AAS journals going electronic-only

The American Astronomical Society just announced that they’ll stop producing paper copies of their journals. The Society publishes some of the leading journals in astronomy and astrophysics —  the several different flavors of Astrophysical  Journal (main journal, letters, supplement series) and the Astronomical Journal — so they’re not exactly a bit player.

The days when people actually looked things up in paper copies of journals are long gone, so this change makes a lot of sense to me. One good consequence: if there’s still a stigma associated with online-only journals (i.e., the notion that something online-only can’t be a “real” journal), the conversion of high-profile journals to online-only has to help combat it.

I’ve heard people say that paper copies are the best way to create a permanent archive of the scholarly record — maybe in 100 years, nobody will be able to read all the electronic copies that are out there. Maybe that’s right, but I doubt it. It’s true that old digital information eventually becomes practically unreadable — I threw out a bunch of floppy disks not too long ago, for instance — but the reason I lost that information is  because it’s material that I never tried to preserve in a useful form. Whatever future changes in data storage technology come along, I bet that we can update our electronic scholarly journals accordingly.

The AAS has offered electronic-only subscriptions for a while now, at about 60% the cost of a full (paper+electronic) subscription. The price is not bad compared to other journals, and the profits go to benefit the Society, which I think is a good thing to do. Still, it’s hard for me to see what value the journal is supplying that justifies the costs. The most important thing a journal does is provide peer review, but the actual peer reviewers do it for free.

2 Responses to “AAS journals going electronic-only”

  1. “Electronic-only publication will allow for further development of them outside of the constraints of print.”

    This is the only real fear I have. People underestimate the effects that the costs of paper production have, even if they read only the electronic version. One thing I expect from the production of a journal or magazine is that it has been sensibly edited. The most valuable thing we have is our time, and I am happy to pay someone to make sure that articles are as long as they should be, but not longer. No, we shouldn’t need to cut out a few sentences if the paper runs to a bit more than a whole number of pages, but on the other hand the lack of paper shouldn’t mean that waffling on and on is now OK.

  2. Ted Bunn says:

    I agree that editing for brevity and, more importantly, for clarity is in principle a valuable service that journals could provide, and some perhaps even do so. I’m not sure how great a job most astrophysics journals do with that at the moment, unfortunately, but you’re definitely right that an ideal system for dissemination of scientific findings would include that.

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