape the publishing behaviors of academics?

That topic was addressed in a session this afternoon in the AERA session Challenges and Opportunities for Scholarly Communication in a 21st-Century World, by panelist Alison Mudditt, SAGE Publications.

We are seeing a blurring of boundaries in published research, she said. This raises new questions including, What is the final authoritative version? There are preprint versions of reports floating around out there. And online publication poses new challenges to the peer review process. There is more potential now for greater integration of information as readers can follow online linking, for example.

Some have called for absolutely free and open access to all published research. To counter these calls, she pointed out that that publishing costs money and that publishers add value through editing, production and archiving.

To the proposal that all published research online should be systematically connected and rationally navigable, she responded that, for the foreseeable future, research content will be separated into ‘silos’ by publisher, for example, Springer, SAGE, Wiley, Blackwell, Elsevier, and T&F Informa.

Another trend publishers are dealing with is the phenomenon of user generated content on the web, which raises issues of personal control over content and questions of authority (how to sort the wheat from the chaff on the web). People searching for research online must sift through the “buzz,” Google page ranks, and user-generated ratings and reviews (like Amazon.com’s book and CD ratings).

In short, user behavior is driving change in the online academic publishing industry.

More traditional researchers consider the Internet a useful tool. But junior faculty, graduate students, and undergrads, the web is not just a tool: It’s an integral part of their social lives.

Based on these trends, she predicts that

Some academic journals will shift their business models toward more specific content, rather than general, interest;

More journals will publish and thread reviewers’ comments;

Journals will offer more added value for digital content;

General search engines (like Yahoo and Google) will reach their limit with academic research, because of the relative lack of context in search results; and

We will see a tighter coupling between books and journals online; a breakdown in division between the two.

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