Thinking about magazines and journals

Years ago, writing one of my “OA independent” articles on Library Access to Scholarship in Cites & Insights, I commented that it was highly unlikely we’d ever get to 100% e-publishing for STM articles. Specifically, I said it was unlikely that Nature or Science would go away, since both have substantial non-library subscription bases.

I hadn’t actually read an issue of either one, at least not for decades…

As I noted (probably just on FF), a few weeks ago I received an invitation to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science for $99/year (a first-year discount from the usual $149/year), which includes 51 issues of Science. The invitation included a copy of the February 18, 2011 Science.

The last thing I need at this point is more magazines, particularly given my idiot tendency to actually read everything I subscribe to from cover to cover, or at least start each article. I discarded the invitation…but kept the issue.

And read it. Not the whole thing, to be sure, but nearly all of what I’d call the “magazine portion”–in this case, pages 811-875, as opposed to pages 876-931, the “journal portion” (followed by ads and advertorials).

My initial conclusion: If AAAS was really committed to the advancement of science, they would and could go to gold OA, turning the print version of Science into a weekly or fortnightly magazine (about half as thick as it currently is) and publishing all the full peer-reviewed research articles and reports online with full and immediate access. Oh, and charging a much more reasonable fee for an institutional subscription to the magazine than the current $990–like, say, $149, or perhaps twice that including immediate online access to all the features that make up the magazine portion and the ScienceNow daily news, ScienceInsider, and so on…

Why? Well, it’s a really good science magazine. It has lots of ads. It includes lots of well-edited, well-written material. I suspect it would continue to thrive as a magazine. As a journal, however, it makes more sense online, both because it covers too much territory to make sense as a browsing resource for any given scientist and because much of it’s online-only anyway.

Maybe it would need article processing fees, although it’s hard to believe they’d need to be four-digit fees. In any case, going full gold OA for the peer-reviewed material would certainly be a huge step forward in the advancement of science. And it’s always been part of the serious OA advocates (e.g., Peter Suber) that it’s legitimate to charge for added value, such as popularized versions, discussions, news, etc.–all the stuff that makes up Science‘s magazine section.

This has probably all been said before, but I really was struck by how much the issue came off as a very good science magazine with a bunch of very specialized peer-reviewed items in back of the magazine. And how likely it is that the magazine would survive and probably prosper without charging high fees (or any fees) for online access to the peer-reviewed items.

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