How medical journals are using the web

Peter Suber wrote:

David L. Schriger, Sripha Ouk, and Douglas G. Altman, The Use of the World Wide Web by Medical Journals in 2003 and 2005: An Observational Study, Pediatrics, January 2007.  (Thanks to ResourceShelf.)  Abstract:

Objectives. The 2- to 6-page print journal article has been the standard for 200 years, yet this format severely limits the amount of detailed information that can be conveyed. The World Wide Web provides a low-cost option for posting extended text and supplementary information. It also can enhance the experience of journal editors, reviewers, readers, and authors through added functionality (eg, online submission and peer review, postpublication critique, and e-mail notification of table of contents.) Our aim was to characterize ways that journals were using the World Wide Web in 2005 and note changes since 2003.

Methods. We analyzed the Web sites of 138 high-impact print journals in 3 ways. First, we compared the print and Web versions of March 2003 and 2005 issues of 28 journals (20 of which were randomly selected from the 138) to determine how often articles were published Web only and how often print articles were augmented by Web-only supplements. Second, we examined what functions were offered by each journal Web site. Third, for journals that offered Web pages for reader commentary about each article, we analyzed the number of comments and characterized these comments.

Results. Fifty-six articles (7%) in 5 journals were Web only. Thirteen of the 28 journals had no supplementary online content. By 2005, several journals were including Web-only supplements in >20% of their papers. Supplementary methods, tables, and figures predominated. The use of supplementary material increased by 5% from 2% to 7% in the 20-journal random sample from 2003 to 2005. Web sites had similar functionality with an emphasis on linking each article to related material and e-mailing readers about activity related to each article. There was little evidence of journals using the Web to provide readers an interactive experience with the data or with each other. Seventeen of the 138 journals offered rapid-response pages. Only 18% of eligible articles had any comments after 5 months.

Conclusions. Journal Web sites offer similar functionality. The use of online-only articles and online-only supplements is increasing.

From the body of the paper:

The Web-only model of journal publication eliminates printing costs, and this savings has made open access journals (the authors pay for the peer review services, and the article is available free to all with Web access) financially possible.  The growth of Web-only journals from Biomed Central (now >140 journals) and Public Library of Science (6 journals) is clear evidence that the WWW is changing scientific publication….

It could be argued that the only thing keeping print versions of full-length articles extant is the pharmaceutical industry’s willingness to purchase print advertisements and the journals‘ need to put something between these ads….

In 2005, 57% of journals posted articles to their Web site before their appearance in print, and 12% of journals offered readers a forum for responding to each article. We were surprised that more readers did not take advantage of the postpublication review feature; 82% of such pages had no entries. Is this because readers do not read the articles, do not have anything to say, or are not interested in participating in such a forum? In the face of such low participation rates, how do we explain that the British Medical Journal averaged 6 postings per article on the 80% of articles that had postings? Perhaps it is because all of the British Medical Journal content was free to all at the time of this study or that the British Medical Journal has had a stronger Web presence for a longer period of time than many other journals and has cultivated a group of users who are comfortable using the WWW in this way….