Mike Creswell of The Florida State University was in Newport a few weeks ago—he is the author of Blog VI (6): Getting in the Door: The Graduate Admissions Process—for a conference and we had lunch during his stay here. During that conversation we got to talking about the media formats and how long they endure. The new communication technologies are affecting every media format, including old ones like book publishing. Witness the slow death of the Borders book store chain. It is also affecting journal publishing. This conversation was less boring than it sounds, because a lot of it revolved around the rise and fall of Playboy magazine.
These new technologies are proving to be both an opportunity and a challenge for a journal publishers. Subscriptions are down; many libraries—the main market for these type of publications—are cutting their budgets and one of the first things to go is the expensive journal. (The titles in history are fairly inexpensive compared to the ones in the sciences which often require very clear and detailed graphics in the form of charts and photographs.) On the other hand, profits for the publishers are up. Scholars can now buy electronic versions of single articles. For example, if you teach film theory in a communications school, you might not want to subscribe to The Journal of Cold War History just to get to an article it published on Star Trek, since the focus of the work in that publication is on diplomatic history. Now, though, you can buy that article for $6.95 instead of subscribing to the journal for $55. Subscriptions might be down but the sale of individual articles more than makes up for those loses.
Creswell also pointed out that journal articles are having more impact now than they did in the past. You can distribute an electronic version of the article to colleagues and students via e-mail faster and cheaper compared to even a few years ago when that process required photocopying.
The question then revolves around endurance. All this electronic stuff is good, but it is mighty perishable. I have made that point before in Blog LXXVIII (78): E-books: Just Say No. Books are books. They have a lot of endurance and impact. I spent the summer writing three historiographical essays for three different anthologies and it is clear that a book still has more impact than an article and will do more for a career. With that point made, this new electronic distribution format for the article makes a lot of sense; it gives you writing more breadth and speed than had been the case in the past. It is a good approach as long as libraries are also acquiring paper copies of the journal. All my previous comments about publishing still stands, but this new range and tempo is another factor to consider when you are deciding where to invest your time and energies.