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Roger Clarke's 'Innovation and eJournals'

and the Future of Journals in the Digital Era

Invited Presentation as part of the Workshop on 'Research, Access and Innovation: Workshopping the Future of Scholarly Communication and Publishing', at the Open Access and Research Conference (OAR 2008), QUT, Brisbane, 26 September 2008

Version of 21 September 2008

Roger Clarke **

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It comprises an Abstract, plus brief comments to the slide-set at


'Learned' or refereed journals are the primary venue for the publication of formal communications in most of the instrumentalist disciplines and research domains.

A brief overview of innovation in the instrumentalist disciplines and professions is provided, including the role of learned journals in it.

The digital era has had many impacts on the activities of article creation, dissemination and use, and the revolution is only part-way through.  The availability of the Internet as a distribution mechanism has brought about significant changes in the economics of journal publishing. The dimensions of those changes are examined within the context provided by models of the roles of journals in the mid-to-late twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries. The cost-profiles of alternative journal-publication models are considered, and tensions between for-profit and open-access publishing identified.


1. Innovation

[slide 2] Innovation is a process that follows invention, and involves the application of the new idea, usually some degree of articulation of it, and adoption.

[slides 3-4] Innovation depends on knowledge of two distinct kinds: 'codified knowledge' (of which journal articles is one form among many), and 'tacit knowledge'. [I much prefer to avoid the term, 'codified knowledge' and substitute 'structured information', because it is only appropriate to use the term 'knowledge' in the context of a human mind. But I'm told I need to reflect common usage]

[slide 5] Innovative organisations depend on a range of information flows. Individuals with appropriate 'tacit knowledge' draw on their observation of artefacts and their behaviour, plus pre-existing codified knowledge, to generate new codified knowledge about existing and potential new artefacts, which gives rise to new artefacts and to codified knowledge about their use.

[slide 6] Codified knowledge includes specifications and standards, but also journal articles. Some journal articles are theoretical, some describe prototype artefacts, some explain the outcomes of experimentation with protoypes, and some analyse empirical data arising from the use of new artefacts.

[slide 7] The remainder of this presentation focusses on journals, considering initially the roles that they have played, and then the changes wrought by the digital era. This leads into an examination of publishing costs, and new business models for journal publishing.

2. The Functions of Journals in the Mid-to-Late 20th Century

[slide 8] Journals serve a number of key functions, including QA, the dissemination of codified knowledge, the discovery of it, and the archival of it.

[slide 9] The function on which the greatest emphasis lies migrated between the 17th and 20th centuries, from publication, via discovery and archival. But these can now be satisified in a number of ways. The primary emphasis since late in the 20th century has been on quality assurance and accreditation.

[slide 10] A process view of the workings of journals during the period roughly 1950-95 shows the QA and Accreditation function as being almost entirely within the scholarly community, the Publication function increasingly external to it, and the Discovery and Archival functions performed for the most part in the institutions that host scholars.

3. Journals in the Early 21st Century

[slide 11] The digital era from c. 1995 gave rise to many changes in the nature of the article. Working Papers became PrePrints and became more readily available. Articles were revised more frequently, intensively and longer, were stored in more places, and were discovered through a wider range of channels. Supporting data has become increasingly accessible, and gradually some interactivity is emerging. Currently, changes are in train in relation to the processes of PrePrint review, and perhaps of article submission.

[slide 12] There has been some adaptation in the processes whereby journals go about their work. Their structure is changing, as the notions of 'Issue as periodic lightly-bound print-run', 'Volume as heavily-bound collection of Issues', and fixed-pagination become unnecessary and inconvenient. Papers can be numbered consecutively, and released as soon as approved. With the maturation of repositories, de-construction of the journal becomes attractive. The virtual journal comprises an index-page, hotlinks to repositories, and (desirably) signed certificates issued to authors for affixing to accredited articles.

[slide 13] A process view shows changes from the earlier diagram, in that Working Papers have been re-named PrePrints and now lie in repositories, which may also publish PostPrints; the university library is less repository and more a portal whereby desired items can be discovered and accessed; and control over journals is drifting back inside the scholarly community.

4. Journal Publisher-Types and Their Cost Profiles

[slides 14-16] Journal publishers have varying characteristics. A simplified, but useful classification of journal publishers distinguishes unincorporated cooperatives, not-for-profit associations, and for-profit organisations (including both corporations and profit-oriented business units within not-for-profit associations).

[slides 17-18] An analysis was undertaken from a cost accountant's perspective, identifying categories of costs involved in journal publishing, and establishing how those costs were determined.

[slide 19] The primary factors that affect costs are the count of articles and their size and any special features, issue size and frequency, and 'competitive virility'.

[slide 20] The model was applied to a small set of journal publisher categories. The outcomes suggested that 'pure eJournals' are a great deal less expensive and simpler to operate, that not-for-profit publishers are a great deal less expensive than for-profits, and that not-for-profit pure eJournals can successfully run on the smell of an oil-rag.

[slides 21-22] The 'value-add' offered by for-profits does not accrue to the authors, and does not accrue to communities unless they own the publishing enterprise or are significant participants in the profits.

5. Digital Era Business Models

[slides 23-24] The high costs of commercial publishing and the super-profits they extract by exercising their monopoly power is not sustainable. New business models are superior from the perspectives of most (but of course not all) of the participants. By 'business model', I mean an answer to the question 'Who pays? For what? To whom? And why?'.

[slide 25] It's conventional in some markets to extract money directly from the users who benefit from the service; but a great deal of the revenue generated from journal publishing is from intermediaries such as libraries. In some case, content-providers pay (including not only 'vanity publishing', but also many government publications, and 'author-pays open access'). Particularly since DoubleClick, and even moreso since Google got Adwords to work, the particular form of sponsorship called paid advertising is a primary source of revenue from web-publishing. Finally, the various forms of cross-subsidy need to be appreciated for what they are: the essential way in which corporations use their current 'cash-cows' to develop their future 'cash-cows'.

[slide 26] Just as there is diversity in the sources of revenue, so is there a variety of things that people will pay for. Several in the list are potentially much more valuable than the raw content of the journal articles.

[slide 27] In order to extract revenue, any seller must understand what motivates the revenue-provider. Some reasons are negative. Others are positive; and many of those are readily applied to the journal publishing business. In short, there are ample ways in which journal publishers can construct their business models and acquire adequate revenue to cover their expenditure and provide a return to their investors. The currently massively profitable commercial publishers may well face the collapse of their super-profiteering during the coming years; but if they adapt, they will survive.

[slide 28] The dynamics are subject to a further major perturbation that has been occurring in parallel with the unfolding of the digital era, as universities have faced reduced government funding, have perforce adopted managerialist forms of governance and profit-orientation, and hence rationally favour competitive exploitation over collaboration. Increased tensions between universities and scholarly communities are inevitable.

6. Conclusions

[slide 29] Innovation is dependent on open access to codified knowledge, including that expressed in journal articles. It is also dependent on cost-barriers being no higher than they need to be, and hence on monopoly-enabled super-profits fading into history. It can be done. And it is in the process of happening. But of course there will be a transition period as those with most to lose savagely defend their privileges.


The following published articles contain substantial lists of references to other authors' work.

Clarke R. (2007a) 'Business Models to Support Content Commons' SCRIPT-ed Special Issue on 'Creating Commons' 4,1 (2007) 59-71, at, and at, and slide-set at

Clarke R. (2007b) 'The Cost-Profiles of Alternative Approaches to Journal-Publishing' First Monday 12, 12 (December 2007), at, PrePrint at, and slide-set at

Clarke R. & Kingsley D. (2008) 'e-Publishing's Impacts on Journals and Journal Articles' Journal of Internet Commerce 7,1 (March 2008) 120-151, PrePrint at

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., a Visiting Professor in the E-Commerce Programme at the University of Hong Kong, and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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