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Academic publishing changing form online

Online-first STM journals are free to experiment with new forms.

There are few industries unchanged by increased digital proliferation, but publishing sectors have been hit especially hard. The print-only model is a thing of the past, and it's up to publishers to figure out what this means for their particular offerings. This applies to the science, technical and medical journal field just as much as the consumer and professional verticals, and the repercussions could be felt for years. It's clear there are new forces at work, and leaders will have to decide which new features and business models work with their STM offerings. Recent years have seen changes in both how these publishers distribute their journals and how the content appears to readers.

New business models
When there is no physical magazine to subscribe to, should STM journals stick with the paid subscription model? This debate recently cropped up in The Australian, which found that publishers are launching new academic periodicals for free, allowing readers to log on without a subscription. The news provider pointed out that there are sources of revenue other than subscriptions, and by using these to cover costs, journals are embracing a free model and still staying afloat in the marketplace. The Australian touted this as a victory for the publishers at a time when so many in the digital media field have failed to turn a profit.

There are ample new ways to share research data.
There are ample new ways to share research data.

The news provider noted that when academic journals first made their move to the online world, they were siloed and paywalled. While plenty still are, and this model works for them, new options are available. The Australian reported that Nature works with foundations, academic societies and higher learning institutions to create ecosystems that are free to access. Authors' fees and the co-ownership of university organizations keep the digital journals free to access and make the knowledge contained within widely available. It's possible that untethered from physical magazines, these publishers have hit upon a sustainable model.

"Features that come with interactive STM journal publication have to do with collaborative thinking."

Technological advances
While business models are changing by the day, the advancements on the IT side of academic publishing may soon make these look minor by comparison. Publishers today have the option of embracing interactive STM journal features that go well beyond the old PDF model. Publishing a magazine as a PDF adds few capabilities beyond what physical documents offer, but using HTML5-based Web content is a different story. With access to more multimedia, academic authors can make complicated concepts more compelling and clear than ever before, a capability they'll no doubt put to good use as more publishers offer them the option.

Many of the features that come with this new approach to STM journal publication have to do with collaborative thinking. When readers have more ways to work with the information presented in scholarly documents, there is room for research to progress more quickly. As a field, science is about sharing information. Teams work with the results of those who went before in their fields, and the interactive STM journal format bakes this collaboration into the medium of data delivery. As new publications launch online, no longer bound by print restrictions, publishers can push beyond the limitations of the early digital era.

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