The printing press was one of the major inventions that took humankind out of the darkness of the Middle Ages and into a more egalitarian, learned modern era. Many people think that the Internet is but leading to a comparable or even greater revolution (e.g. Bawden & Robinson 2000, Dewar 2010). And so it seems, by the looks of the sweeping democratic revolutions taking place in many countries, which might well be heralding the beginning of deep changes at home too.
Many colleagues are at odds. Some think that the new scholarship 2.0 is just a fad (Wheeler 2008), while others think new media can and must change universities in the 21st century (Thompson 2009). What is sure is that, just as the printing press enlarged the number of readers and shrank physical and
cultural distances, the Internet is widening and strengthening the ties amongst distant members of scientific communities in ways that were just unthinkable back in 1989, when I sent my first e-mail to a friend sitting in front of another computer across the hall. Let us start with scholarly e-journals.
Scholarly e-journals seem to be the digital counterparts of their print forebears: their focus on research, their author style guides, their double blind peer reviews—uh, yes, and their ISSNs—make us feel that they are pretty much the same. Not quite, though, you may object, for we need to read in front of a screen. Also, electronic sources are not easy to cite, and Internet addresses are often bulky and always ugly. And then we also get this gut feeling of the ephemeral: Sic transit gloria mundi.
On the other hand, they have some important pros. Remember the mixed feelings of finally seeing your article published when you already knew better or thought differently? Well, e-journals are much faster at delivering content. This is so because, in contrast to using snail-mail, turning in a paper to an e-journal is often just a breeze (e.g. IEEE). That is especially important for reviews, which are often published in print when most addressees have already made up their minds about the reviewed text. The peer review system has also become automated (e.g. Mutatis Mutandis) and there are plenty of tools for typesetting and online publishing in general.
Another reason for this faster pace is that e-journals do not need to fit content into a fixed number of pages every x months. For instance, the forum on shared ground, which spanned from Target 12:1 (2000) to Target 14:1 (2002), would probably have taken just an (evolving) issue in an online format. In fact, many e-journals have ceased to impose (strict) limits on the length of the articles. More importantly, scholarly contributions are not constrained to words or still images any longer, and they may include video (e.g. JOVE) and other materials, such as audio or eye tracking files (e.g. JETVCE)
Some e-journals offer new interactive possibilities, such as appending public comments to articles, (e.g. PloS ONE), or entering such comments in a discussion list. E-publishing can in fact be too fast. Thus, interaction may also take place before submitting manuscripts for publication. There are many repositories for preprints or working papers, such as arXiv and PhilSci-Archive, which authors use to gather feedback from their peers before they submit their (improved) work somewhere else. Some e-journals even have this interaction built in their peer review system (e.g. JIME, Ocean Science, Economics; see Nwagwu 2006).
Last, but not least, e-journals offer many advantages at handling copy. Searching through the issues, copying quotes, compiling bibliographies, sorting and storing articles is simply much easier. C’mon, you even have customizable publisher alerts! (search through your library). In brief, e-journals are now a must (Williams, Nicholas & Rowlands 2010). That is why print journals, such as Meta and Translation & Interpreting Studies, are offering now online tables of contents and abstracts of all issues. Often, new print journals, such as Translation Spaces, are hybrids supported by their own websites and blogs. More on this topic here.
Translation Studies already has quite a list of peer-reviewed e-journals, but only a couple of them have reached stardom. The cause does not seem to be their e-format, nor an alleged crisis in the peer review system (Ware 2011). It is not because of the tension between open access and toll access either. The reasons might rather be related to the scarce specialization of the journals (but see, e.g. IJIE, Tradumàtica). That is, exactly the same problem of their print neighbors and predecessors, a problem that electronic formats may easily solve because distance between like-minded peers and publishing costs are not an issue any longer, 'cause the times, they are a-changin'.
- Bawden, David & Lyn Robinson. 2000. A distant mirror? the Internet and the printing press. @ Aslib Proceedings 52/2: 51–57.
- Dewar, James A. 1998. The Information Age and the printing press. Looking backward to see ahead. RAND corporation Report # P-8014. @ http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/P8014.html
- Nwagwu, Williams. 2006. Peer-review and the electronic journal: Opportunities for the participation of developing countries’ scientists in mainstream science. @ Africa Media Review 14/1&2: 73–93.
- Thompson, Gary. 2009. How the Internet (our 21st century printing press) can and must transform universities. @ http://cloudinc.org/ecosystems/article/how-the-internet-our-21st-century-printing-press-can-and-must-transform-universities
- Wheeler, Brad. 2008. E-Research Is a Fad: Scholarship 2.0, Cyberinfrastructure, and IT Governance. @ R N Katz, ed. The tower and the cloud: Higher education in the age of Cloud Computing. Boulder (CO): EDUCAUSE, pp 108–117.
- Williams, Peter; David Nicholas & Ian Rowlands. 2010. E-Journal usage and impact in scholarly research: A review of the Literature . @ New Review of Academic Librarianship 16/2: 192–207.