March 5, 1999

Management of the New Infrastructure for Electronic Publications

Paper for the Transition from Paper Study Panel

Stephen R. Heller
Bldg. 820, Room 113
Gaithersburg, MD 20899 USA
Phone: 301-975-3338 FAX: 301-926-0416


Predicting and envisioning the future can be a tricky and dangerous task. After all it has been some two decades the phrase "the paperless office" was first used, and their seems to be more paper used today than at that time, notwithstanding the millions of PC's that are now in use. Predicting the future with details for the management of a new structure is both foolish and dangerous. However, since any journey must start with a first step, this discussion of the issues at hand here will, it is hoped, provide at least a strawman structure which others will modify, refine, and improve upon. After providing the background as to how we got to the current situation, this paper then proposes the outline of an organizational structure for future electronic publishing. One important point for the infrastructure of the electronic journals of the future is that the scenario envisioned here assumes and requires some institutionalized operation, not a free-for-all self publishing operation. Much of the final proposed organizational structure, while similar to the current publishing model of today, is similar in functionality only, not in form or content. The transition from the structure and organization of the publisher of the 20th century to the publisher of the 21st century may not be possible. Like General Motors and the Saturn automobile, one may still have the goal of building a car, but to do it differently required starting, literally, from scratch in Tennessee, not by modifying a car plant facility in Michigan.


While the current organization and management of scholarly publishing, in both the scholarly professional societies and commercial publishing industry, is both well established and adverse to real change (1), there appear to be sufficient new technological innovations in the past few years which are most likely to cause a major upheaval from the current situation. For the past 50 years or so, since the end of World War II, commercial and non-commercial publishers have been living in their own Garden of Eden. In the area of scientific and technical publishing there has been, up until recently, an explosion of funding for science, coupled with an even greater explosion of publishing by scientists. While funds were readily available scientists did research, published, and both scientists and libraries bought books and journals. As the reality of decreasing funding (that is, funding has not kept up with the increased number of scholars and increased number of journals being published and the increased costs of journals) took hold and settled in on the scientific community and the library support associated with it, a slow financial squeeze on book and journal budgets started some 10-15 years ago. The need for credit and recognition (i.e., grounds for job promotion, tenure, and other rewards) and the normal ego of scientists led to both more scholarly works being published, and more journals, mostly in specialized areas, being developed to feed this frenzy. The publishers, as any good business person would do, saw this community need, and proceeded to provide the community with what it wanted, making (often very large) profits in return for this pandering.

With the recent reality of shrinking (or at best non increasing) budgets at both the funding level and the library budget level, problems began to arise. The initial response from the publishers, for the most part, was to act as if it was not their problem, and continue business as usual. This was both easy and possible since their were no alternatives in the print publishing field. Scientists need an acceptable outlets for their scholarly results and libraries need patrons to help justify their existence. Furthermore, very few people like change. As long as libraries are funded out of central overhead budgets researchers may complain about having fewer journals in their libraries, but they are not likely to seriously consider changing over to electronic publishing until their own budgets are directly affected. The entire print publishing system is a large and complex one, and not easy for an individual to provide a real alternative. Into this system someone has thrown, to put it mildly, a large monkey wrench. Computers and computer networks, coupled with software that is approaching a product that can actually be easily used by a large audience without extensive (and regular) training (making it similar in ease to use as a printed manuscript), have created a new world, a new paradigm. In the area of scientific publishing it is now possible for developing countries, for the first time, to have the ability to be part of the main-stream of activities of their area of scholarly research and be as up-to-date as researchers in any developed country. This new world has come upon us in the matter of just a few years. In a paper written in mid 1992 and published in 1993, I peered into my crystal ball and wrote what I though would happen in a number of areas, including networks and publishing. At best I was off by 3-4 years out of 7. At least I did speak of the Internet. The move towards electronic publishing using the Internet has been faster than virtually anyone (Bill Gates included) could have predicted a few years ago.

While commercial and non-commercial publishers still control the vast majority of scientific publishing, there are a number of signs that this changing. Electronic journals are starting up which do not come from traditional print publishers (2). There are many problems and difficulties in this area. Many of these publications are not peer-reviewed, may not be archived properly, are not indexed by the major secondary indexing services, and lack a sufficient base to be a major factor in scholarly information dissemination. However it would seem this is just a transitory matter. Time is not on the side of the print publisher, and their large and costly bureaucracy. It s on the side of new technology and the new generation of scientists who are growing up with it. But like any new ideas, as Max Planck once said: "New scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." (3) In other words, it will take time for any change to take place. Furthermore, it will also take some good planning for these changes to take place. Having a new idea and actually reducing it to practice are two very different things. Without a realistic and solid infrastructure the suggestions from this study panel will be, at best, a footnote in some manuscript of the future.

Print publishing is really not any different from other businesses or organizations. It is just that the times has not yet caught up with it. In the past few years many companies and organizations have discovered the old ways of doing business will not work. Sears, the giant retailer, looked down on Walmart and their sales policy of everyday low prices, and now Walmart is a larger company. IBM was afraid to cannibalize on their lucrative and successful mainframe computer business, and Microsoft and Intel are now computer giants. The Soviet Union is now Russia. History is full of giants who couldn't adapt. In the case of scholarly publishing the print publishers have a very serious problem with today's technology. Computers and the Internet, and the related infrastructure, are really a better way to provide the customer with the product they want and need. The print publisher is, for the most part (although they say it is not true) is really just a middleman. They obtain manuscripts from authors are no cost, have them peer-reviewed at no cost (other than postage and handling), pay an editor a trivial sum of money to oversee the process, spend a good deal of money to process, print, market, and sell the manuscripts, and then charge a large sum of money to deliver the product back to the person who had given it away at no cost. Now clearly there is a cost to do this middleman work in electronic form. The remainder of this presentation is devoted to a proposed infrastructure of publishing in the future.

Just as insurance companies did not benefit from going from paper to computers in the beginning because at first they did not change their process, only added to its cost by having computers, the infrastructure proposed here will not be just an electronic version of what there is now in print. First there needs to be a responsible organization to own or control the scholarly electronic publication. Just as in print publishing it can be a company, a society, a university or a library. There needs to be an editor of each scholarly publication - as there is in print. One needs competent reviewers too, and these will be harder to find in the beginning as not everyone is computer literate and computer "comfortable". Manuscripts need to be in computer readable form (more on this below).

The New Organization

The new structure of a 21st century publisher starts not with a building and a printing press, but with computer systems. It starts with a staff competent and literate in the technology and needs of the community it serves. From the organizational view one needs a number of computer systems, connected to the Internet, for the system. One needs a computer for administrative and business activities (subscriptions, accounting, payroll, and so on - but some all of these can be outsourced), a computer for articles being reviewed, and a computer for the public, operational scholarly publication. One also needs a computer and system for archiving the database. One will also want a computer for software development work, but it likely that software such as Netscape or Explorer (and their associated add-ons and extensions) will handle most all needs . Subscriptions, to save costs, will be handle in a totally electronic manner, either using credit cards or electronic money (CyberCash (5a), e-cash (5b), etc.). Electronic money is probably the best as it requires no manual intervention. As electronic publishing of scholarly manuscripts and information is just a small part of the Internet most of the standards that will be used will be developed Internet community, such as The Internet Engineering Task Force (2).

While editing will not disappear in the electronic journal, its cost can be reduced substantially by having work done by piece-meal contracting work to competent copy editors around the world, via the Internet. (Why should this be any different than going to third world countries for less expensive manufacturing and programming labor?) However for a journal that publishes 100-200 or more papers per year, there will need to be a part-time to (eventually) full-time person to manage all the remote copy editors, even if they are all part-time outside contractors. The manager will also be needed to take the final manuscript and actually mount it on the operational server and notify the subscribers that a new manuscript have been published or released and is available.

Once an article is completed it goes directly to the operational computer and is made available to the customer immediately. There is no staff to watch over articles, make sure they fit on a page, make sure there are the right number of pages for a particular issue etc. An e-mail message will then be sent to the author and all subscribers notifying them of the availability of this article, and lastly the abstracting services which include this article in their products are also notified.

One very important issue, stressed by both scientists and librarians, is that of archiving. Right now, if a journal or publisher ceases to exist, there are always some copies of that journal in some libraries. Librarians and researchers also seem very happy to believe the large publishers and professional societies will "always" exist, and therefore always archive their electronic products. One way in which new players in this field could show credibility in this area is to make arrangements with a few major, forward thinking, libraries to archive their e-journals. Libraries could be an ideal repository for electronic journals. If that is not possible some other archiving source will need to be found. It is critical to the credibility of a new e-journal that they initially state there intention and method to archive their journal in a manner which the community will believe and accept. The important issue of the future accessibility and readability of this archived information is a matter that will need to be addressed (just as libraries are now looking into how to preserve current print materials and convert print materials into digital form), but as this is a universal issue for the electronic era, no suggestions will be given here as to how to undertake this task. It is a task for which the scholarly community has no need to take the lead, and for which it has no clout or muscle to have any possible solution it develops implemented in the larger, real (commercial) world.

There will still need to be some marketing and sales staff, along with advertising. This will especially true at the start, when it will be important to inform the community that there is a new form of publishing and a new way to obtain information. Even today scholarly authors market themselves and their work, not by just publishing, but by presenting their research results at meetings and corresponding and talking with their colleagues. Often in some areas of science authors now cultivate the media, and appear in the general press, on radio, and on TV. Most of the successful scientists have come out of their ivory towers and live more and more in the real world. This need to market and sell an electronic journal is costly, and will keep the cost of electronic publications higher than many might expect. One cost that can probably be substantially reduced is that of secretaries and related support staff who process large amounts of paperwork. (With manuscripts being created, manipulated, transferred, and delivered by all electronic means, the typical mail room activities and costs can be very greatly reduced.) The current typesetting costs can probably be reduced by some amount by initially having the copy editors do the SGML coding. In the long run the authors will need to prepare their manuscripts in SGML. It would be expected that automatic SGML software will be written and incorporated into the popular word processors. Even today, the modern state-of-the-art word processors produce HTML code as one of the stanard features of the software.

The systems needed to search the online journal of the 21st century do not yet, for the most part, exist. Virtually all current efforts underway and operational involve (full) text searching of electronic editions of print journals. Libraries, such as OCLC, are concerned mainly with provide easy, less expensive, and convenient access to electronic editions of print journals. While this is certainly important and needed, and will make access to the current scholarly literature easier and more wide-spread, it does not address the future. The future will be multi-media - grahics, amination, sound, color, multi-dimenional information, and so on. The future will require much more than text searching. One organization, the Stanford University High-Wire Press (6), is moving in the direction of the future by providing both a service to professional societies for providing electronic versions of their jorunals as well as developing new all electronic scholarly publication products.

While there are few working examples of all electronic journals, those that have been started appear to working the way as outlined above. The Internet Journal of Chemistry (2), an independent journal is costing about $40,000 - $50,000 per year to produce and the Spinger-Verlag journal, The Chemical Educator (7) is costing "under $100,000 per year" to produce (8). Both these figures are well below what King and Tenopir proposed (1) and are reasonable amounts of money to enable many organizations to experiment with developing new all electronic journals. One organizations, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), is in the process of converting their paper based Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data (JPCRD)(9) into an all elctronic product. Details and discussion of the estimated cost of less than $150,000 to start up and under $100,000 per year to operate the journal has been presented elsewhere (10).


Staff of the 21st century journal

Editor (paid)

Editorial Board (still unpaid - or perhaps given a payment based on the success of the publication)

Manager - (replaces current production & copy supervisor in print system and is someone who understands the new technology)

handles correspondence with authors
follows up on reviewers
oversees copy editors

Archivist - someone to handle the long term database management of the journal

Copy Editors - perform editorial and needed HTML/SGML coding

Webmaster - responsible for computer systems

obtains/writes all needed software for system

Accountant - handles user accounts/passwords and billing

Oversees payroll of staff and editor/editorial board


Advertising person - publicizes and sells journal

What this structure provides is a very slim staff, virtually all of which is outsourced, since outsourcing makes technical and financial sense for this endeavor. With salaries a major cost of print publishers, this electronic journal staff should provide for additional reduced costs, over and above the removal of high (and growing) printing and postage costs.

This presentation has tried to show that the technology of the internet and the lack of willingness on the part of the current publishers of scholarly journals to change their ways and processes of doing business has set the stage for this disruptive technology (11) to changes the names and faces of the players in the field within a decade. It will be interesting to see how this all works out in 10 years.


(1) By real change I mean a truly electronic publication, not an electronic edition of a printed, page oriented, manuscript.
For example see Donald W. King and Carol Tenopir Economic Cost Models of Scientific Scholarly Journals", Proceedings of ICSU Press Workshop on Economics, real costs and benefits of electronic publishing in science - a technical study.( The cost models developed in this presentation assume the same 16th century publishing practices will be used in the 21st century. It is not likely that any publisher who follows and uses the resources specified this paper will be in business for very long into the next century.

(2) For example: (a) The Internet Journal of Chemistry (, (b) MIT Press electronic journals

(3) "Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers", Williams & Norgate, London (1950), pages 33-34.

(4) The home page for The Internet Engineering Task Force is

(5) (a)CyberCash


(6) High Wire Press, Stanford University (

(7) The Chemcial Educator is published by Springer-Verlag.

(8) Robert Badger, Springer-Verlag, March 1999, private communication.

(9) The Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data is currently pubished for NIST by the ACS and AIP.

(10) S. R. Heller, Databases - The Journals of the 21st Century, Internet J. Chem., 1, #32 (1998).

(11) C.. M. Christensen, "The Innovators Dilemma - When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail", Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1997.