Scholarly journals vs Scholarly Blogs.

First, a very brief history of scholarly publishing, starting in 1665[1] when scientific journals started to be published by learned societies. This model continued until the 1950s, when commercial publishers such as Pergamon Press started with their USP (unique selling point) of rapid time to publication of ~3 months,[2] compared to typical times for many learned society publishers of 2 years or longer. Fast forward another 50 years or so, and the commercial publishers were now dominating the scene, but the business model was still based on institutional subscriptions, whereby the institution rather than authors paid the costs of publication. As the number of journals expanded, even well-off institutions had to make difficult decisions on which subscriptions to keep and which to cancel. By the late 1990s the delivery model was changing from print to online, but the overall issue was that many scientists around the world no longer had access to many journals.

Enter the APC, or article processing charge, whereby the authors themselves had to reimburse the journals for publishing their papers, although they could often still recover these costs from their institution. The cost of an APC depended on the reputation of the journal; those with the highest “impact factors” often charged the highest APCs, some of which could reach £5000+ for a single “paper” (still called that even in an electronic era). Also, some journals remained “hybrid”, where the costs were split between institutional subscriptions and APC funded. At least the latter could be accessed by anyone (including the “public”) without restriction (Open-Access) often also referred to as GOLD  and even Diamond (also known as platinum) articles which  are  GOLD open access but without author fees. Diamond is typically used by publishers who are keen to emphasise that they do not charge authors to publish open access.

With many APCs ranging from £1000 up to £5000 or more, some started asking why it should cost so much to have this type of publishing infrastructure. Also in the early 2000s, “social media” started up, which at first tended to concentrate on instant publication and hence impact. The longevity of these media was not considered capable or indeed even desirable of rivalling that achieved by journal publishers, which after all had been around for 360 years or so. Things have begun to change however. Enter as an example Rogue Scholar, and its associated blog Front Matter. The aim here is to exploit the underpinning technical infrastructure of a blog host by automatically adding features more commonly associated with learned society or commercial journal publishing.

I wrote[3] about some of the features available last September and now only four months later the functionality continues to expand. This includes:

  1. The ability to acquire a JATS XML version (Journal article tag suite), the standard format for scholarly articles
  2. I had previously noted that Blog posts are assigned a DOI based on the Crossref registration agency, and hence also acquire a metadata record which becomes useful for searching. All 800+ of the posts on this site have such a DOI for example.
  3. One interesting recent use of blogs is to act as a science newsletter associated with a funded grant, as an adjunct to simply publishing the research results in a journal.
  4. Indexing is also making big strides with the introduction of an API (application programmer interface), another service offered by scholarly publishers. As part of this, fields of science are being added to the metadata to enable filtering such as eg Chemistry
  5. Archiving, in theory for all of posterity, is also starting to be addressed . This requires transformation from HTML, typically used in blogs, to a medium more appropriate for long term archiving.

The cost of the infrastructures described above are certainly very much less than eg the APC charges noted above, in part because they are so highly automated. I expect things will move very rapidly on this front.

It is hoped to automatically include these in the post itself in the future. Meanwhile, it can easily be retrieved by a suitable search.


  1. "Epistle dedicatory", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, vol. 1, 1665.
  2. D. Ginsburg, and W.J. Rosenfelder, "Alicyclic studies—X", Tetrahedron, vol. 1, pp. 3-8, 1957.
  3. H. Rzepa, "Improving the Science blog – The Rogue Scholar service.", 2023.


3 Responses to “Scholarly journals vs Scholarly Blogs.”

  1. Brian Skinn says:

    I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that the scholarly publishing industry has been headed for a fragmentation along at least three functional lines: publication, peer review, and typesetting.

    As I see it, there are no longer any particular functional or logistical reasons why those three functions should be coupled within monolithic publishing houses. Indeed, as you describe here, novel publication platforms are well underway to becoming viable—and in some ways, *superior*—alternatives to the traditional model.

    While I think there’s quite a bit more yet to be done, peer review has also taken its own path…from organic public review on social media, blogs, and the like; to structured, “real” peer-review platforms that strive to replicate the important elements of structure and quality of the traditional peer-review experience.

    To my mind, it’s only a matter of time before the typesetting done by traditional journals also is picked up by narrowly-focused market competitors. At that point, finely polished manuscripts will be similar to the plaques, desk ornaments, and other items offered for patent holders: pretty objects that are only purchased by those who are specifically interested in them.

    This will be a real loss, to a certain degree, in that high-quality typesetting will no longer be ubiquitous; but I think the decoupling of the functions and the specialization and innovation that will be brought to each will more than make up for it.

    • Henry Rzepa says:

      There is another aspect which has hitherto not been present; machines! Whilst high quality typesetting is certainly important for humans, machines care more about meanings than just appearance. As I noted in an earlier post, high-quality typesetting had inserted a hyphen, whilst the machine would have been needing a minus sign. There are some 5-6 different glyphs that can be used to represent a minus sign and they all look very similar to humans, who therefore do not care about this appearance. But a machine will have to learn from the context of this glyph what the likely meaning might have been. And it might get it wrong, thus populating the scientific literature with “fake facts”. The point about the Blog infrastructures I am writing about is that they can be encouraged to develop towards the semantic direction of meanings rather than just the appearance. Of course one could also argue that by thus enabling machines, they will gradually become the dominant custodians of science and heaven help any human that tried to argue against what a machine asserts. The infamous Horizon software scandal in the UK shows what could happen.

  2. Henry Rzepa says:

    Here is an interesting analysis of what can happen when journals promote the “diamond” model of publishing.

Leave a Reply