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Academic Publishing: How It Works and Where You Fit

An introduction to the industry of academic publishing, how it came to be, and how it works now.

Academic Publishing Through History

Note: Text in orange highlight refers to the related image.


17th and 18th centuries: Establishmentthe front cover of an early issue of Le Journal des Scavans

  • First journal: Journal des Sçavans, France, January 5, 1665 (image source: Wikimedia; public domain)
    • Prototype for journals to come in 17th and 18th centuries (Regazzi, 2015, p. 24)
    • Journal des Savants: successor of Journal des Sçavans (1797-present)
  • Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge (1660)
    • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, March 6, 1665
    • Established priority and ownership of scientific discoveries and a way to archive them (Regazzi, 2015, p. 25)
    • Developed peer-review process
    • Now published as two journals: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (1886-present)

18th through early 20th centuries: Institutionalization

  • Growth of more specialized journals
    • Chemisches Journal für die Freunde der Naturlehre, Arzneygelahrtheit, Haushaltungskunst und Manufacturen, 1778-1781, chemistry (German but published in Latin (Regazzi, 2015, pp. 26-27)), followed by many moreKoenig's 1814 steam-powered printing press (Wikimedia)
  • Better printing methods (image: Koenig's 1814 steam-powered printing press. Source: Wikimedia; public domain)
  • Abstracts and author/subject indexing for better classification
  • University presses are established; start publishing more than scholarly societies
    • Johns Hopkins University, 1878
      • American Journal of Mathematics, 1878
    • University of Chicago, 1891
    • University of California, 1893
    • Columbia University, 1893
  • Research takes time, publishing happens eventually

World War II and Postwar: Commercialization

  • Growth of scholarly publishing and funding
    • Scholarly societies can’t keep up
  • WWII and postwar: Great increase in government-funded research in US and UK
    • National Science Foundation founded in 1950 = academic research boomcover of Cell: a plain gray box with Cell in semi-transparent black lettering along the top left
  • Academic journals: primary means of publishing scholarly communication
    • Business partnerships between scholarly and university presses and commercial publishers
      • Butterworth’s + Springer = Pergamon Press (now owned by Elsevier)
        • New discipline? New journal!
        • 1959: 40 journals; 1965: 150 (Buranyi, 2017)
    • Business boomed in the 1960s and 1970s, journal prices rose, university libraries foot the bill
  • Tracking impact, bibliometrics

Late 20th through early 21st centuries: Digitization

  • 1970s: Electronic publishing and archiving
    • First electronic journal published 1979 (one-time experiment)
  • 1990s: Electronic peer-reviewed academic journals founded in universities
  • Captive audience, flatlining budgets, “Big Deals” (prepackaged sets of journals that supposedly saved the libraries money in subscription fees)
  • Orange open access open-lock iconOpen Access: “permanent, free online access to the full text of all refereed research journal articles” (quoted in Regazzi, 2015, p. 31; lock icon: public domain)
    • 1999: Open Archives Initiative develops interoperability standards
    • 2001: First e-print archive
    • 2001: Budapest Open Access Initiati
    • 2003: Berlin Declaration on Open Access
    • 2008: National Institutes of Health Public Access Mandate
    • 2013: Office of Science and Technology Memo: "Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research"
    • 2022: Office of Science and Technology Memo "Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research"