Saturday, August 11, 2007

The ephemeral journal

Recently I mentioned the start of yet another journal covering one of the topics I would place on the top of a hype cycle curve. This together with the apparent ever increasing number of journals everywhere got me thinking of birth/death of science journals. The cost of starting up a new journal is so low that the turn-over can only be higher. Still, we don't typically see a lot of "journal death". They are meant to be respected and built up reputation among the public audience they serve.
It looks however inevitable that with a limited attention capacity and ever increasing number of journals that science hype cycles might have a strong influence on a journals activities. If hyped up subjects sprout out new journals quickly (i.e stem cells, systems biology, synthetic biology), underperforming science memes will suffer from lack of attention. If I had a biomedical related science publishing house I would probably be thinking of launching a journal to cover metagenomics and another to cover personalized medicine.

Creating and destroying journals based on hype cycles sounds a bit exaggerated but at least there is no reason to think that a journal is here to stay. This can also happen via in a more subtle way, trough re-grouping of content after publication. Call it a gateway, a report, a topics page,a portal (harder to find), the idea is there are several ways one can group published papers to serve a target audience. Digital works are not things, they can be in several places and we can slice and dice the views as we wish. One great thing about these views is that they are more likely to attract discussion since there is more likely a group of people around with similar interests. This would be even more so if the users had some power to control the content. Nature Reports allow users to submit papers and to vote on them but it is still too soon to tell if discussions in topic pages are more frequent than on a site like PLoS ONE.

Instead of subscribing to the high impact journals, and lower impact journals of our topics of interest, we would state our interests in the views/portals/gateways we select to participate in and hopefully the works would be distributed to target audiences as fitting. Things that are of very high perceived impact would be cross-posted to many more views than more specific works. The value could still be perceived either pre or post publication.

The main advantage for the publisher is many more pages with well targeted audiences. Some of these views could even be of interest to a very wide non scientific audience. All of these should improve advertisement revenue.