Imprint, offprint, inprint

Sun 14 Oct 2007 06:52 PM

My Reid paper has been accepted to one of my favorite journals, Philosophers' Imprint. I'll post a link once the final paper appears. For now, you get these ruminations on electronic journals:

On-line academic journals are an obvious idea. The primary value in academic publication is peer review, and article referees are not paid for their time. Academic writers aren't paid, either. So you'd think that producing a journal would not be such an expensive proposition.

Moreover, academics are well served if their papers are as widely read as possible. If the article can be viewed on-line by anyone in the world, it is apt to get more readers than if it only exists in physical issues of a narrowly-distributed journal. Advocates of open access have argued that, when research is publicly funded, authors have an obligation to distribute their results more broadly. Perhaps this applies to my work, too, since I am a state employee and research is part of what I do as my job.

Regardless, on-line journals have typically encountered several difficulties.

First, there are conventions for citing print journals with pages and issue numbers. Web pages are not so bibliography friendly. This problem can be overcome: Items must be given canonical and persistent URLs. Papers must have some structure that allows specific passages to be referenced. And so on.

Second, many on-line journals are erratic. Especially in the early days of the web, people began online journals with webspace but no clear sense of the resources required. A journal requires time and institutional organization. Many have fallen behind when it's been harder to put out monthly or quarterly content than the founders expected.

Third, on-line journals are often not up to the quality standards of print journals. The ease of putting it together amplifies this; it may be tempting to have a special issue with papers from a conference, for example, and then put them up even when they aren't really up to snuff-- it's not like anyone's paying to print it. If a journal isn't sent enough good submissions, then the editor is faced with the choice of either not publishing (amplifying the second problem) or printing submissions that wouldn't otherwise see print.

Of course, these latter two problems also arise for print journals. Philosophy of Science recently fell more than a year behind its publishing schedule, for example; but they have started to catch up, and the papers are up to their usual standards. There is a fourth problem that arises especially for on-line journals: the stigma attached to new media.

It seems to me that Philosophers' Imprint has done a brilliant job of mitigating all of these problems: When they accept a paper, they publish it at a permanent URL as a nicely formatted PDF. See, for example, John Norton's really clever paper on causation. This solves the first problem.

Imprint has no predefined schedule and does not bundle papers together. As a result, it neither waits for a whole issue's worth of papers to accumulate nor rushes to meet expectations of periodic publication. If they don't get a submission that meets their standards, they don't print anything; but they can print as many quality submissions as they receive. This avoids the second and third problems by actually taking advantage of ways that publishing on the web is different than traditional publishing.

The fourth problem is trickier. Imprint has a prestigious editorial board. They publish some really good stuff. But some people will consider it prejudiciously.

I was recently discussing this issue with Nate, who asked how long it would be before compound phrases like electronic journal lost the electronic prefix. Most of us typically access even old-school journals on-line. Scholars in many fields rarely if ever look at hardcopy issues. I have discovered that the department cannot reimburse me for photocopies I might make in the library, but I can use the library's webpage to request PDF scans of anything I might want. Once this has been the case for a while, there will be no real difference between Philosophers' Imprint and any other journal-- except that Imprint won't have a redundant, dead-tree backup in the stacks of some distant building.


This is post 100 here at FOE, and somewhere in the middle is word 45,000.