The end for journals is closer than we think

Written on December 15, 2009

After reading about the aparent lunacy of Rupert Murdoch a while back, I entertained the idea that newspapers may not have to die a lonely death. In fact, I imagined that, given the last 5 – 10 years of technological change, a time when academic journals would disappear.

I tested out the idea that a world where the paper an article is printed on might have little to do with it’s quality, importance and impact on several of my friends. Understandably, I met a fair amount of resistance. Afterall, I wouldn’t consider myself as the salesman type when it comes to oration. But, it turns out that I’m not alone in thinking that the end for journals is near. Both the Economic Logician and Ekkehart Schlicht of the RePEc blog have recently posted about this idea… an admittedly more convincing fashion than I would be capable.

Ekkehart Schlicht even goes so far as to say:

“My impression is that the existence of journals is a feature of the past. Journals will die, and this will be an improvement…”

I couldn’t agree more. My two cents regarding how the death of journal articles could be an improvement in list form is:

  • Lag time between when research is ready for dissemination and when it is published will be cut considerably. One needn’t wait for other authors in the edition your paper is to be published in to finish themselves.
  • Greater simplicity and transparency in the review process. Thousands or millions of readers can do a much better job of assessing the quality of research than three or four reviewers.
  • Focus of quality of research will shift from the standing of the journal in which it appears to other measures such as the number of people citing the work. (and the downstream quality of those citations, etc.) A paper used as a citation by a Nobel laureate like Paul Krugman surely provides more information than whether or not it is published in a ‘top’ journal.
  • New mediums of publication, exchange and collaboration will emerge to fill the hole left by defunct journals. It’s difficult to speculate on this one, but we humans are pretty good at adapting to change, so I have no doubt that something interesting will appear on the horizon as the sun goes down on journal articles.

Any comments? How far out-of-touch am I on this one?

via the RePEc Blog.