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This editor is, somewhat ruefully, now in her third decade of immersion in digital publishing, decades spent largely in preparing and hoping to perfect documents for web delivery. Amongst the truths I now hold to be self-evident is that every few years I find myself in conversations in which the interlocutors question some of the heretofore-primary structures of publication. More than twenty years ago, I found myself engaged in heated debate about whether the page was a meaningful unit for infinitely scrolling documents delivered on the screen. Similarly, I argued both sides of questions about whether indices were useful and intellectually elaborate tools for analysis and discovery or moot in an era of easy full text search. Another recurring question throughout my (electronic) publishing career has been whether the concept of a journal issue continues to have utility in a delivery environment where articles can be published as soon as they are considered complete and ready.
In early 2000, David Velleman and Stephen Darwall, the founding editors of Philosopher’s Imprint found their way to my office into the University of Michigan library, ready, willing and eager to start a new journal and, they hoped, a small revolution, in a discipline deeply attached to its traditions, publishing and otherwise. Chief amongst their motives was their exasperation with time to publication, a time that could surely be compressed if we did not wait for paper page-ready documents and for the printing presses to roll. They proposed that their journal publish articles as ready, on an ongoing basis, with a volume open throughout and closed at the end of one year, giving articles a familiar and citable home without delaying publication until such a time as there were sufficient fellow articles to respectably fill out an issue and justify printing costs.
“Well, darn clever those philosophers,” I thought as they left my office that day. “Wonder how that will work out?” Well, work out it did, quite beautifully, and 17 volumes later Philosopher’s Imprint maintains a considerable reputation in its field, having brought more than 220 high quality articles into the disciplinary conversation at a timely, even rapid, pace.
Many of us involved with JEP also work with Philosopher’s Imprint, and we have often found ourselves turning back to question the worth of the issue and its utility in a time when we want to best serve both our authors and our readers by bringing articles to the public as quickly as is feasible while still maintaining standards of quality and accuracy. The issue format has given us a structure around which to organize our work. A looming publication deadline is a handy tool for forcing priorities. More than that, we have been attached to the notion of the “Special Issue,” a thematic grouping of articles on a selected topic. Special issues help to identify and recruit new authors, create more of a magnetic pull for interested readers and bring our authors into conversation through collocation. We have been fond of all those things.
But given the demands upon this editor, who spends an increasing amount of time in the classroom and on research projects, upon a very busy production staff at our publisher, and given the increasing number of authors eager to see their work published in time to sound an early voice in a discussion or to support a professional portfolio, the JEP team has made the decision to move away from fixed, periodic issues to a rolling issue open for a year, beginning with our first articles of 2017. Our hope is that this change will engender a flexibility that supports responsive and rapid publishing. Being spoiled digital publishers, we want it all, so we are not entirely abandoning special issues (we like to think all of our past issues were special . . .) and will sometimes be publishing clusters of articles together, bound by metadata and by my editorial commentary. We will also continue to pursue partnerships that result in issues that are organically generated, such as the publication of relevant conference proceedings.
We begin this new publishing practice now, and hope that our readers who come in the door by way of a single article of interest, take the time to explore the whole journal and enjoy serendipitous discovery of other articles, both old and issue bound and new and issue independent, articles that shed light on important questions of electronic publishing . . . such as the enduring value of the page and the utility of the index. Or perhaps of the issue.