Being a graduate student means that I am very much interested in the future of the profession. And being part of this blog and its podcast makes me aware, to some degree, of the impending and inevitable digitization of the profession. Recent online discussions have included the policy of embargoing the immediate and unrestricted digitization dissertations. But, in addition to changes regarding the university press monograph, there is an equally radical change to come for academic journals.
Like monographs, academic journals are hardly moneymaking ventures. The most prestigious journal in our field, The William and Mary Quarterly, has a paid circulation of 3,236. Yet, the cost of producing an academic journal can easily run into the hundreds of thousands. Ad revenue, if the number of ads in recent issues of the WMQ are anything to go by, seems to fluctuate. Even then, the majority of ads are from university presses, including a regular ad for the field’s other main journal, the Journal of the Early Republic. Nevertheless, subscription revenues tend to account for more than eighty percent of a journal’s total income. Revenues appear to be going down while the cost of production is rising and access through online repositories increases in relation to print access. The subscription costs are also increasing, particularly institutional subscriptions.
All of these pressures, as well as the broader trajectory of digitalization, mean that the university presses and historical societies and associations that publish academic journals will inevitably be forced to make decisions that have a significant impact on the way in which the profession is conducted. In some ways, this is a similar situation to that of the university press publishers and monographs, in that it still leaves to publishers important decisions with professional structural ramifications rather than to academic historians themselves. There is understandable unease amongst many academic historians over this prospect.
So what might the future of academic journals look like? In ten years’ time? In twenty? It’s not as if there a plethora of possibilities. I suspect that if you asked any historian that question, almost every answer would be a variation “all-digital.” In the next decade or two, it seems likely that more and more journals will move to solely digital platforms, abandoning the costliness of print editions. Of course, there are many costs that would not be obviated by such a move, particularly content creation costs (often around 50% of a journal’s costs).
Some possibilities include dropping print and publishing solely through an online repository like JSTOR or ProjectMUSE. With “institutional print & online subscriptions” accounting for a large majority of subscription revenues, this move seems possible, though it is unlikely to happen before the costs of maintaining a print edition become greater than the revenue drawn from print subscriptions. Another possibility is, of course, moving to some form of Open Access (OA) model. But with funding sources decreasing, particularly at publicly attached presses, OA does not seem feasible without substantial lowering of content creation costs.
Along with other reconsiderations of many aspects of content creation, the process of peer review has come under scrutiny. There does not appear to be a viable alternative to the current peer review process, but some have called for changes, including editorial control of the process. Some of the more radical suggestions have included a form of “open review.” One could imagine articles being published on a dedicated journal website in which the readers themselves provide peer review via blog-form comments.
In Europe, especially in STEM fields, an author-funded model has been put into practice. Authors fund the costs of their articles being published by a journal. To many in humanities fields, this can seem a bit distasteful, much like academic views of vanity presses. One could possibly think of it as a form of academic crowd-sourcing but this idea seems unlikely to take any kind of hold in the humanities in the United States.
Both academic publishing and the academic history profession are undergoing significant structural changes. Indeed, change is the only certainty regarding the future of academic journals. Where do the readers of The Junto see academic journals going in the next ten years? Is open access inevitable? Do you still subscribe to print editions of academic journals? If so, why? Would you be satisfied if journals were only available in online repositories? What do you think of an “open review” model?
 Mary Waltham, “The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations,” report (2009), 18.
 Ibid., 23.
 David J. Solomon and Bo-Christer Björk, “Publication Fees in Open Access Publishing: Sources of Funding and Factors Influencing Choice of Journal,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63, no. 1 (2012): 98.