Electronic Journals: Major Issues*

Nishtha Anilkumar
Librarian SC,
Physical Research Laboratory


Provides insights into such issues as pricing; reliability and accessibility of data; electronic archiving and backfiles availability; full-text feature; currency of information; intellectual property and copyrights involving electronic journals. Also touches upon major e-mail publishers.

KEYWORDS: Electronic journals; E-journals; Problems, Publishers.


The emergence of the Internet, particularly the WWW as a new medium of information storage and delivery, represents a revolution, which would have a lasting impact on the publishing and information delivery system in the 21st century. Increasing number of publishers are using the Internet as a global way to offer their publications to the international community of scientists and technologists.

The role of a library is to provide access to its carefully planned collection. If electronic resources on the Web and the Internet are treated as new media of information access and its delivery, the libraries have to play their role for selecting, evaluating, describing, annotating and providing intelligent access to electronic information available on the Web.

Primary journals continue to remain the mainstream of scientific communication because of the inherent need in contemporary science to preserve a permanent record of results for later references.

The electronic delivery of journals also results in the elimination of paper, storage and transportation costs and the ability to handle complex data, tables, moving pictures, sound images and video clips. Further, unlike sequential design of printed papers, Web technology makes it possible for the publishers to design things never possible in print such as interactive hyperlinks to related sources, links to full range of multimedia.

Although increasing number of e-journals are beginning to appear on the Web, their appearance has primarily been driven by the technology and its availability to the publisher rather than its demand by the user.


The growth of Internet witnessed the emergence of several e-journals that were launched only for Internet without a printed counterpart. However, as the technology and popularity of Internet grew, several mainstream journals primarily available for print subscription also started appearing on the Web. The Internet has now been adopted as a favourite medium for information delivery. There are a few issues, which need to be tackled, before deciding to go for only electronic version:


One of the major issues that the publishers are concerned with is to save their economic interest in the process of providing electronic access to their printed publications. Most activities that are performed for publishing a journal are common to both electronic and paper media, except for production and distribution where the cost involved is relatively low. A study conducted by Tenopir and King (1997) concludes that the cost of electronic journals cannot be substantially lower than their printed versions. There are varying pricing models in practice at present. Most of the time, electronic subscriptions are linked to print products. Rapid development in electronic publishing and its access over the Net led to hope that a less expensive publishing model might emerge. Unfortunately, none of the electronic publishing initiatives have resulted in significant savings for libraries. Publishers that offer electronic and print subscriptions tend to sell them for a bundled price, usually to the order of 10 to 30% over the price of hard copy subscription alone. Only a small number of publishers are offering electronic journals as separate, stand alone subscriptions which may be same as the print product or slightly higher in the name of added value to the e-version.

Reliability and accessibility of data

The access to resources on Internet can be painfully slow and unreliable especially from India due to bandwidth restrictions of physical media and data traffic on the Net. The journals in Web environment support inclusion of audio and video of documents. The addition of a-v material would add to the network burden where the delivery of full-text and graphics over the Net can be very slow at peak times.

Electronic archiving and back files availability

A subscriber to e-journal gets access not only to current issues but also to the back files and the whole system enables him to use the journal in an enhanced way. Subscription to e-journal, therefore, entails dependency of libraries on continuing availability of archives of e-journals on the Internet. Considering the cost involved in keeping the back files online, publishers usually discontinue their online availability on the Web. Furthermore, on canceling electronic subscription, a subscriber is denied archival access as well, which is quite contrary to print subscription where in a subscriber holds the old volumes of journals on cancellation of current print subscription. Just recently, a few publishers have started providing an annual CD-ROM at a cost, say $50 for each journal.

How full-text is full text

Contrary to popular belief, journals described as `full-text' are not available cover to cover. Many a time graphs, illustration or photographs are not found intact. Rarely do the online periodicals reproduce advertisements, notices, corrections, announcements, meeting calendars and letters to the editors that appear in the original printed versions.

Currency of information

Electronic version of current journals appears faster on the Net than their printed counterparts many a times as much as 11 weeks ahead.

Intellectual property and copyright

Protection and ownership of intellectual property in the age of electronic information are especially confusing in the light of traditional copyright laws. Discussions are taking place at many platforms to come to consensus.


Elsevier Science

The Elsevier Science Publishers has launched Science Direct to extend Web access to more than 1,100 journals published by them. Subscription to Science Direct includes access to back files of journals for two preceding years. The subscribing institutions are offered access to full-text of journals that their institutions are subscribing. Access to abstracts and tables of available full-text articles from non-subscribed journals are available for a fee.

American Institute of Physics (AIP)

AIP, its members and affiliated societies publish more than 80 research journals in physics and astronomy. AIP is the worldwide distributor of 14 translated journals offering the English-speaking scientific community access to current research from Russia and the Ukraine. It is also the exclusive distributor of IOP in US, Canada and Mexico.

AIP offers only online versions (i.e. access to online version without subscribing to print version ) to many of its journals. If we go for the online version, a CD-ROM is available at the year-end containing full "2000" volumes of that journals at the cost of $50.

American Physical Society (APS)

The APS makes its electronics versions of the journals available on the Internet at no additional cost to the print version subscribers.

Physical Review Online Archive (PROLA) requires subscription. It contains a complete electronic copy of Physical Review (PR) from 1985 through 1996. Browsing tables of contents and abstracts remain free. PROLA iserver is separate from Physical Review's online journals i. e. even if there is subscription to any PR and Reviews of Modern Physics online journals , separate subscription for PROLA is still required. In other words, there is a charge for accessing the back files. For institutions that have APS-all or PR-all subscription, PROLA is free. Otherwise, if an institute subscribes to at least one PR, then PROLA subscription (85-96)is $300 for a year. But as the preceding years increase i.e. prior to 1960, it might become more useful since copies of print versions have become very brittle.

Optical Society of America

If we go only for online version of all the journals (combination 4) then it would be cheaper than print + online version.


University of Chicago Press and Cambridge University Press give electronic access free with print version subscription. Institute of Physics (IPO) gives 10 years online archive free for institutional subscribers. Springer-Verlag. also gives electronic access free with print subscription through LINK service. Kluwer charges 20% more of the print price for online access. Academic Press.(IDEAL) charges extra for online access. Back files are available from 1993 onward. There is additional charge for accessing these back files for each journal.


The ongoing shift towards electronic publishing and access is expected to continue in spite of the fact that print media is still preferred for ease of reading and portability and because of the fact that the authors still consider it authoritative medium and format for the publication of peer-reviewed research. Electronic publishing has to achieve economy, authority and authenticity in addition to advantage of speed and value addition it already possesses.


1. Tenopis C, King D. Towards Electronic Journals: Realistics for Scientists, Librarians and Publishers. Washington (DC): Sepecial Libraries Association, 2000 .

*Based on talk given by the author at ADINET Study Circle Meeting held on 20th October, 2000.

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2001, p.9-p.10, p.23