Digital Publication Won’t Necessarily Improve Scholarly Timeliness, Unless…

image: "Stopped Watch" by practicalowl via Flickr, see license info belowHere’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!)

image: “Stopped Watch” by practicalowl via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

This article has 1 Comment

  1. lol, I would not say that using OJS will speed anything up. It will reduce the mundanity of editorial tasks, but copy- and design-editing will still be copy- and design-editing, and will be based on human labor.

    I haven’t read Joe’s post, but one of the things that often gets overlooked in discussions of digital publishing vs. print publishing is that if digital publishing retains print-model standards (which make digital publishing acceptable in the eyes of tenure committees), then lag times will ALWAYS exist in some fashion. Like you said, part of that lag time is human labor, but the part that often gets overlooked is that many online journals publish via volumes/issues that are timed to come out at a certain time of year. (This is one of the hallmarks that the CELJ noted in their Best Practices document that can make an e-venue seem “reliable”.)

    Although there’s ways around this, decreasing lag time between completion of the copy-editing process and publishing date does away with time-expected appearances of scholarship, making it *seem* less organized. It’s an issue that I’ve thought a lot about with all this discussion about the different forms that digital scholarship might could take, but in the end, having a Kairos webtext published whenever, instead of in an expected grouping twice a year, would require a whole different set of labor practices that, as a volunteer and independent journal, we are not capable of taking on right now.

    two random cents,
    c

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