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Inspecting the STM journal market

The scientific publishing community is reckoning with new ways of consuming and sharing content.

Publishers in the science, technology and medical (STM) journal market have a lot to think about. Following the recent move from a physical-first model into the digital era, a number of factors, including pricing and distribution strategies, have been called into question. While the need to impart scientific knowledge will exist as long as there is a research community, the form this data will take is changing. The STM journal market today is a field in flux, with publishers experimenting with new formats and release strategies. The results of those early forays are just becoming known, and responses to them will take time.

"As publishers push into the digital realm, there is room to add features."

Pricing and format
Library Journal recently published a deep dive into the specifics of the academic publishing world, explaining that some publishers have felt pressure as new models take hold. The STM journal market has not just had to switch to online-first from print, it did so in the midst of a recession. The fact that digital publications are often bundled instead of sold individually has also changed perceptions. If publishers can't cope with this type of change, they may end up in financial trouble. This is what happened to Swets Information Services, bankrupt as of 2014. This event was a shockwave through the STM journal market, the source explained.

As for other business trends animating the market, Library Journal focused on the rise of open access projects. The digital revolution carried this new type of publication along, and the news provider reported that companies are experimenting with whether they can open their STM journals to the public, sourcing funds from authors and third parties rather than subscribers. Publishers may also decide to abandon the magazine format altogether, with the source stating that publishing articles individually for access is catching on. The next steps for these companies may not be clear just yet, but significant effort is being expended on discovering them.

HTML5 can make journals more like highly functional web pages, and less like the paper documents they once were.
HTML5 can make journals more like highly functional Web pages, and less like the paper documents they once were.

Digital-only benefits
When the print format falls away and publishers push their STM journals entirely into the digital realm, there is room to add extra features. This means embracing interactive STM journals, treated more like Web pages than downloadable magazines. The advantages of such a transition will be clear to anyone who has spent time using a highly functional HTML5 website or online app such as Google Docs: With the ability to affect and modify the information presented, readers could have a deeper connection to the scholarly materials they are consuming and studying.

The digital STM journal market is still in the midst of its evolution and, as publishers attempt to find ways forward, they will come to rely on new features. While the PDF format is more or less a direct port of physical content, maybe with the occasional hyperlink, today's journals can do better via effective professional publishing services.

Interactive features that allow researchers to go into greater depth add value to the products and inspire greater collaboration, which is at the heart of the scientific community. In the end, STM journals are meant for a very specific type of reader, and altering their form to match the content may be a way to stay relevant in the field.

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