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The new media and emerging forms of publication

Roger Atkinson

The title for this column paraphrases the title of a section in The Horizon Report 2007 [1], namely "The New Scholarship and Emerging Forms of Publication". In the past I've scanned Horizon Reports [2], which have published many interesting forecasts concerning "emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative expression within higher education." [1, p.3] As "emerging forms of publication" is one of my continuing interests [3], and the New Media Consortium originated Horizon Reports [2], a title for this column emerged by the time I finished reading The Horizon Report 2007 [1] table of contents and executive summary! However, this section of Report 2007 is concerned mainly with "the process and shape of scholarship" [1, p.21]:

Nontraditional forms are emerging that call for new ways of evaluating and disseminating work. Increasingly, scholars are beginning to employ methods unavailable to their counterparts of several years ago, including prepublication releases of their work, distribution through nontraditional channels, dynamic visualization of data and results, and new ways to conduct peer reviews using online collaboration. [1, p.21]
By contrast, my view of the impact of the new media upon scholarly publishing is concerned mainly with potential developments for traditional journals:
The great advances that we have obtained in computing and networking technologies ought to give us decreased costs for scholarly journals and easier, digital network access. However, in most cases, subscription charges for print delivery and network access are rising every year. [3]
To reinforce the pessimism of that perspective, Figure 1 provides an update on the version published in 2004 [3]. Contrary to the Report 2007 vision about non-traditional forms, and the hopes of open access proponents, Figure 1 seems to say "business as usual" [4] for these commercial journals. Not even the slightest hint of cost reductions enabled by the new media.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Institutional subscription rates, 1997-2007 (GST not included)

HERDHigher Education Research and Development.
DEDistance Education.
AJETAustralasian Journal of Educational Technology.
Data sources: Rates quoted in printed copies of the journals and the publisher's website (GST not included). Prices include Internet access from an institutional local area network in the cases of HERD and DE institutional subscriptions (AJET is 'open access', being unrestricted, free to the Internet, three months after publication). For more details, and a similar graph showing personal subscription rates, 1997-2007, see Atkinson and McLoughlin (2007) [4].

Whilst I found Horizon Report 2007 disappointing on what I see as the big issue in the new media and scholarly publishing, are there any encouragements on other fronts? Yes, sifting through the references cited by the references in Horizon Report 2007, there is much interesting reading. Let's consider just three examples noted from my Horizon related browsing. Firstly, under the heading "PR's 'pit bull' takes on open access", Nature writer Jim Giles stated a current key issue succinctly:

Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods. [5]
Well, does Figure 1 suggest that T&F's livelihood is seriously threatened? Or perhaps scholarly journal publishing in science works on leaner, more reasonable profit margins than education journals? Here is a second example also from science, by Frank Gannon, Senior Editor of EMBO Reports, in an editorial titled "Ethical profits from publishing"[6]:
The past decades have seen an enormous growth in the number of scientific journals. Many of these have been founded by scientific societies that believe that the interests of their community are best served by having a journal focused on their area of research. Society members, volunteering to act as editors and reviewers, set the standards for quality and thus ensure that the journal reflects the ambitions of the society. However, these volunteered services do not convert accepted manuscripts into printed journals, and so many societies rely on a commercial publishing house to take care of the printing and distribution. There seemed to be no further consequences-after all, they were not 'for profit'. These societies relied on the professionalism of the publishers to get the sums right and market the journal gently. Sometimes, perhaps to their surprise, the journal not only satisfied the need to publish scientific works but also generated money for the societies' activities.

With time, however, there has been a shift in the world of learned publications, with commercial publishers increasingly dominating the market and changing the primary goal from the communication of high-quality science to the generation of high-level profits. [6]

Sounds to me like some scenarios that I know! However, after a balanced discussion on the topic of "an ethical way of making and using profits", the editorial concludes with a much more dramatic, even pugnacious, note [6]:
It is clear that many cornerstones of our scientific world would crumble if profits that are generated and used ethically were lost in the Messianic and ideologically driven movement to change abruptly the current business model for scientific publications. [6]
Again, if Figure 1's pattern is widely applicable, the world referred to is not crumbling. It is prospering, notwithstanding the challenge from open access publishing. My third example, also from science, is due to Gregory Lamb, a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor. Noting that "Publishing research to blogs and e-books is so easy", and going on to discuss the proposition that "scholarly journals and their controversial system of peer reviews may not be needed at all", he stated [7]:
At many elite scientific journals, fewer than 10 percent of the articles submitted are accepted. Many of the rejected articles eventually travel down the "food chain" to be published in a plethora of less prestigious (and less noticed) specialty journals. [7]
Travel down the "food chain"? What an interesting concept! Picture the publishers of the most prestigious journals as top order predators, very discerning in their tastes, ingesting only the finest pieces, and spitting out the rest for lower order scavengers to pick over? Well, I prefer to think that editors and reviewers are friendly facilitators who help develop an author's work, rather than being predators in a "food chain" hierarchy. Of course, we hope that authors will make the fullest possible use of facilitative advice from editors and reviewers, who typically are volunteers not charging for their time. But a small proportion of authors don't, hence the "food chain" problem is real, and it is prudent editorial and review practice to maintain a watching brief. With technology based aids, namely Google [8] searches and scanning of online tables of contents, I keep a file noting any instances of an article that has been rejected by AJET [9] appearing unchanged, or with little change, at a later date in another journal (author and journal identities never to be revealed). I have not searched in a systematic way, but I have noted four "food chain" cases in the last few years. Surprisingly, one of these travelled "up" the "chain" from AJET, not "down".

Debates within science journal publishing are spicier than in education journal publishing. Pit bulls, Messianic movements and food chains! Maybe in education we could spice up our game, though I concede that this hypothesis may require further exploration, and that perhaps the 'spice' element is a luxury, not an academic necessity. So, enough of the 'spice', back to the more serious matter of linking these examples to IT in higher education. To reiterate the four illustrations and their technology links:

The concept of "emerging forms of publication" could imply a kind of continuous growth and development, always going forward. Not necessarily so, I regret, for HERDSA's own use of the new media has done a "de-emerging" recently. HERDSA's Conference Proceedings for 1998 and 2003, which were online free to the Internet, are currently off line. Sadly, a few days ago, I edited those years out of my look up page for conference proceedings available online [10]. To end on a positive note, HERDSA's Committee has indicated to me (I do apologise to Committee about being a perpetual nuisance on these matters) that a new website will restore online availability by end 2007.


  1. NMC & ELI (2007). The Horizon Report 2007. The New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2007_Horizon_Report.pdf
  2. Previous Horizon Reports may be obtained from NMC Publications. http://www.nmc.org/projects/publications.shtml
  3. Atkinson, R. (2004). Technology interactions: Scholarly publishing. HERDSA News, 26(3), 19-21. http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/26-3.html
  4. Atkinson, R. and McLoughlin, C. (2007). Editorial. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 23(1), iii-viii. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet23/editorial23-1.html
  5. Giles, J. (2007). PR's 'pit bull' takes on open access: Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement. Nature, 24 January. (For the identity of the 'pit bull', see the article!) http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070122/full/445347a.html
  6. Gannon, F. (2004). Ethical profits from publishing. EMBO Reports, 5(1), 1. http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v5/n1/full/7400057.html
  7. Lamb, G. M. (2007). Is this the end of the scholarly journal? The Christian Science Monitor, 24 January. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0124/p14s02-stss.html
  8. Google http://www.google.com/ and Google Scholar http://scholar.google.com/
  9. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/
  10. Conference Proceedings available online. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/about/ref/conf-procs.html

Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University's Teaching and Learning Centre in June 2001. His current activities include publishing AJET and honorary work on TL Forum and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website (including this article in html format): http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/ Contact: rjatkinson@bigpond.com

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. (2007). The new media and emerging forms of publication. HERDSA News, 29(1). http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/29-1.html

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