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Journals as Portals of Electronic Publication

Module by: Hilary Ballon, Mariet Westermann. E-mail the authors

The field of art and architectural history has two journals of record: the Art Bulletin and the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH). They are underused resources. Although modestly funded, the journals represent significant investments in scholarly capital and have the potential to play a larger role in the dissemination of knowledge through electronic extensions. The word extension is used advisedly to underscore the preservation of the print journal and provision of supplementary material online. A disclosure is warranted here. The authors of this report are closely associated with the journals: Mariët Westermann just completed a four-year term as Reviews Editor of the Art Bulletin, and Hilary Ballon recently began a three-year term as Editor of JSAH.

First, meet the protagonists. Art Bulletin and JSAH are peer-reviewed quarterlies published by scholarly societies, the College Art Association and the Society of Architectural Historians, respectively. Art Bulletin was founded in 1913, JSAH in 1947. At present back issues are available through JSTOR, but the current issues are not published digitally. The editors and book review editors are scholars in the discipline; their editorial appointments are a service to the profession and carry no compensation. The peer reviewers and authors are also unpaid. Thus the content of the journal is evaluated, selected, and developmentally edited with volunteer labor.

Both journals encompass the full scope of the discipline. They set no geographic, chronological, or methodological limits. Art Bulletin publishes articles in all spheres of art history with occasional articles on architectural history. JSAH addresses the built environment broadly defined, including landscape, urbanism and planning as well as architecture and theory. They publish medium-length articles and reviews. Art Bulletin publishes on average 7 articles per issue, or 28 articles per year; the articles average 10-12,000 words, with a maximum of 20,000 words on occasion. The review section is limited to books and has a highly selective approach; each issue has 6-8 reviews, some covering two or more books. (A companion online publication, caa.reviews, is more comprehensive.) JSAH publishes fewer articles, 4 per issue, for 16 per year, each also 10-12,000 words on average. It has a more extensive review section that covers multimedia, books, and exhibitions; websites have just been added. Both journals occasionally include special sections or "interventions." Recent features have examined the state of Renaissance art history, debated the interpretation of a single painting, and considered the linkages between architectural history and other fields. Both journals are extensively illustrated in black and white, with some color in Art Bulletin. A typical issue, March 2006 for example, has 146 illustrations of which 7 are in color. JSAH will have its first four-color illustrations in the December 2006 issue.

The argument to expand the scope of the journals with electronic extensions addresses peer-reviewed credentialing, access, and cost. This section expands on the following points.

  1. The journals are edited by scholars and have effective and respected systems of peer review that guarantee high standards of scholarship. Their imprimatur therefore confers prestige and has value in tenure and promotion decisions.
  2. The journals are a shared resource of the discipline, international in scope, and can provide better access to electronically generated work now contained in university silos.
  3. The journals offer a cost-effective method of scholarly publication by reducing layout and design costs, by imposing a standardized design template, and by offering a circulation that exceeds the average print run of books in the field.

This recommendation is in part a tactical response to the realities of university promotion and tenure. Books are required for tenure in art history; depending on the institution, one or two books are expected. But the university imperative to publish books is at odds with the dynamics of publishing. The problem is not that publishers are abandoning art history, but their search for larger, cross-over audiences has disadvantaged monographs that primarily address a subfield and favored wider-ranging books typically by seasoned scholars. The widespread perception by art historians of a publishing "crisis" is connected specifically to the declining interest of publishers in scholarly monographs, which is the pertinent, tenure-making genre.

The current situation satisfies none of the stakeholders. Junior scholars experience a disconnect between the types of scholarly monographs required to demonstrate their expertise and considered appropriate for tenure, and the types of books editors are looking to publish. Publishers insist on the distinction between editorial decisions and judgments of academic quality, which is what tenure is about. They say it is wrong to use publishing choices as a surrogate for tenure review. The university press, in other words, should not be the tenure gatekeeper. Senior scholars are caught in the middle. Eager to support junior colleagues and former students, they may push for premature publication of manuscripts. Even so, they lament the rush to publish work before it has fully matured, expecting books to meet a high standard of intellectual argument and depth of research.1

Despite different perspectives and an unwavering devotion to books, scholars and publishers agree on several basic points: not all scholarship is suitable for publication as a book; credentialing considerations are unnecessarily fixated on the format of the book; an expanded range of publications, including long articles, would enrich the discipline and benefit scholars; and electronic publications, if properly vetted and produced well, ought to be recognized by tenure committees as well as authors as outlets for serious scholarship. These considerations point to the journals of record as viable portals of electronic publication with an expanded range of types of publication.

The journals rely on a proven, well-respected peer review system that upholds rigorous standards of scholarship. The system involves a large network of scholars that distributes the burden of reviewing and responsibility of enforcing professional and scholarly standards across the field.2 Our research found a high degree of confidence in the double-blind peer review system of the journals, indeed, a higher degree of confidence than in the review system of the university presses. This confidence relates in part to the thoroughness of peer review of articles. As one scholar put it, there is greater density and stringency in peer review of article manuscripts than of book manuscripts. Another factor is the different way peer review operates in journal and book publishing. Most journal submissions undergo peer review; most submitted book manuscripts do not. Book editors work in a curatorial mode, shaping a line to realize an editorial vision. Their major decision point comes before peer review, which tends to serve a validating role. As one editor put it, "If I send a book manuscript out for review, I like it. I want a peer review to tell me how to make it better." Peer review for a journal is more influential in determining whether a submission is published. Moreover, the journal editor is often deeply involved in developmental editing to implement the recommended revisions whereas book editors and editorial boards place greater weight on the author's initiative in responding to the peer report. These procedural differences in the use of peer review flow from different missions. The journals serve the field as a whole and are meant to represent its eclectic range; the job of book editors is to create a well-defined list, develop a brand identity, and make a strong contribution to a particular niche.

Scholars often seek to publish in Art Bulletin and JSAH because their scholarly leadership, editorial guidance and effective peer-review system offer credentialing benefits and prestige. The credentialing benefits are constrained since journal articles are generally not sufficient for tenure in research universities; nevertheless, the imprimatur of these journals is valued. Does it follow that the book-length publication must appear in the shape of a traditional book? Our research showed that scholars would welcome alternative presentations of book-length arguments, that is properly vetted electronic editions with the option to print the text on demand, as long as the material could be afforded the same preservation and permanent access that books now enjoy.

Our argument thus proceeds from the premises that a book-length publication need not be a book, and that it is possible to combine the merits of journal peer review with the requirements of book-length argumentation in an electronic extension of the journal. The core requirements are that the electronic extension maintain the journal's high standards of peer review and access is permanent. Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to suppose that the reputational value of the journals will carry over from the print format to its electronic extension.

A second asset of the journals of record is their discipline-wide reach, which stems from their role as a shared resource, bridging departments, universities, and countries. While their contents are published in English, the contributors and subscribers are international. As a result, journals can overcome the limitations built into the first phase of digital experimentation conducted in university media labs. These labs have hatched dozens of fascinating projects related to art and architectural history. Some of this work is geared for teaching, but other projects are research oriented, should be disseminated, and are coming up against the limits of print publication which cannot accommodate certain digital proofs, such as 3-D models, QuickTime videos and other animation sequences. This work is sequestered in gate-restricted sites, but even if all access barriers were removed and one could freely enter the websites of university labs, it would still be desirable to publish the work. Publication involves a vetting and editorial process that benefits the work, and publication positions it in a prominent disciplinary context. Both the technology and the digital competence of art historians have reached a level permitting digital work to move from the domain of technical experts into that of art history, where the technology itself becomes transparent and the focus is on the scholarly content. Thanks to remarkable advances in a short period, we are poised to introduce digital research into scholar-driven vehicles where subject experts can access and evaluate the work.

Cost is a third factor that makes journal publication attractive. The journals famously have a lean cost structure; indeed it is the envy of book publishers, which have much higher fixed costs. Lynne Withey, Director of the University of California Press, has pointed to journals as a low-cost model of publication and has recommended the adoption of the journal model as a cost-lowering strategy for some university press lines, with the editorial process transferred from professional editors to faculty. While Withey's proposal may strike scholars as a way to extract more unpaid labor from the professoriate, we can recognize the economies and other benefits afforded in particular by the design and distribution system of journals, as well as the benefits to the field of scholar-driven editorial policies.3

Design expenditures are necessary in any illustrated publication, whether the format be book, journal or online. Books, however, are especially expensive in part because each one gets a customized design whereas journals lower design costs by imposing a design template to which all articles conform. The streamlined, formulaic approach of the journal is transferable to the electronic domain, and the development of so-called authoring tools, such as those devised by Gutenberg-e and the History E-Book Project, might capture further economies.4

Another cost factor relates to distribution, print run, and audience. Our survey of art history editors revealed that the average print run for a scholarly art history book in 2005 was 1,200 copies, down 33 percent from 1995 when the average print run was 1,781. As indicated in Part II on the Image Economy, art history books are not yet able to capture the cost efficiencies afforded by digital, print-on-demand publication nor can they tap the benefits of expanding access to readers and prolonging the sales life of a book that publishers and authors in other fields are beginning to derive from the internet. The costly dynamic driven by offset printing and inventory costs may be altered as print-on–demand becomes a viable alternative. In the current environment, however, economic factors mean that book publishing does not serve all types of scholarship, some of which by definition and in fulfillment of its purpose targets a limited audience of experts.

A virtue of journal publishing and its subscription system is that it distributes the cost of scholarly publication across an entire field and does not penalize subfields with small audiences. When you subscribe to Art Bulletin, you support endangered and emerging fields with limited audiences as well as large fields with popular appeal. One scholar reported that book editors were wary of titles in African art because of the limited audience for this subject. This may be a rational criterion in the book business, but it is irrational in terms of scholarship, which should push into new areas where audiences have not yet formed. The journals are not oblivious to their audience, but their scope is universal, their contents scholar-driven, and they can publish scholarship that book publishers cannot afford to do. The subscription base of the journals substantially exceeds the print run of the typical university press book. The average print run of the Art Bulletin is 11,000; JSAH is 4,000, compared to 1,200 copies of the scholarly art history book. These subscription lists offer the basis for a self-sustaining business model, as the ACLS History E-Book Project has demonstrated.

It is true that CAA and SAH would have to reformulate the benefits of membership and adjust their budgets if their journals were made available through university subscriptions and did not require individual subscriptions, but this problem is soluble. As proposed here, the electronic issue would complement, not replace, the print journal. Surely scholars will continue to value the convenience of receiving a personal hardcopy. Both sponsoring societies offer a rich array of other membership benefits, including an annual conference, job listings, and scholar-led trips. Many other scholarly societies have made this transition, and we can learn from their successful examples. And digital publication serves the scholarly mission of the societies by extending access to the journal from the discipline-restricted circle of society members to university citizens at large as well as other subscribers.

To summarize, the following factors recommend journals as portals of electronic publication.

  1. The high quality of the journals and rigorous, scholar-driven editorial process has value in tenure and promotion decisions.
  2. As a shared resource of the discipline, the journals can provide better access to electronically generated work now contained in restricted websites.
  3. The journals offer a cost-effective method of scholarly publication and reach a wider audience than printed monographs.

Footnotes

  1. This paragraph draws on the focused sessions we convened with scholars at different stages of their career and with art history editors. They are discussed at greater length in Parts III and IV of Lawrence T. McGill's report The State of Scholarly Publishing in the History of Art and Architecture.
  2. Following a similar line of analysis, a recent report on Scholarly Book Publishing endorsed by the University of California Academic Council recommends experimentation with new publishing models that fully leverage scholarly editorial expertise and digital technologies. See The Case of Scholarly Book Publishing, University of California Academic Council's Special Committee on Scholarly Communication, April 19, 2006, http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/committees/scsc/monogrpahs.scsc.0506.pdf.
  3. Lynne Withey, "Crises and Opportunities: The Futures of Scholarly Publishing" (2003), ACLS Occasional Paper No. 57, http://www.acls.org/op57.pdf. Recent reports that the University of California is granting leave time to faculty who function as acquisition editors for the university press is an encouraging development.
  4. For Gutenberg-e, see http://www.gutenberg-e.org/; on the XML tools and capabilities of the ACLS History E-Book Project, see http://www.historyebook.org/xml-books.html.

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