Faxon Institute Colloquium

Electronic Publishing and the Scholarly Communication Process

January 7-8, 1997

At the first session on the first day we were faced with two questions:

  • "Describe, if I am the creator, what it is that your sector of the industry does that is essential to the process, regardless of media?"
  • "How does electronic publishing improve this?"

What a good way to start a colloquium between publishers and librarians, forcing a critical review of the value we add and how it can change with electronic publishing.

As I did not have to answer that question publicly — as members of the panel did — I had the luxury to think of how I would have answered.

My Answer

Of all of the things journal publishers do (finance, vet and select, edit, produce, market, inventory, distribute), the value added that is probably most appreciated by researchers is the intellectual context — the environment — we provide for their articles. In the world of paper that context is found in the reputation and editorial direction of the journal, which condenses into its brand name.

Many critics say that this journal reputation or brand context is controlled by researchers themselves and not by the publisher. In truth, it is a shared function. The publisher is as concerned about the reputation of a journal as the editor is. A good publisher zealously guards, and works to foster, the quality and image of the journal. That means choosing excellent editors and providing them with the tools to do their jobs easily. It also means:

  • watching what is being accepted;
  • following the citation progress of the journal;
  • monitoring whether it is slipping into intellectual dead-ends or byways;
  • facilitating its acceptance by important abstracting and indexing services; and
  • doing such author-friendly activities as ensuring sound, rapid editing and production and maximizing visibility via widespread distribution.

All of those values, which support the reputation and brand identity of the journal, carry over into the electronic environment. However, in electronic publishing the opportunities for the publisher to add value to the author's work grow dramatically. Electronic publishing allows the publisher to enhance the article by creating links to related material and, indeed, by offering access on the desktop to the article alone and in a variety of "packages." The publisher also adds value by creating sophisticated access and retrieval tools to help readers find the article.

"Intelligent-agent electronic publishing is expensive"

In Paper, Others Made the Links

In the paper-only world, each journal from each publisher essentially stood on its own. Others did the linking between and among journals. Abstracting and indexing services created the subject links or access points. Institute for Scientific Information built the backward and forward citation links. Libraries (through their collection development policies, catalogues, and reference assistance) built an environment that physically brought together diverse types of information.

Then, along came the World Wide Web. Linking changed from something a third party does with your journals' articles to a value we publishers add. The publisher is now the "intelligent agent" responsible for creating useful links.

There are many ways to link journals electronically:

  • from bibliographic searches to the article's full text
  • from tables of contents services to the full text
  • from a cited reference to the abstract or the full text of the cited article
  • from the article to later citations of the article
  • via a database of journals aggregated for searching
  • from the journals of one publisher to those of competitors

There are also ways to create other intelligent, useful links more specific to the research in the article, such as:

  • connecting gene sequences in articles to detailed records in gene databases
  • upgrading 2-D chemical formulas to 3-D chemical structures
  • linking experiment descriptions to the underlying large data sets
  • expanding from text to audio, video, animation
  • moving to related Web sites, information, news, chat, ads

One continues to hear the argument that electronic publication should be less expensive than paper publication, as if the only costs one had were the costs of physical production. On the contrary, "intelligent agent" electronic publishing is expensive. The process requires the intervention of thinking people. And, of course, we want to do it all at as low a cost as possible.

In order to create links, we have to invest in people to add the value, whether editorial, production, or information-technology staff. At the same time, we also look for — or create —standards to aid in linking, as that will help keep costs lower. For example, some journal publishers have been working on the Digital Object Identifier (DOI), a system to create and maintain unique Web locators that could become one of the key tools for linking among publishers.

"How do you make the process efficient?"

Publisher to Publisher Issues

We also build partnerships and alliances with other publishers to do certain types of effective linking. In creating links between and among journals and articles from different publishers, publishers want to retain their journals' brand identities. Each publisher wants to exercise control over access, yet recognizes a need to minimize hassle for the user.

There are a number of open issues to resolve in linking with other publishers. How do you make the process efficient? Do you take the user just to the Web door, or do publishers agree on access terms? For what do you charge and what is made available for free (notably, abstracts)? How do you retain your distinctive publishing franchise? And, perhaps most important, are we right in believing the editor and author want all of this? The presumption is that authors will be in favor of such links (e.g., they will want a user to be able to click on a cited reference and go to the full text of that article on another publisher's server), but we should be sure.

The ultimate challenge is to create intelligent, meaningful links that will enhance value for the scientist and student — creating the richest environment for the articles in our journals. That is the service we can offer, the value we can add for our authors and editors, and the way in which our journals will be more highly valued by the user.

With Elsevier since 1976, Karen Hunter has concentrated for several years on strategic planning and the electronic delivery of journal information. She was responsible for the TULIP experiment (The University Licensing Program) and for the start-up of ScienceDirect, the Elsevier Science journal Web host.

Before Elsevier she worked for the book wholesaler Baker & Taylor and for Cornell University Libraries. She has a BA in history from the College of Wooster and masters degrees in history, library science, and business administration from Cornell, Syracuse, and Columbia universities respectively.