Scientific, technical and medical academic publishing has not changed much over the years despite the influence of the computer. Publishing on the Web has doubtless increased the speed of access and availability of information, but the information itself hasn't been fundamentally altered. Most publishers now use the Web to distribute their products and nearly every STM journal is currently published online as well as in physical form. But on the Web, these journals are still published as PDF files, and according to Design Science, that is a mistake when there are much better formatting options that can help a reader get to grips with information.
Some STM publishers are now looking toward the future and finding that modern methods of publication, like eBook technology and other HTML-based coding methods, allow for a much more useful electronic record of scientific works. Though not many publishers have made the jump yet, as Scholarly Kitchen reported, a move towards HTML-based systems for the online display of STM content could be beneficial for researchers and scientists using the material.
"A PDF is a static document that cannot be updated as information changes."
Limits of PDFs
A PDF is a static image that does an excellent job of providing a facsimile of a printed page on a computer screen. However, it is a unchanging document that cannot be updated as information changes, which makes it less than ideal for detailing cutting-edge research that may be updated or changed as the peer review process takes its course. As Terra XML pointed out, the PDF format is easy to print, save and annotate for later use, but it doesn't support dynamic visuals and other non-text based information nearly as well as other formats. It also doesn't allow the reader to interact with and make use of the data on the page.
Benefits of HTML
HTML formats also do an excellent job of displaying text - in some ways, they do a better job than PDFs in this regard. Instead of rigidly formatting the text in page images, an HTML setup allows the text to flow into the space provided. This works much more conveniently on different-sized devices like mobile phones and tablets, on which it can be difficult to read PDFs. HTML is also interactive, - it can allow researchers reading a report on a Web-based medium to interact with the data in ways that just aren't possible via PDF. Design Science described how researchers working with math in an HTML-derived report could actually calculate with the numbers on the screen instead of just reading them. This is a better representation of how science actually happens: Researchers build upon previous work to extrapolate new conclusions. In this regard, allowing them to interact with the math in a journal would be preferable to forcing them to copy off a static page.
In truth, the future of STM publishing probably involves a blend of PDF formatting for dense, text-heavy research, and HTML for more interactive and visual displays. Academics and researchers will likely push this blending as they demand more interactivity and a greater ability to engage with materials.