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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Internet Publishing and Transformation of Knowledge Processes

Internet publishing provides a new way of knowledge delivery to educational institutions [9]. Several conceptual models and frameworks have been proposed for studying various issues in digital publishing [1, 3]. Researchers have envisioned a new just-in-time, on-demand approach for delivering knowledge products through virtual universities by way of the Internet [2]. The Internet created an unparalleled opportunity for publishers, large or small, to find and fill user needs of knowledge, to talk directly with customers, and to create information products that serve them [6, 7]. While the future of scientific journals depends mainly on factors from changes within the scientific fields, Internet technology is accelerating the pace of changes [8].

Internet publishing refers to using the Internet as the means of distributing publications that conventionally has been done in a paper form. Our definition of publishing encompasses the whole process of creating, distributing, searching, and disseminating knowledge in well-defined disciplines. We partition the life cycle in academic publishing into two stages: the production stage and the consumption stage. The production stage starts with an author's submission of a paper to a journal (similar for conference proceedings or edited books), and ends with the publisher generating a completed issue. This includes the editing process that involves reviewers and editors. The consumption stage starts with the publisher's completion of a journal issue and ends with a reader who retrieves a copy of the issue. Librarians perform the intermediary role, such as purchasing, filing, shelving, and lending the issue.

Here, we consider both stages of Internet publishing as we examine the impact of Internet publishing on the knowledge production and consumption processes. We also gather field evidence of this transformation by eliciting perceptions about ongoing changes in academic journals from professionals working in higher education. In particular, we strive to assess how the transformation of knowledge processes might occur.

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Transformation of Knowledge Processes via Internet Publishing

The general process of knowledge production and consumption of journal articles includes a number of main activities, as illustrated in Figure 1. The ovals denote roles, and the rounded rectangles represent activities. The arrows indicate a sequence between two activities. Note also that the authors and readers are linked by a dashed line because they mark the start and the end of a knowledge cycle and that these two roles are often performed by the same group of people. The activities belonging to the same role are enclosed by a rectangle and linked to that role. The main activities are identified in the figure by the sequence number and described as follows: 1. Authors write paper; 2. Authors submit paper to a journal editor for possible publication; 3. Editor assigns the paper to reviewers; 4. Reviewers assess the quality of the paper; 5. Reviewers submit review reports to the editor; 6. The editor makes a decision about acceptance of article and informs authors of the review results; 7. Editors assemble accepted papers into journal volume; 8. Publishers produce the journals; 9. Publishers send journals to libraries; 10. Libraries index and file journals; 11. Librarians lend (or provide) journals to readers; 12. Readers search the index for articles in the library; and, 13. Readers use journals from libraries in order to write their own articles.

While this general knowledge process has remained stable for hundreds of years, the media of knowledge is changing dramatically in the Internet era. Internet publishing takes advantage of the Internet technology as the knowledge distribution channel and is leading to many new practices in knowledge production and consumption activities. Examples of the impact of Internet publishing are numerous. For instance, many of the new features available in the digital libraries of the Internet publishing era make the consumption of knowledge much more efficient. These features include searching for articles in index databases and online downloading of full-text papers. Digital libraries also relax the constraints commonly found in paper journals and conventional libraries such as page limits and limited hours of access; digital libraries can be made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the Internet publishing scenario, knowledge presentation changes from the conventional linear text and static figures into hypertext and dynamic media such as image, animation, and video (all are examples of value-added features). For instance, the computer models or behaviors of complex molecular structures that were essentially impossible to describe with static figures can now be illustrated with animations and videos. Thus, the digital media transforms the format and capacity of knowledge presentation.

The hyperlinks in articles can now be used to create dynamic connections between documents across journals. This makes the tracing of interdisciplinary knowledge a simple task. That is, one can start with one article and trace to other related articles very easily. This is the effect of integrating multiple disciplines through hyperlinks.

Editors can now use electronic processes to manage the review process. Instead of mailing papers from authors to editors and from editors to reviewers, the authors submit the paper in digital format by depositing it into the review database; the editor then informs reviewers to retrieve their articles from the database. As a result, the postal service (or other delivery services provider) is replaced by Web-based information systems and is eliminated from the knowledge distribution role. This is an example of transformation of the knowledge production process. It also reduces the communication cost and the document travel time. Although we are unsure whether any journal is currently having a review process that is exclusively using this digital approach, the International Conference on Information Systems has managed its review process on the Web since 1997.

The digital review process removes the need for digitization of articles and makes digital libraries the natural form of knowledge distribution channel. Publishers are now creating digital libraries for direct distribution of journals to libraries and to readers. As a result, publishers will have less reliance on libraries to distribute journals if increasiing numbers of readers subscribe to digital libraries. This is an example of transformation of the knowledge consumption process, where the digital libraries are managed by publishers directly and do not belong to separate organizations. Another emerging and controversial phenomenon is that authors are now frequently placing their articles, both published and working papers, on their Web sites for colleagues (and strangers) to download freely. The incentive for the authors to do so is to make them available earlier because paper journals can take up to a year or more to print the articles because of the long queue of accepted papers, and the printing and distributing delays.

Table 1 contains a summary of various effects of Internet publishing and the corresponding examples. Next, we discuss the three levels of impact of Internet publishing on the knowledge production and consumption processes. In order to understand the impact of Internet publishing on knowledge processes, we apply the framework of three-order effects of information technologies [5]. The three orders of effects of any technologies have been described as: (1) The availability of more efficient services based on the new technology; (2) the emergence of new products and services because of the new technology, and (3) the restructuring of organizations and markets resulting from the adoption of the new technology.

More efficient knowledge distribution. Internet publishing relies on the Internet as the knowledge medium and the main distribution channel. In comparison, conventional publishing uses paper as the knowledge medium and postal services as the main distribution channel. The efficiency improvement via Internet publishing can be measured in terms of various process times such as knowledge cycle time and user retrieval efficiency. The knowledge cycle time is the time taken to produce a journal paper plus the time taken to send it to a reader. The user retrieval efficiency is the average time it takes for a reader to search, retrieve, and duplicate a paper from the library. Significant improvement in knowledge consumption efficiency is expected via Internet publishing as compared to conventional publishing. The replacement of postal services by the Internet reduces document travel time significantly, and therefore reduces the knowledge cycle time. The user retrieval efficiency also improves greatly because of the use of online searching and downloading of full papers.

New knowledge products and services. Under Internet publishing, new knowledge products and services become available that expand the traditional functions of paper media. For instance, as mentioned previously, multimedia and dynamic objects are available in digital libraries that link to the journal articles. Digital libraries can also offer virtual classrooms that include such teaching facilities as online discussion groups and teleconferencing systems. This is an integration of knowledge products with teaching environments. Furthermore, extended hours of service become possible because of process automation and lower costs. The duration of library access doubles because Internet libraries can be open continuously compared with the limitation of approximately 12 hours in conventional libraries. Future digital libraries will also provide customization of knowledge products that are tailored to the needs of individuals and small groups by packaging knowledge objects (such as article sections) into modules [4].

Restructuring of the knowledge industry. As knowledge economics change because of the application of new knowledge media and distribution channels, the roles of various players in knowledge production and consumption will also change. For instance, we have shown that the postal services are being bypassed, the conventional libraries in universities are weakened or even replaced by digital libraries managed by publishers, and the authors are able to distribute their knowledge products directly. We will see innovative ways of knowledge production, distribution, and packaging, which will result in new roles and business entities. Just like PCs replaced typewriters and typists, digital libraries will replace conventional libraries and library workers as we have known them. Physical work in physical libraries such as those transporting, shelving, and tagging journals will disappear and be replaced by equivalent but more dexterous work in electronic form. In addition, electronic work can be done remotely through the Internet (also called telework), and teleworkers' schedules can be organized in a more flexible manner. We will see dramatically different organizations in the knowledge industry as it reorganizes and fulfills its potential. However, the specific rates and forms of change are difficult to predict.

Publishers are now creating digital libraries for direct distribution of journals to libraries and to readers. As a result, publishers will have less reliance on libraries to distribute journals if increasing numbers of readers subscribe to digital libraries.

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State of Transition via Internet Publishing

In order to assess the state of transition in Internet publishing, we conducted a survey based on the model of knowledge processes mentioned previously. The empirical study focused on how Internet publishing is affecting the future of libraries in higher education in the U.S. We distributed questionnaires to attendees of the Conference on Alternatives to Traditional Scholarly Publishing held at the University of California, Berkeley, in November of 1998. A total of 148 stamped envelopes were included in the registration packets. Within several weeks after the conference, 42 completed questionnaires were returned, comprising 22.3% of those questionnaires distributed. The survey results provided solid evidence the transformation of knowledge process is well under way and is widespread.

The conference was attended by personnel from universities and national research centers in California and several western states in the U.S. Attendees included all nine campuses of the University of California, the Office of the President of the University of California, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, several California State Universities, University of New Mexico, University of Hawaii, University of Nevada, and five research centers such as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As a result, the conference was an opportunity to hear what individuals and institutions were doing to create new paradigms for scholarly publishing, and predictions about how scholarly publishing is likely to evolve in the future. Therefore, our survey study should be representative of the status and trends of this issue in the U.S.

The audience was largely made up of academic librarians. Based on the conference records, almost half of the conference attendees consisted of Berkeley librarians. About 30 attendees came from other UC campuses, and about the same number came from non-UC academic institutions, with the large majority of these being librarians. Among the 42 questionnaires we received, approximately one-half identified their organizational affiliations. Of the 19 respondents with addresses, 10 were from the University of California, Berkeley and nine were from elsewhere.

Approximately 88% of the responses were received from personnel at institutions of higher education; among the remaining respondents, three were from employees of the publishing industry and two were from national research labs. Librarians comprised 69% of respondents, and most librarians were from institutions of higher education.

We first asked the respondents to clarify the meaning of Internet publishing—the results are given in the Table 2. The survey data indicates the respondents have an encompassing view of Internet publishing, with the provision of online searching of text databases (90% of all respondents) and conversion of conventional journals into hypermedia (81%) being the most widely accepted inclusions in this definition. We asked the respondents to rate their institutions' aggressiveness in adopting Internet publishing: 47% of respondents indicated their institutions were aggressively adopting Internet publishing and far fewer (18%) indicated the opposite for their institutions. However many were unsure of their institution's intentions (34%). The high level of uncertainty about institutional intent is an indication that Internet publishing is still in the early stage of adoption in many institutions.

In terms of institutional goals in Internet publishing, the majority of respondents indicated online searching of databases (83%) and online retrieval of academic papers (81%) were goals of their institutions. The level of achievement by institutions in terms of Internet publishing functions is higher for online searching of databases (79%) than for online retrieval (67%). There were also 7% of respondents who indicated their institutions have not achieved either. Almost all respondents indicated that, currently, paper-based journals are still more important than Internet journals (97%). However, a significant number of respondents (29%) indicated a noticeable reduction in the readership of paper journals in their institutions. Table 3 illustrates the distribution of estimated reductions.

This is noteworthy because it clearly demonstrates (29% of responses) that Internet publishing has begun to make a difference in the channels of knowledge distribution in higher education. Consequently, institutions of higher education, the government, and the publishing industry should soon take measures to keep abreast of the transformation of publishing processes. The question with a simple dichotomy choice—which will be more important, Internet or paper-based journals—led to 78% of respondents indicating that Internet journals will become more important. This is also a significant finding because it signals the readiness of the libraries to embrace the Internet as the dominant venue for academic knowledge distribution in the future. To assess the potential pace of change from paper journals to Internet journals, we asked the respondents to evaluate two possibilities: existing journals will be converted to Internet journals (EJ) and new journals will mostly be published in Internet format (NJ). The results in Figure 2 show that while both trends received significant support, more people felt strongly about the latter. That is, the perception among the respondents is that many existing journals will not change from paper to being Internet-based, but most new journals will start on the Internet. Figure 3 illustrates the summary of responses on the following three statements: Authors will increasingly place their work on the Web for people to search and retrieve before they are published (DP1); Internet publishing directly by authors will provide a faster alternative venue for knowledge distribution in academic research (DP2); and Internet publishing directly by authors will have a significant impact on the profitability of journal publishers because of the capabilities for anonymous search and retrieval on the Internet (DP3). The majority (69%) of respondents agreed (that is, scored opinions above neutral) that authors would increasingly place their papers on the Web before they are published. Almost all agreed that direct publishing by authors will provide a faster venue for knowledge distribution (91%) and that the profitability of journal publishers will be affected (64%). Overall, we conclude that direct publishing by authors will have a great impact on the process of knowledge dissemination and the traditional publishers' profit. This is another strong indication of the transformation of knowledge processes in higher education.

The transition from conventional publishing to Internet publishing is leading to many changes and clearly will lead to more changes to the knowledge sectors that participate in the production and consumption of journal articles.

Figure 4 plots the results of the survey on the impact of Internet publishing on how knowledge will be distributed based on three statements: Internet publishing will favor new forms of knowledge presentation, such as the use of hypertext and multimedia, compared to the sequential forms currently used in conventional books and journals (KD1); Internet publishing will make searching and acquisition of new knowledge easier because electronic journal articles can be traversed naturally through hyperlinks (KD2); The use of hypertext in Internet publishing will lead to dynamic documents that use hyperlinks to relate electronic journal articles to one another (KD3). The majority of respondents (92%) indicated Internet publishing will likely favor new forms of knowledge presentation. Furthermore, 78% thought searching and acquisition of new knowledge will become easier, and 91% thought the use of hypertext will lead to dynamic documents in Internet publishing. That is, Internet publishing will revolutionize the way people search and learn new knowledge by means of hyperlinks embedded in the dynamic objects in Internet journals.

Figure 5 show the opinions of the subjects on how Internet publishing will lead to Internet-based libraries and what will be the impact on the conventional library functions: Internet-based libraries will emerge as a new form of academic knowledge provider (IL1); Internet libraries will make academic materials more accessible because they will provide services 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, without distance barriers (IL2); Internet libraries will eventually replace conventional print libraries once the social and legal issues are resolved because Internet libraries are more accessible (IL3). Most respondents (78%) thought Internet libraries will emerge as a new form of academic knowledge provider and will make academic materials more accessible (82%), but the majority disagreed that Internet libraries will replace conventional libraries (61%). The survey results on this group of questions are mixed. While support is strong on IL1 and IL2, the opinions on IL3 are collectively negative. This seems to indicate that while Internet libraries will emerge as a new knowledge provider, they might not easily be able to replace traditional libraries for a variety of reasons. We also noticed significant differences in the responses between librarians and nonlibrarians. A comparison of perceptions of librarians and others is summarized as follows:

  • The total sample is primarily comprised of librarians. Of the 42 valid questionnaires, 29 identified themselves as librarians, and the rest (13) identified themselves as publishers, administrators, and authors. This raised the need to assess the extent of bias of the results toward the view of librarians.
  • While almost all respondents indicated paper-based journals are currently more important than Internet journals (100% of librarians, 97% of others), a higher proportion of nonlibrarians (38%) than librarians (28%) perceived reductions in readership of paper journals. The reason librarians may not have noted a reduction in print journals could be that the responding librarians look at the mean result over many fields, whereas the nonlibrarians perhaps were in fields in which reductions were more evident (sciences compared to humanities).
  • The comparative analysis indicated that non-librarians tend to be more optimistic about the future of and the pace of transition toward Internet publishing. For instance, a higher percentage of nonlibrarians thought Internet libraries would make academic materials more accessible.
  • The overall results appear to be conservative because more librarians are included in the sample. This implies perceptions about the transition toward Internet publishing might be even more optimistically directed than our survey has indicated.

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Here, we examined the transformation of knowledge processes via Internet publishing and reported our survey results on perceptions about the state of transition in Internet publishing based on questionnaires distributed to attendees of a conference. The survey results revealed that higher education institutions are aggressively adopting Internet publishing. Furthermore, both librarians and nonlibrarians have noticed significant signs of readership reduction in paper-based journals. Although the sample size is relatively small, the results are indicative of the new trends in Internet publishing. The transition from conventional publishing to Internet publishing is leading to many changes and clearly will lead to more changes to the knowledge sectors that participate in the production and consumption of journal articles. Many signs of transition to Internet publishing are noticeable, such as digitization of library documents in conventional libraries, reduction of library collections because of divergence of funds to Internet activities, emergence of Internet libraries offered by nontraditional library owners, closure of less-efficient or underused libraries, blurring of the traditional roles of publishers and libraries, and direct publishing of articles by authors.

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J. Leon Zhao ( is an associate professor in the Department of Management Information Systems at the University of Arizona.

Vincent H. Resh ( is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California.

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F1Figure 1. The general knowledge process.

F2Figure 2. Survey result on the future of existing and new journals (EJ/NJ).

F3Figure 3. Survey result on the future of existing and new jnournals (DP1/DP2/DP3).

F4Figure 4. The survey results on the impact of Internet publishing on knowledge distribution.

F5Figure 5. The survey results on Internet-based libraries.

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T1Table 1. Effects of internet publishing.

T2Table 2. Functions that should be included in Internet publishing.

T3Table 3. Estimated reduction of readership in paper journals due to adopting Internet publishing.

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