The Journal – One Year Later, and the Changing Culture of Academic Publishing

How time flies!  Just 12 months ago, the first issue of The Journal of Informed Pharmacotherapy (or the “JIP) was launched.  Our vision of a peer-reviewed online journal devoted to the practice of rational pharmacotherapy through the use of evidence-based principles came to fruition on April 1, 2000 and since then, the journal has grown beyond our expectations and continues to expand in both our readership and contributors.  Today the JIP has over 12,000 visits to the website each month and this number continues to grow.  The JIP fosters the rapid widespread dissemination of original research findings, as well as information intended to help pharmacotherapy practitioners provide better care for their patients. One year later, the JIP continues to be the only peer-reviewed online journal devoted to pharmacotherapy which does not require a paid subscription to access.

The Journal maintains five major sections which include Original Research, Issues in Pharmacotherapy Practice, Evidence-Based Pharmacotherapy Reviews, Research Abstracts and Pharmacotherapy on the Web. The JIP has now published 5 issues containing 2 Original Research articles, 10 Issues in Pharmacotherapy Practice papers, 26 Evidence-Based Pharmacotherapy Reviews, 23 Research Abstracts and 29 Pharmacotherapy on the Web reviews and our acceptance rate for peer-reviewed manuscripts is 75%.  Over the past year, we’ve been able to expand our services by making the Mobile Edition of the JIP available to handheld computer users via AvantGo.

On a larger scale, changes in the field of academic publishing have continued to accelerate over the past 12 months.  Since we launched the JIP, numerous electronic journals in other medical specialties have arisen and continue to shape the landscape of alternative academic publishing.  One index of online journals, FreeMedicalJournals.com currently lists more than 600 journals which are available “free online”.  Although this site did not provide statistics concerning the growth in the number of journals it lists, the number of people accessing the site as a portal to online journals grew from 57,000 in July 2000 to 221,000 per month in March 2001, signaling the continued rapid rise in use of the internet as a source for research findings.

Although the number of journals which are “online” continues to grow rapidly, a quick review of the most popular medical journals reveals that the transition to making their full content available to all users for free is far from complete, and possibly even in reverse. The typical strategy among publishers is to entice readers with a period of free full-text online, then to limit access to paying customers after a few months.  Annals of Internal Medicine closed free access to its journal last week. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has recently done the same, and the Annals of Pharmacotherapy is soon to follow.  Moving to the web is a necessary step for these journals, but limiting access to their full content does little to address the needs of clinicians and researchers who require the information, and does nothing to assist librarians who are faced with double-digit journal cost increases despite general inflation rates of around 3%.  These cost increases are even more disturbing when one considers the significant cost savings associated with online (vs. print-based) publication and distribution.

It is difficult to imagine how this strategy is sustainable given the vociferous demands from researchers, clinicians, and information managers (e.g. librarians) for faster access to information at lower costs.  The Association of Research Libraries reports that North American libraries spend 170% more on subscription costs than they did 15 years ago, yet buy 6% fewer titles than they did then despite an explosion in the number of journals available. Monopolization of the scientific publishing outlets through mergers of mega-publishers are likely to continue to erode the ability of libraries to provide access to information.  For example, Reed-Elsevier recently acquired 70 smaller journals in an 18-month period and the top two scientific/technical publishing houses (Reed-Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer) owned 2,300 journals in 1999.

Our academic culture creates incentives for publishing in prestigious journals without regard to the cost to the research community of doing so.  Much has been written elsewhere about where this mindset may lead us.

The debate over academic publishing has not subsided in the past year, but has certainly become more enlightened now that courageous people have launched innovative and vibrant alternatives to for-profit and limited-access online journals.  The Editors of the JIP applaud the efforts of such groups as BiomedCentral, The Lancet’s Electronic Research Archive and PubMedCentral (formerly eBiomed) who seek to revolutionize the publication and distribution process by testing alternative methods of peer review and information delivery to researchers and clinicians.  This is a process which invites the participation of all clinicians and researchers, not just the privileged few on the editorial boards of specific journals.  We also congratulate journals such as The Lancet (owned by Reed-Elsevier), the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and others who, despite being part of the traditional print media world, continue to offer free full-text access to their journals online.  Finally, the rise of small independent online-only journals (e.g. Online Journal of Cardiology, Internet Journal of Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine, and others) is heartening and we believe that the efforts of these journals will help to shape the future of how we access and use medical information.

In time, the best strategies for compilation and delivery of online clinical data will emerge and flourish. In the meantime, all the avenues currently being explored, including the approach taken by the JIP, will teach us the right and wrong ways to proceed.

The contention among traditionalists that the quality of information will suffer as a result of alternative methods of peer-review and earlier access to research findings will be judged by its consumers… consumers who are unlikely to accept a return to more limited access and higher acquisition costs regardless of the outcome.

How for-profit and society-supported journals design their revenue models is up to them.  As for the JIP, we will continue, along with many other publishers, to provide a no-cost wide access alternative to the for-profit limited access means of sharing information others in the pharmacotherapy field have chosen.

As our first editorial one year ago stated, ultimately the value of the JIP will be determined by its authors and its readers. To the authors and Editorial Board members who have contributed to the JIP, we thank you.  To our readers, we continue to appreciate your positive and negative feedback.

Peter S. Loewen, B.Sc.(Pharm), Pharm.D.
Peter J. Zed, B.Sc.(Pharm), Pharm.D.

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