Electronic Publishing

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Published :

Chandrasekar Vijayakumar
Team Leader (E-Publishing)

Electronic Publishing—Some Important Know-How

The electronic publishing situation is changing so rapidly that it is virtually impossible to keep up. The Internet and the World Wide Web are growing by leaps and bounds. New tools are introduced every week. Java and other browser application packages are introduced with great fanfare. Microsoft and Netscape are vying for dominance of the network market by adding extensions to their browsers, extensions which appear to be designed to increase incompatibilities. Finally, new electronic journals are hitting the screens in ever increasing numbers. So what are serious users and producers of scholarly material to do? The components of the publishing process are:
• Author preparation: To create intellectual content
• Peer Review: To ensure scientific quality and appropriate scholarship
• Copy editing and typography: To ensure clarity and effectiveness of the presentation.
• Database preparation: To ensure access and interoperability; this is the core of the electronic system
• Production and Distribution: To make literature available
• Archiving: To ensure continuous availability and authenticity, and to maintain historical record
At the heart of the electronic journal is a well-constructed database of electronic manuscripts, richly tagged in such a form that various representations can be derived from the central database automatically. You can compare this with the paper journal, where the production run of printed copies forms the core of the journal. For reasons of access and archiving, printed copies are stored in libraries around the world. The electronic journal archival database, on the other hand, exists in lesser number of places, and is accessed over a network. Each manuscript must be well-defined, through tagging of the material, to render it possible to reproduce the article, complete with mathematics, graphics, type fonts, headings, etc. SGML is the standard for electronic manuscript tagging, which has been adopted in practice by the physical science community.

If, a decade from now, a new standard emerges, it will be possible to migrate from today's richly marked up SGML to the new standard automatically, without losing information or altering the article. Without the complete information as coded in the SGML, electronic articles would be doomed to an unacceptably short lifetime. Even with SGML tagging, long term archiving (to 100 years and beyond) will require concern and attention on the part of the archiving organization to ensure survival of electronic articles.

From the standpoint of a non-profit publisher whose role is to encourage and facilitate communication, the additional costs for an ongoing electronic publishing program are not enormous. The costs of the increased labor of adding appropriate hyperlink tags can be offset by the use of author-prepared electronic manuscripts. There is an additional cost of establishing a fund for maintenance of the electronic archives into the future.

It should be noted that the Astrophysical Journal is inherently complex and expensive to typeset. The potential savings by using author prepared manuscripts are much larger in this case than would be possible for simpler journals.

The major expenses we have encountered in bringing the electronic journal online were for the experimental development, the re-engineering of the production, and for distribution systems, so that they could take advantage of the electronic environment. Part of this work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, with the remaining development costs coming from the AAS and the University of Chicago Press.

For the first year, the costs for a combined electronic license and paper subscription appear to be about ten percent more than paper only. We expect some cost savings in future years as procedures improve and the percentage of electronically submitted manuscripts rises.

As outlined above, we believe that in the electronic era libraries and publishers will have to work more closely together. It is in everyone's interest to have an easily negotiated, standard site license which will provide unlimited use within an institutional Internet domain. Asking the library to administer individual passwords and access for many different publishers is unrealistic.

Our library customers have indicated a strong preference for predictable fees, not metered according to time, simultaneous use, or volume of traffic. This is the way we are charging for access in 1997. However, this may pose too much of a burden on the users with smaller usage. Only through experience, feedback, and attention to market forces, publishers will be able to develop an effective and equitable charging structure with unlimited access. For the individual user or reader who travels often, we will be offering password-protected electronic-only subscriptions, usable worldwide. An individually tailored alerting service will also be offered in the near future. We consider these charging schemes to be experimental, and will adjust them as we gain experience. We will also share our experience with the library and publishing communities.