INTECOL 2009 – What will journals look like in 10 years?

As I have just been involved with setting up a new journal with Wiley-Blackwell and the BES, I was asked to contribute to a planning session for Austral Ecology considering the question, “what will journals look like in 10 years?” Here are some of my thoughts that I contributed.

First, we should be clear that if we look back 10 years, journals have changed a lot: back in 1999 Ecology Letters revolutionized the editorial process by sending reviews and decisions by fax(!!). Science and Nature used Fedex to speed things up a bit. Submitting an MS meant a big drain on the printer and photocopier, and sending hard copies by snail mail.

Things were a bit less primitive for readers: pdf versions were increasingly available for mainstream journals, although a regular trip to the library was necessary to keep up with everything.

Now of course, the whole process is online, from submission to decision, through post decision processing, to the final access of the MS. At least 90% of journal access is online, and most subscriptions to journals are ‘online only’. For a new journal there is no compelling argument for producing a print version and new journals launched in the past few years do not have one (e.g. PLoS journals, Evolutionary Applications, Conservation Letters).

So what is going to happen? In predicting the future I think it is important to look at how biology is taught. Students use online resources all the time, be that online teaching material, Wikipedia or online textbooks and journals. Universities are adapting fast – for example, iTunesU is used for advertising courses and research. Youtube also has lectures. Videocasts and Podcasts are now routine tools in teaching. The current generation of undergrads are soon going to be PhD students and postdocs, and will want this type of resources in their research.

The Journal of Visualized Experiments is the current pinnacle of this trend: the key element of this journal is a video demonstration of the research and there are ecological studies already in this journal.

This imaginative use of online resources will be a major trend. However, having said this, I think the core values of publication will remain: the need for rigorous, fair review, publication prestige and speed of process will remain important to authors and readers alike.

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