Here’s another response to Joe Harris’s blog. To this post. I have no opposition to Harris’s position. Instead, I offer another way of considering the origins of the extraordinarily long delays in the scholarly publications process, as well as pointing to a possible avenue of addressing them.
I’m curious about your associating publication lag time with paper-publishing. I agree that the physicality of printing certainly contributes to the delays about which you’re writing. But I’m not sure that going digital in lieu of paper would reduce the lag time. Having worked on several born-digital publications, both as author and editor, it’s been my impression that the “sending to the printer” component of the process usually comes at the end and involves a few extra weeks (or a few months, at most). Given the timelines you work out here, that doesn’t seem to be the primary cause of the delays, right?
Do you think that these delays might be due more to the nature of the scholarly model of publication? Multiple peer-reviews, multiple revisions, and highly complex and variable labor models? I’m thinking graduate student and faculty who are often paid only in “experience” or “vitae capital.” And because of this sort of compensation, the turnover is high with a constant atmosphere of on-the-job learning. So much variation and turnover result in unpredictability and inefficiency. And the only way the academic publishing model has seemed to respond is to work with relatively long deadlines for different parts of the publication process in order to accommodate all of this unpredictability.
These are the factors that I’ve always understood to be the driving force behind the extended deadlines for scholarly publication. And that’s why I’m not sure it’s a realistic expectation for digital publication to address this significant problem.
One possible way to address this problem is through better systems of coordinating this complex system of labor and textual distribution. For instance, Kairos was just awarded a grant toward implementing an Open Journal System which has been developed to address these very problems. Instead of an editor serving as a clearinghouse for work associated with a publication where he/she receives work, processes it, and sends it back out to the appropriate people or entities, OJS works to automate those relationships in a way that allows editorial collaborators and co-workers to communicate and work together more directly. Not only does it speed up the process, but it reduces certain types of mundane tasks traditionally relegated editors-as-editorial-hubs.
In this way, I could see digital publication models as a potentially effective response to the lag time associated with more traditional editorial models.
(and it might even be a way of increasing the pace of print publication, too!)