On-line Journal Publication: Two Views from the Electronic Trenches

Jonothan Borwein (Simon Fraser University)

Richard Smith (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract: Scholars are using new technology to communicate more widely, more efficiently, and more quickly than ever before. The authors report on their experiences at several scholarly publications, including the Canadian Journal of Communication, the Canadian Mathematical Bulletin, and the Canadian Journal of Mathematics, during the adoption and deployment of new electronic media. The authors draw on first-hand experience in creating these Web-based journals and provide insight into the technical, commercial, administrative, and scholarly implications of such a move. The paper concludes with a discussion of a paradox in the move to electronic publication and of a possible solution.

Résumé: Les chercheurs aujourd'hui profitent des nouvelles technologies pour atteindre un public plus vaste, de manière plus efficace et rapide qu'à toute période antérieure. Les auteurs décrivent leur participation à plusieurs publications académiques, y compris le Canadian Journal of Communication, le Canadian Mathematical Bulletin, et le Canadian Journal of Mathematics au moment de l'adoption et l'installation de nouveaux médias électroniques. Les auteurs décrivent chacun leur propre participation active dans l'établissement de ces journaux, et réfléchissent sur les implications techniques, commerciales, administratives, et académiques d'une telle transition. Cet article conclut en soulignant un paradoxe dans le passage à la publication électronique et en indiquant une solution possible.


Scholarly communication has long been an international undertaking. Computers and computer networks have merely accentuated that tendency. With the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, many scholars got their first taste of electronic manuscript preparation and distribution by creating and submitting papers on disk. These disk files were then used to create traditional print publications. More recently, scholarly communication has begun to move directly to its audience through the creation of document servers that allow direct access by readers.

Electronic scholarly communication received a significant boost with the advent of a hypertext distribution mechanism known as the World Wide Web (WWW) and its subsequent popularization by the availability of easy-to-use browser or client application software, such as Mosaic and Netscape. The history of this process has been widely reported elsewhere (Okerson & O'Donnell, 1995; Peek & Newby, 1996) and the many financial and scholarly implications have been broadly debated (Odlyzko, 1995). In this paper we use our own experience with electronic publication at the Canadian Mathematical Society and Canadian Journal of Communication (CJC) to draw out implications for some of the many participants in the scholarly publication process.

The on-line addresses for the three publications that are the major focus of this paper are:

  • Canadian Journal of Communication -- URL: http: //www.ccsp.sfu.ca /calj /cjc /
  • Canadian Journal of Mathematics -- URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca /CMS / CJM
  • Canadian Mathematical Bulletin -- URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca / CMS /CMB

(On-line versions of both the Canadian Journal of Mathematics and the Canadian Mathematical Bulletin are available by subscription only.)


Canadian Journal of Mathematics / Canadian Mathematical Bulletin

In the transition from print to electronic publication at the Canadian Mathematical Society (CMS), several intervening events have had significant impact. The first is the evolution of the field itself and its emergence as a modern, research- and publication-focused discipline. The second is the choice by the society to move most aspects of journal publication in-house. The third is the emergence and subsequent acceptance of the TeX (pronounced "teck") programming language for user typesetting of mathematical text /formulae. (TeX was developed by Donald Knuth, the author of many books and articles about mathematics, computer programming, and computer typesetting. He has made his TeX language freely available to the world.) The fourth and most recent event has been the emergence of open-standards-based network communication, most notably the World Wide Web. These forms of communication are well suited to the work of mathematicians. Contextual factors, such as the financial resources of the CMS, also played a factor.

The Canadian Journal of Mathematics (CJM) has been published by the Canadian Mathematical Society since its founding in 1945. Before 1945, mathematical research in Canada was largely limited to a few principally foreign-trained mathematicians at the University of Toronto (Filmore, 1995, 1996a, 1996b). Since 1945, research and teaching in Canadian mathematics programs have grown dramatically. Currently mathematicians and statisticians account for close to 10% of federally (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC]) funded researchers, are present in more than 65 university and colleges across the country, and publish widely around the world. In fact, in terms of scholarly publications per capita, Canada is by far the most math-intensive country in the world. (See Borwein & Davidson, 1995).

Since its founding, the Canadian Mathematical Society has managed the publication of CJM, and later the Canadian Mathematical Bulletin and other material, as a central undertaking of the society. Prior to 1982 all publication responsibilities other than editorial were handled by the University of Toronto (U of T) Press. In the later 1980s the society underwent a transition to full control of its publication process, and now delivers camera-ready pages to the U of T Press for printing and mailing. Editorial and typesetting functions are carried out in-house in Winnipeg and Halifax.

Mathematics is one of the most ancient and fundamental of the scientific disciplines. One of the distinguishing aspects of mathematical communication is its reliance on a very large number of specialized symbols. A highly refined mode of communication has evolved through the use of such symbols in addition to or in place of words. An equation can be used both to communicate a complex thought and to present ideas in a provable and logical format. For example, Isaac Newton's method of calculating the diameter of a circle, or pi, is displayed in the following concise integral equation:

fwd 300 pi ~=~ {3 over 4} sqrt 3 +~24~{int ^sub 0 ^sup {1 over down 15 4}} fwd 50 sqrt {x - x sup 2} d x
(For a demonstration of how the graphic was created, see URL: http: //www.cecm.sfu.ca /~jborwein /newton /newton.html).

While it has always been possible to represent these symbols in handwritten manuscripts, the results are messy and prone to errors in copying. The advent of textual computer systems provided a mode of communication that initially lacked equation capabilities entirely and then later allowed only limited and idiosyncratic solutions for home and scholarly users. In the early 1980s, there were those who argued that computers were a hindrance to effective scholarly communication in mathematics. They opined that computers brought with them numerous opportunities for confusion and mis-entry -- because of incompatible formats and lack of suitable methods to represent symbols -- and that they imposed an artificial linearity on symbolic representation and so, on mathematical thought processes.

The world of mathematical electronic publication was greatly influenced by the emergence of Knuth's TeX publishing language, which he described in The TeX Book (1984). TeX made it possible for the individual scholar to create accurate, legible, and symbolically rich documents without the use of a dedicated typesetting machine. More importantly, as a procedural language in the public domain, TeX allowed mathematicians (and all others dependent on symbols and equations) to exchange computer files almost independent of the equipment used and be confident that their ideas would arrive intact. Although its dominance was not predictable at the outset, TeX has become the de facto standard for electronic document preparation among mathematicians, computer scientists, and physicists around the world.

As a procedural text-processing language, TeX is very well suited to the types of document processing involved in moving information onto the World Wide Web. The Web, as it is widely known, is built upon several foundation technologies, including hypertext markup language (HTML), a text-processing markup language. (For more information about HTML, see URL: http: //uts.cc.utexas.edu /~churchh / htmlqref.html.) Documents prepared in TeX can be readily moved to and around the Web and, perhaps more importantly, can be manipulated easily by computers in ways that allow the electronic formats to provide additional value to scholars. A simple example of this is a listing of all the papers where a particular individual is first author. By virtue of its embedded tags, a TeX document allows this type of rich internal reference even after conversion to a web format. (TeX, like HTML, is essentially a markup language in which one has preserved a great deal of information about the underlying semantics and syntax.) Although many writers are making use of tools such as latex2html, robust public domain or commercial tools for putting documents on-line are still more of a prospect than a reality.

TeX, as HTML, is also an open standard, freely available to any who might wish to adopt and use it, and it is standardized in the form of a set of rules governing its use and evolution. Although an open standard is not sufficient to ensure widespread adoption of a technology, in the case of scholarly communication, the TeX's low cost and ease of customization were certainly factors in ensuring broad use. The complexity of TeX suggests that a user base will adopt difficult new tools that have a clearly proven advantage over existing methods. As many as 90% of submissions to diverse mathematics journals are now made in TeX.

Beyond the use of TeX, high-quality, easily generated computer graphics and animations have helped to extend the understanding and communication of complex (or simple) concepts beyond what can be quickly assimilated symbolically. Multimedia interfaces such as the Web provide a way for colleagues and students to apprehend the process as well as the outcome of an algorithm, for example. At the Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics (CECM), these types of visual demonstrations provide powerful and compelling arguments for the extension of mathematical visualization. These interface advances provide scientists with the chance to go beyond presentation of results and invite readers to participate in an exploration of the process of scientific undertakings. For illustrations of mathematical visualization, see a recent MathLand column at the Science News Web site (Peterson, 1997) or the images provided by CECM (Products and Byproducts, 1997).

The Canadian Mathematical Society has made at least two significant decisions that have given the society the financial basis to experiment with new mechanisms. The first was a bit of foresight on the part of the society's early leadership in the form of an endowment fund. This fund, and an even more significant return on publications, currently provides a six-figure return that allows the society to entertain new ideas that less-well-established societies could not consider. The second decision was the hard business decision, made in the late 1980s, to dramatically increase prices for the journal in an effort to move toward a more bottom-line operation. This occurred at the same time the society moved most of the editorial and publishing details in-house, allowing them to reduce costs significantly. The combination of reduced costs and increased subscription rates, coupled with the fact that subscriptions did not fall off the way they were feared /projected to (the journals were still relatively cheap by comparison with the commercial houses), resulted in a much more economical journal publication system, which in turn has been able to underwrite entry into new media publication.

A salient feature of the CMS's experience has been its coming to terms with publishing as an enterprise with a significant research and development (R&D) component. Electronic publishing bears more and more resemblance to software engineering, especially since one intent is to provide fully interactive journals, allowing for computation and manipulation of data within. At the time of writing, the problem-solving journal CRUX with Mayhem On-line (Sato, 1997) is available by subscription in various forms (Postscript, DVI, GIF, PDF), and readers are already providing feedback as to its function and form. Additionally, the new medium is starting to generate new subscriptions. The society also maintains an electronic repository for the Mathematical Comptes Rendu (URL: http: //camel.math.ca / Epub / CR / ) of the Royal Society of Canada.

The Canadian Mathematical Bulletin and Canadian Journal of Mathematics have abstracts and a full index available on-line, with the complete journal formats in development and expected to be fully released in 1997 (CMS Publication Indices, 1997). Other on-line resources offered by the Canadian Mathematical Society include the Canadian Mathematical Electronic Services (Camel) (URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca / home.html), which provides a full gamut of electronic services (for example, registration for meetings, society business, job advertisements, etc.), as well as the entire on-line indices of its two research publications CMB and CJM as noted above, whose construction represented a sizeable undertaking in its own right. The two main research journals maintain a common editorial policy and accept roughly 20% to 30% of submissions (which are still initially made in hard copy). Both journals have faced enormous challenges achieving a balance and co-ordination between conventional and new media publication.

Canadian Journal of Communication

The Canadian Journal of Communication (CJC) began publication in 1974 as Media Probe. The current name was adopted in 1977. Although there have been discussions over the years of making the CJC an official Canadian Communication Association (CCA) journal, it remains independent, owned by its subscribers. The CCA, which was founded in 1979, offers members a discount on subscriptions to the CJC.

The CJC is edited at the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University, under the editorship of Rowland Lorimer. The publisher is Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) Press, based in Waterloo, Ontario. Since the journal came to Vancouver in 1993, the editorial work has been done on computer, using microcomputers and word-processing programs. The resulting files are sent to Waterloo for conversion to a typesetting format for proofs and final output. The final editorial work is currently done based on the proofs from WLU Press. The actual flow of articles is as follows: Articles move from the author to the managing editor by post as disk copies with printed versions included. The editor sends out printed copies to anonymous reviewers and makes the decision to publish or revise. If revisions are requested, this is co-ordinated by the managing editor under the supervision of the editor. Once a manuscript has been accepted for publication, it is sent to the copy editor in disk version. The copy editor prepares the files for submission to the Press, including basic formatting and style corrections, as word-processor documents. These files are sent by disk or electronic mail to the Press, which converts them to a markup language (based on SGML) and produces page proofs. The page proofs are returned to the copy editor, who sends them both to professional editors / proofreaders and to the author for review. Any revisions are consolidated by the copy editor, who returns the proofs to the Press for implementation of the changes, as well as printing, binding, and mailing.

Authors must submit their material on disk, although some who are submitting shorter articles do so by e-mail. The journal accepts files in the two major word-processing formats (Microsoft Word and WordPerfect) and from Macintosh or IBM computers. Most of the editorial (academic and copy editing) correspondence is also conducted by e-mail. The journal accepts 30% to 40% of articles it receives, publishing five or six major articles per issue and four issues per year.

The CJC began its experiment with electronic publication in 1994. The experiment has been through several generations. The first was very informal. A graduate student converted some of the managing editor's word-processing files from a recent issue into Web (HTML) format by manually tagging the documents. These were placed on a server at Simon Fraser University under a text-based table of contents and advertised on a very limited scale to members of the editorial board. Other items converted to electronic format at this time were the guide to authors, subscription information, and the masthead information. While the journal did have an on-line presence, at this point it was extremely limited in scope. Also, there were differences between the electronic and final printed version of the journal because the files available for this experiment were created before the final copy edit in Waterloo. These early examples are still available on line (URL: http: //edie.cprost.sfu.ca /cjc /cjc-info.html).

The second experiment was based on a graduate student project in the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. The student sought to learn more about the possibilities of hypertext and multimedia design and used an article from the CJC for the experiment. The student's objective was to create a mode of presentation that maximized the value to be added by the non-linear elements of the medium. In this case, a single article was selected for intensive post-publication processing, which included hypertext links to Web-based resources not anticipated by the original authors, such as coloured backgrounds and graphical elements (see Acheson & Maule, 1995). The original authors were aware of and were consulted for this experiment. The project did result in a more colourful and entertaining presentation but demonstrated the dependency for understanding and the significance of a point in context that a (linear) argument creates. When major points were featured each on a separate page, they lacked credibility and force.

With the help of professional publication designers associated with the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, the next step in the journal's on-line evolution was to acquire a graphic front end, complete with a logo evocative of the print publication and a style suited to multimedia delivery. The designers implemented a style that focused on consistency, ease of navigation, and an uncluttered look. The Web site was also moved to a production server at this point, ensuring that there were regular back-ups and sufficient computing power and network bandwidth to serve multiple simultaneous users (see URL: http: //www.ccsp.sfu.ca /calj /cjc).

At the same time that the CJC look was being improved, the quality and quantity of on-line materials took a major leap ahead by the shift from word-processor files to the use of typesetter-input files as the source material for the conversions to HTML. The publisher, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, uses a markup language (based on SGML) that is remarkably similar to HTML. As a result, it was relatively straightforward to write a computer program to automate the conversion process. By changing to this mode of conversion, it was hoped that the CJC would be able to reduce the time and increase the accuracy and consistency of its on-line versions. Using the same input sources as were used to produce the final proof pages for printing meant eliminating the inconsistencies caused by the use of the word-processing files that were later sent to Waterloo for copy editing. The tagged format of the typesetting files also allowed the computer program to automatically create tables of contents and author lists, much the way other journals have been able to do with TeX documents.

By going to "machine translation" of print materials, the CJC was confronted with some significant challenges, however. For example, it was only after several rounds of comparison and conversion that it was discovered that the typesetting files were not, in all cases, the latest versions and certain editorial changes had obviously been made to the version in the typesetter and were not reflected in the disk files that had been received. Tabular and graphical material was not included in the typesetting files, and a gradual evolution in the tags used by the typesetters meant that the conversion program had to be adjusted many times. Footnotes and bibliographic items also presented conversion challenges, especially when the program encountered uncompleted tags.

The sensible solution to these problems is to bring the typesetting and the hypertext setting processes closer together. Toward the end of 1996, in the latest stage in the CJC's electronic evolution, this is precisely what we started to do. The programmer at Wilfrid Laurier University Press recreated the conversion software on his own system and linked the print production computer system with the electronic production computers using the Internet. Although this process is still not complete, the next issue of the journal should have simultaneous production of the two versions and therefore eliminate questions of different versions on the different media. Even so, a certain amount of "hand tuning" is still required after the automated conversion is completed. As a result, the journal continues to explore other options, including the use of portable document format (PDF) files created out of the typesetter's Postscript files. An experiment using this technology will be conducted in 1997 with the co-operation of Wilfrid Laurier University Press.


Our experience as facilitators of electronic journal publication has provided us with many rewarding and satisfying achievements. It has also led to many instances of unexpected and unsettling outcomes, some of which have been described above. We explore a few of these in more detail below and include our suggestions or observations on the role of amateurs and experimentation, the impact of the highly competitive computer software and hardware industry, managing expectations of users in terms of interface, access, and archiving, billing, and other financial issues.


These early days of electronic publication are like the early days of other media of communication such as radio: there is a great deal of experimentation and extensive participation by amateurs. Amateurs bring with them a curiosity about the media, a love for the topic (mathematics, communication studies, etc.), and an autonomy or idiosyncrasy in modes of expression that traditionally has not been accommodated in mass publishing. Furthermore, amateurs frequently undertake their projects as labours of love and do not draw salaries, sometimes supporting the electronic publication with resources drawn from other projects.

We are concerned that the current diversity of form in electronic scholarly publication will not last as amateur burnout occurs, and amateurs are replaced by traditional publishing companies. In an effort to reduce costs through economies of scale, publishing firms tend toward homogeneity in the form of their Web publication projects. While some homogeneity is probably inevitable, it is not at all clear that the modes of presentation currently in use are the best available or possible. Some formats, such as PDF, are very closely tied to existing paper production systems, to the extent that page images are distributed electronically. While these may be comforting as bridging technologies between existing and future standards, they only touch the surface of what is possible in electronic publication.

Computer industry

It appears that practices from the computer hardware and software industries have begun to affect the form of scholarly electronic publication. Unfortunately, the changes are not driven by the needs of scholars but rather the very short product cycles in the computer hardware and software industries. So much of the work of electronic publishing is tied up in equipment and software that the relentless pattern of change and obsolescence inevitably works its way into the scholarly publication process, even without us realizing or anticipating it. This experimentation, however, does not seem to be driven by the communication needs of scholars but more by the competitive pressures in the computer industry itself. For example, the release in mid-1997 of a new version of Java (a type of building-block software for on-line multimedia) may render obsolete large amounts of software written as part of scholarly publications in mathematics. Java is a product of Sun Computers, which is locked in a competitive battle with software giant Microsoft.

These changes in Java are at the host or production side of electronic publishing. Similar changes have been occurring in the client software. Subtle but important differences exist between the two most popular graphical WWW browsers. For example, the two most popular browser producers, Netscape and Microsoft, differ in their use of internal scripting protocols such as JavaScript and ActiveX and how they interact with client computers. There are also dramatic differences between earlier and later versions of each of these programs, and there are differences between the Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX versions of the clients. Finally, there are differences in how they may be set up at a user's site, including variables such as screen size and resolution, colour depth, window size and position, graphic-loading options, and font and colour selection (a user choice most of the time). All of these require that scholarly communication adopt an unprecedented level of attention to commercial and technical issues that may stand between authors and readers.

At the same time, some of these advances do hold promise for scholars. When these new technologies emerge, there will be a strong temptation to adopt them quickly -- even though doing so may leave some readers behind. According to our Web-site maintainers, one of the major issues is this lowest-common-denominator approach, wherein the publishers must sacrifice technological improvements in order to be accessible by a larger audience. Coupled with that is the time it takes to ensure compatibility: in order to ensure maximum use, designers spend considerable time testing different formats on the plethora of different platforms. At the CRUX mathematics site (URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca / CMS / CRUX / ), these issues of compatibility and availability have been an enormous concern. Finally, there is the frustration that comes with being close to perfection but not quite there. As one designer put it: "Even though we are able to offer aesthetic and entertaining journals, we find that we cannot. Thus the experimentation that we have conducted in design and new ideas are extremely slow to materialize as so few people could actually enjoy them!" (Sinclair, 1997).

Managing expectations

A further related experimentation concern is the focus on user interface changes at the expense of usability. There is the temptation, at least in these early days, to reinvent the wheel at each Web site. While computers are gradually becoming more similar, with a common trend to a WIMP (windows, icons, mouse, and pointer) interface, Web pages rarely look or act alike (in fact, uniqueness is a point of pride among designers), forcing users to rediscover navigation and interaction skills at each site. To exacerbate this problem, some sites update their user interface frequently to make the site seem fresh but at the expense of further confusing readers.

In our experience, electronic publishing carries with it a halo effect from other computer-provided information, from video games to business software, making it seem necessary to create scholarly products that are lively and engaging in the manner of multimedia or, for that matter, television. The question emerges: How much does a scholar or scholarly publisher have to invest in look and feel in order to keep the reader's attention on the content? There is at least some obligation on the part of authors, editors, and publishers to present material in an engaging manner, but those materials that are not easy to use or perhaps do not have a pleasing appearance may fall into disuse, to be overwhelmed by the attractive and functional. Is there not some intrinsic worth to intellectual products?

Concern over page design also affects updates and timeliness. Frequently a trade-off must be made between the amount of effort that is put into adjusting the user interface and the effort that goes into updating or monitoring the content on a Web site. From what we have seen, too often the balance falls on the "looks good" side, resulting in flashy graphics, many broken links, and many "under construction" sections.

Several other timing-access issues come from early release of materials. At the Canadian Mathematical Society, abstracts are now, in principle, posted to the Web as soon as they are received. The electronic version of CRUX arrives before the print copy goes to the printers. Both of these practices have the prospect of involving authors and the rest of the audience more directly in the publishing process. The frequency of posting takes on the aura of a dialogue and fosters a sense of community, especially among teachers and other non-professional users who might not ordinarily feel as connected to the society.

Now that final drafts are posted to the Net just prior to printing, the CMS has noticed another benefit from electronic publication: a small army of proofreaders. Frequently, members of the society now catch small errors that the editors are able to resolve before the issue is printed and mailed, reducing corrections and retractions. As always, there is a downside in the temptation to rely on those eyes rather than one's own.

The army-of-proofreaders phenomenon brings with it another issue, how to "freeze" an electronic publication. There is a famous story among mathematicians about one eminent, dedicated author who, over a lifetime, visited libraries around the world, located copies of his articles, and corrected various minor errors. While electronic publishing would obviate the need for the travel, several things are lost in a revisable form. For one, there is the connection with the author's spirit in the form of holograph marginalia. While that may sound fanciful, a more serious issue is the possibility of unauthorized corrections. Who holds the key that ensures your words are published as written? Although such technology exists, neither the CJC nor the CMS have implemented digital signatures or similar devices to ensure authenticity.

"Access" implies continued access. Electronic publication is something that is deceptively easy to initiate but difficult to sustain. As the CJC quickly found out, a small experimental Web site based on volunteer and amateur labour can quickly grow to significant proportions and public expectations soon mount. Archiving and access are two areas that posed immediate problems in these circumstances. Mathematicians are accustomed to a very high level of reliability in their literature. Even minor issues of font substitution can mean that the printed and electronic versions no longer correspond. Informal archives have the effect that a theorem may exist in preliminary versions that circulate widely but not in the definitive print version. Increasingly, journals publish articles electronically as soon as they have been approved, weeks and perhaps months before they appear in print.

Managing archives is another aspect of managing expectations. Publication of a paper journal is often regarded as simply a larger version of personal publishing. For the scholar or editor, the practical side of journals, especially the maintenance of back issues, 24-hour availability, and so on, is simply someone else's problem -- usually the library's. With electronic publishing, however, these are frequently problems that have to be considered by the journal itself. In the heady atmosphere of taking control of one's own journal, practical issues like backups, back issues, access, and indexing can get pushed aside or forgotten -- forgotten, that is, until the user community starts to demand these services. At the CJC it is not uncommon for electronic readers to write to the Web-site maintainers looking for further information, provide feedback on material, or ask for back issues. While it is difficult to quantify so far, there are some preliminary indications that electronic access is resulting in more widespread use of the Canadian Journal of Communication than was heretofore thought possible. The CJC has relatively few overseas subscribers other than in major centres; however, in recent months, requests from Austria and Italy have come in based on people browsing CJC's Web site.

New forms of communication

Technical product limitations may be limiting our modes of expression as scholars. Here electronic publication has great potential to make up for the limitations of print that we have grown to accept and even assume are natural. Why, for example, should we communicate in black and white? Although the Canadian Journal of Communication does not contain colour material, this is less a reflection of the interests of communication scholars than it is a reality of a limitation of funds. A recent special issue of the CJC that focused on television was republished using significant quantities of graphic material. Although widely regarded as a success, the special issue nonetheless reflects only the advances of desktop publishing, a 1980s phenomenon, and none of the potential of multimedia publication. An equivalent treatment of the topic for Web or CD-ROM publication could have been much more effective with embedded video instead of, for example, the flip-book effects in the page margins as the desktop publishing (DTP) version had to create.

As noted above, the mathematics community has already incorporated significant numbers of colour images into their electronic versions of journals. The Institute of Physics publishes selected electronic versions of articles for subscribers (URL: http: //www.iop.org / Journals /na / ), in which concepts "come alive" in multimedia appendices. A recent eight-page article, titled "Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Carbon Nanotube-based Gears," includes MPEG movies that show these tiny gears in action (Han, Globus, Jaffe, & Deardorff, 1997).

Billing and other financial issues

At present, the CMS journals provide abstracts and "teasers" of articles via the Web. The society depends on the subscription revenues from traditional print journals, and especially (almost exclusively) the subscriptions from institutional (library) subscribers. How these subscribers will pick up and use an electronic version remains to be seen, although many experiments are under way around the world. In our experience, those journals that have a large infrastructure and a profit-making publication enterprise under way, like the Canadian Mathematical Society, potentially would have a great deal to lose if they gave away their electronic versions.

The CJC began its electronic publishing project with virtually no financial support or budget. As a result, the initial experiments relied on unpaid or low-paid student programmers who did not, as a rule, document what they were doing or put a high priority on correcting errors or deficiencies.


Copyright issues, of course, are always significant but there are aspects of electronic publishing that raise copyright issues in unusual ways. A custom symbol font designed for CMS's print publications may not be available for on-line use or such use must be negotiated separately. The creators of fonts are naturally reluctant to have them distributed electronically as they argue the fonts may be reverse engineered out of embedded files, such as portable document format (PDF or Adobe Acrobat) files. In one instance, at one of our journals these fonts could not be used in electronically distributed documents.

Conclusions and policy recommendations

Market and technological changes beyond the control of journals or their publishers underlie many of the issues facing scholarly publishers. Our experience with browser evolution and corporate use of technology standards as a way to achieve competitive advantage suggests that these activities mitigate against robust, reliable, and, most importantly, user-friendly electronic publishing standards. Moreover, the initiative or drive for experimentation is frequently left to software developers and not journal editors or publishers. One solution may be policy initiatives that encourage publisher or journal-driven experimentation across a wide range of disciplines.

Payment schemes remain one of the most intransigent problems, and until an accepted industry practice emerges many of us will find ourselves reinventing the wheel in this area, a waste of resources for both publishers and subscribers. Current proposals for payments leave a lot to be desired from the publisher's perspective. Per-use payment schemes typically do not result in a viable business model for small-circulation publishers. The current practice of institutional subscribers paying for most of the cost of producing and distributing journals will inevitably continue, but we would argue the electronic version contains significant value-added when compared with the print version. The possibility of multiple concurrent users, for example, suggests that subscriptions will not be only on a per-site basis but on a per-user basis as well. Even the potential of multi-user, multi-location (home, office, library) access to a journal has a value and it will be up to the journal publisher to construct a pricing scheme that is fair to both user and information provider. Building the mechanisms for this, however, is a complex task and clearly beyond the traditional billing systems most publishers utilize. Scholarly journals, which traditionally rely on volunteer or low-paid staff, who work on the journal because of an interest in the topic, are unlikely to find the networking, computation, and business modelling skills implied by a move toward per-use billing of on-line products within their existing organizations.

Recent initiatives, such as the Canadian Association of Learned Journals (CALJ) Web site (URL: http: //www.ccsp.sfu.ca /calj / ), suggest that this enormous task may be mitigated somewhat by spreading the burden over multiple users. A combined software development project to address billing and payment schemes from the publishers' perspective would be an ideal vehicle for co-operation and joint funding and should be regarded as a policy priority by the scholarly communication community, including journals, government, and funding agencies. Such initiatives may be extremely important if the scholarly communication industry is to avoid further concentration of ownership -- driven by the costs of developing custom billing systems -- just when these new technologies present the opportunity for scholars to take control of the dissemination of their works.

It can be argued that electronic publishing technology brings with it a paradox: on the one hand this technology offers greater control over the production and dissemination of scholarly communication for a greater number of people, but on the other it requires a greater reliance of complex technological and business systems that are typically beyond the capabilities of a small journal and may, in fact, result in greater, not lesser concentration within the industry.

This paradox is neither unique nor unprecedented, and numerous scholars who have addressed technological change and society have commented on the flawed character of technologies. The Greek god of technology, Prometheus, is called "the god that limps" (Norman, 1981). From our perspective, this flaw should not be viewed as fatal nor a source of despair. On the contrary, it is a perfect example of the tension that exists between human society and new technologies. Out of this tension come solutions, either new technologies or new ways of using them.

In the case of billing systems, for example, the answer may lie within the very practices that have made hypertext publishing technology possible. We refer to the use of "open systems" as a means of developing highly reliable, inexpensive, shared tools.

The evolution of the Internet, from the earliest agreements on networking protocols and software applications to the present day of the World Wide Web has been closely linked to the emergence of robust, publicly available, user-created software.

Various groups have co-ordinated these activities in order to ensure that new applications inter-operate, and standards are set with maximum participation from those who wish to do so. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an example of a volunteer group which sets standards and fosters innovation in Internet technologies.

This open environment has been credited with much of the widespread adoption and innovation of Internet communication systems. This movement toward publicly available and publicly developed standards can be seen as an example of open-systems computing and software. In practice, open systems can mean two quite different things. On the one hand there are the community-based (community of expert users, that is) emergent standards that typify Internet technologies. On the other hand are the officially mandated open systems designed to allow greater competition in the supply of technology to public bodies. The U.S. government's Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile (GOSIP) standard for information technology is an example of the latter.

Open-systems technologies like the Web have created a significant opportunity for the publication of scholarly works without the need for large capital-intensive systems for the creation, transportation, and sale of artifacts (that is, paper journals). This would, at first blush, appear to be an opportunity for smaller independent publishers. But if the movement of ideas is enhanced by new technologies, what about the movement of money? To date, only large corporations have been able to underwrite the development and maintenance costs of a financial network that is secure and efficient enough to use for commercial transactions, just as earlier multimedia efforts were expensive and limited. As a result, informal or small-time publishers face awkward hurdles.

But what if the forces of open-systems development were to be shifted from content production and transmission to transaction processing? Would we see a new level of smaller, independent, but financially viable publishers? Recent developments in open-systems standards for financial matters may hold the key to these next steps (Smith, 1996).

On the side of official open systems, the activities of the X9F group (which sets standards for financial networks) and the HLSG (High Level Strategy Group within the European community's information and communication technology industry) committee provide examples that may indicate the way in which open standards will play a role in future small- and medium-sized enterprises' access to electronic commerce (Shannon, 1996). The HLSG, for example, has recently set out requirements for "Electronic Commerce for SMEs," which will be presented to the European Union for discussion and implementation (Gann, 1996).

The real action may come in the informal standards, however. Recent developments among Internet commerce interest groups, and the e-cash system in particular suggest a possible solution for informal or society-based publishers. E-cash could provide authors and publishers with a medium of exchange with very low transaction costs and low barriers to entry, something traditional electronic payment systems have been unable to do. At present we have only possibilities and hints of solutions. Nevertheless, the recent history of rapid evolution among Internet content delivery software providers (for example, Netscape) is a vivid example of the potential that exists in software built to set de facto standards.

Some would argue that traditional models of scholarly publishing, which rely on an artifact that can be created, transported, and sold, are under threat from electronic technologies fostered by open-systems standards. These same open technologies may in turn redress the balance once again with the delivery of low-cost public-domain electronic payment systems that create opportunities for smaller publishers or even academics themselves to disseminate works.

If billing systems can be opened up and evolve as rapidly as hypertext transport and display systems, then there may be hope for those who see within the World Wide Web a chance for scholarship to return to its unmediated origins (Sirbu, 1997).


An earlier version of this paper is also available on-line: URL: http: //edie.cprost.sfu.ca /scom /


Acheson, Keith, & Maule, Christopher. (1995). Copyright and related rights: The international dimension. Canadian Journal of Communication. URL: http: //edie.cprost.sfu.ca /cjc /amb /

Borwein, J. M., & Davidson, K. R. (1995). The future of mathematics in Canada 50 years later. In P. Filmore (Ed.), The Canadian Math Society 1945-1995 (Vol. 1, pp. 231-248). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Mathematical Society.

Canadian Journal of Mathematics. (1997). URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca / CMS / CJM /

Canadian Mathematical Bulletin. (1997). URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca / CMS / CMB /

CMS Publication Indices. (1997). URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca /vault / J-TOC /

Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics (CECM). (1997). Products and byproducts of ongoing research. URL: http: //www.cecm.sfu.ca / images /images.html

Filmore, P. (Ed.). (1995). The Canadian Math Society 1945-1995 (Vol. 1). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Mathematical Society.

Filmore, P. (Ed.). (1996a). Selecta (Vol. 2). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Mathematical Society.

Filmore, P. (Ed.). (1996b). Invited Articles (Vol. 3). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Mathematical Society.

Gann, D. (1996). HLSG releases electronic commerce recommendations. Open Systems Standards Tracking Report, 5(3). URL: http: //www.europe.digital.com / info /osstr/ tr 0796.htm#A8

Han, Jie, Globus, Al, Jaffe, Richard, & Deardorff, Glenn. (1997). Molecular dynamics simulations of carbon nanotube-based gears. Nanotechnology, 8(3), 95-102. URL: http: //www.iop.org / Journals /na /

Knuth, Don. (1984). The TeX Book. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. URL: http: //www-cs-staff.stanford.edu /~knuth /abcde.html # texbk

Lorimer, Rowland (Ed.). Canadian Journal of Communication. (1997). URL: http: //www.ccsp.sfu.ca /calj /cjc /

Norman, C. (1981). The god that limps: Science and technology in the eighties. New York: W. W. Norton.

Odlyzko, A. M. (1995). Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending demise of traditional scholarly journals. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 42, 71-122. URL: http: // hyperg.iicm.tu-graz.ac.at

Okerson, A. S., & O'Donnell, J. J. (Eds.). (1995). Scholarly journals at the crossroads: A subversive proposal for electronic publishing. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries. URL: http: //cogsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk /~harnad /subvert.html

Peek, R. P., & Newby, G. B. (Eds.). (1996). Scholarly publishing: The electronic frontier. Boston: MIT Press.

Peterson, Ivars. (1997). MathLand [Column]. Science News. URL: http: //www.sciencenews.org /sn_arc97/2_8_97/mathland.htm

Sato, Naoki (Ed.). (1997). Mayhem On-line. CRUX. URL: http: //www.camel.math.ca /CMS / CRUX /

Shannon, S. (1996). X9F, the accredited standards subcommittee, data and information security for financial services. Open Systems Standards Tracking Report, 5(3). URL: http: //www.europe.digital.com / info /osstr/ tr 0796.htm #A7

Sinclair, N. (1997, February). Lowest common denominator dominates Web publishing [Interview]. Burnaby, BC.

Sirbu, M. A. (1997). Credits and debits on the Internet. IEEE Spectrum, 34(2), 23-29.

Smith, J. L. (1996). Let's collaborate on global standards. Open Systems Standards Tracking Report, 5(7). URL: http: //www.europe.digital.com / info /osstr/ tr1196.htm#A1

  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.