I'm wondering whether *de facto*, or even actively promoted, contractions of the journal markets can provide a rich data set to assess whether users really need so many journals, or at least so many articles.
I have in mind carefully selected and limited areas of physics journal publishing, for the reason suggesed below.
The goal would be twofold: to assess reader perceptions of the contraction's impact, as well as potential impact on tenure and promotion assessments. Two questions here. Do readers think they need so many peer reviewed articles? How integral are peer-reviewed articles to the t and p process?
Survey data or anthropological type studies would be the best means of assessing these impacts because, after all, it is really a matter of getting a sense of *perceptions* of the impact, in turn to assess whether at least some faculty, especially those with a lot of influence in their disciplines, would be willing agents to promote contraction. (That seems idealistic, of course, but on the other hand do not underestimate the level of faculty and graduate student interest in scholarly publishing, if anecdotal evidence suggests anything.)
Wholly aside from actively contracting the markets, there are "natural experiments" already unfolding that should be exploited for survey research, notably cases in which consortia have declined to resubscribe large packages of journals, or lapse periods in which negotiations for resubscription were dragging on for a long time.
In my opinion, efforts to contract the journal space (with something like Bradford's law as providing one more rationale) may prove more promising than other approaches to reforming scholarly publishing. First, it addresses the problem of *glut* in peer reviewed journal publishing, which burdens researchers with expectations to be peer reviewers and also makes it extremely difficult for young scientists to navigate the literature. The amount of stuff now being published is downright ridiculous. Second, it addresses the demand side with respect to pricing: lower demand, lower pricing. Third, it seems marginally more promising than all the focus on public funding of APCs, which arguably replicates the price dynamics of toll access publishing.
The foremost question (from my perspective) is to test whether preprints and other forms of OA publication now serve to some extent as substitutes for peer-reviewed journals. An economist would say, "economic substitutes". Apparently they already do so for physics. Or much better yet: *could* even more serve as substitutes, after the preprint space (or say OA conference proceedings) is enhanced and developed further.
The approach above is the proper domain of big consortia. They might argue that it is not their task to reform publishing, as this tampers with the scholarly ecosystem of their user populations. I don't find that argument convincing, given the immense efforts of library consortia (and the entire library profession) to impress on faculty the value of open access publishing. I'm not saying that the latter is "tampering" with the "proper" domain of faculty, just that there should be consistency in the self-understanding consortia have about their acceptable or appropriate aims. It is important to remember that scholarly reform is not limited to open access efforts; the whole system is far more complicated than that.
Again, the subject domains for this type of study, which would require a huge amount of work to get right (probably good to get econometricians involved), should be narrowly focused on subject domains in which preprints etc. already have a very robust foothold.
In sum, one gets the sense that there is, already, a large amount of survey data that could be collected in the current environment, survey data that can be used to drive efforts to contract peer reviewed journal published in limited*domains.The current focus on APCs encounters so many challenges that, minimally, other approaches should be tried.
Side note: obviously, the question arises whether huge growth in the preprint space won't make it difficult to navigate the literature? I'm not convinced of this, provided that a larger proportion of the physics (say) literature is devoted to review articles that synthesize the psreprint literature.
I may take up more discussion of the issue of the *mechanism* for contraction the next iteration of my preprint about physics preprints; will see if time permits. And of course, it is entirely unknown whether preprints will have the sway in other fields that the already do in physics, a la arXiv.
Finally, one can't harbor any illusions that reform of scholarly publishing is not a decades long project.
[above does not represent views of my employer]
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