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The Digital Age of Journals: The Present and the Possibilities

Adams, Tony

doi: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e318285ad85
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Many of us e-mail and communicate routinely using e-mail and have done so for a number of years. The advantages are obvious, much to the chagrin of the post office and other letter services. And Internet digital sales of all kinds of products are growing at exponential rates!

Even reading books has transitioned, in part, to digital formats, and the access to books using portable devices like tablets (e.g., iPad and Kindle) is also a fast-growing practice.

Resistance to this trend away from paper for newspapers (news gathering), magazines, and journals is common. The resistance to change reminds me of the transition from typewriters to computers and the perceived threat and defensive posturing surrounding that transition. There are some similarities with today’s reaction to digital media by some.

As an editor, I try to follow the trends and the data that support those trends. And I will comment on them briefly for the health science journals and medical applications.

A major problem with a lot of digital information has been ready access and portability. But smart phones, expanding public Wi-Fi access, and, more recently tablet devices, seem to be rendering those arguments of restricted access and ready portability moot.

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But frankly, regardless of any predictions for the future of digital access as the dominant access, I find myself a lot more interested in what unique features the digital formats bring that are unavailable with hard paper copy. The computer didn’t just replace typewriters (and even typists!); it ushered in not only new approaches to solving old problems but also innovative new “products.” The automobile replaced the horse and buggy.

It seems to me that, with the digital media in journals, there are some interesting, compelling, and unique opportunities, particularly for vision, eye, optometry, and ophthalmology journals. I am convinced that it is these unique features of digital access that will have the most important influence on the trends toward greater adoption of digital access. I am guessing it will be the novel uses, more than cost of production and publishing, the perception of archival permanence, the convenience and portability of paper, and the “sentimental” attachments and reassurance of paper for books, magazines, and journals, that will drive adoption of digital access for scholarly journals.

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As your editor, I want Optometry and Vision Science (OVS) to take advantage of the novel aspects of the digital media and tablet use and do so without an emphasis on pushing for changing the way we do the same well-tested and successful practices simply because new technology fascinates us and commands our attention. For scholarly health science journals, there is no substitute for quality content to advance discovery and impact patient care. Content rules! An editor’s eye must always be focused on content. As Monty Python said, “That is rule no. 1.”

Some aspects of the content can be presented in unique ways unavailable to the paper publication. It is these unique aspects that I am convinced will drive change to a digital preference. Perhaps the most positive, and most obvious, is the use of motion in video clips with publication of manuscripts. Eye, vision, optometry, and ophthalmology journals can simplify and more meaningfully articulate research or clinical measurement methods and even some results with video clips. Both readers and authors alike can appreciate this. Ask yourself whether seeing a cover test performed and watching eye movements and eye position with extraocular muscle anomalies are often best demonstrated with motion. Or consider whether the critical phases and timing of fluorescein angiography could not be enhanced with time-lapse photography in a video clip. In 2005, OVS published the Fry Lecture by Suzanne Fleiszig,1 and readers were able to see video clips of bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) invading and destroying corneal epithelial cells and appreciating, for the first time, that there are two different types of Pseudomonas. Dr. Fleiszig had discovered this and made it very apparent to our readers with her video documentation. Optometry and Vision Science has had a number of video clips associated with publications during the intervening years, and one only needs to look at the May 2012 Feature Issue dedicated to “Imaging” to see 14 video clips in six articles.2–7

Sometimes, there really is no viable way to “publish” without video components. In October 2012, we introduced three video clips that were critical to appreciating the main point of the article about patient and practitioner decision making for cataract surgery. The article was authored by Mark Swanson.8

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The color video clips, at no publication cost to the author, came in October, along with the inauguration of an Optometry and Vision Science iPad Application for Academy members and subscribers. The novel advance for OVS, with this iPad App, was the ability to download an entire issue of OVS in 1 to 2 minutes and then, later, view it on the iPad tablet, including embedded video clips, without the need for subsequent Internet access (i.e., even on a bus, train, or or plane, at the beach, in an area remote from Internet access).

I believe that this combination of the tablet portability and unrestricted subsequent OVS access will be a “game changer” for our journal. In our April 2012 survey, we found that 41% of Academy membership owned tablets (with more anticipating owning a tablet device within 1 year). The vast majority of these are iPads (more than 80% estimated from similar surveys of physicians). By the time of our September 2012 survey, the tablet ownership had grown to 53%. For Apple iPad access to our journal online in 2012, there was a three to four times increase more than the 2011 access.

Our publisher agreed to develop the OVS iPad App and make it available beginning last October 2012. It will be interesting to see what usage and ownership of tablets are reflected, 6 months after its initial availability, in our anticipated brief April 2013 survey of the Academy membership. Certainly, our publisher has made a clear iPad App commitment for all of their journals. In 2011, there were six Lippincott Williams & Wilkins journals with the iPad App. In 2012, another 94 were made available, and an additional 104 are anticipated in 2013.

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Regardless of what percentage of reader access eventually comes via a tablet (it is now reported to be quite small in other health sciences but growing rapidly), it is worth looking at the digital access, in general, for our journal. In that same April 2012 survey, with close to one-third of our membership responding, I learned that an impressive 36% accessed OVS digitally “sometimes, often, or almost always”). I was surprised, but I should not have been. The figures and trends are seen across many health science journals. Our publisher provided me with some statistics for digital access to OVS that reinforce the fast-growing digital access in general.

After 6 months of iPad access, in April 2013, I plan to repeat the survey question on tablet use. That will provide some insight as to the trends on tablet ownership and an additional question should provide information on the extent of any digital access for OVS.

In a separate upcoming editorial, I will share data from the second membership survey of September 2012. It has helped us understand readership interest for the various sections of OVS.

Tony Adams

Editor in Chief

Optometry and Vision Science

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1. Fleiszig SM. The Glenn A. Fry Award Lecture 2005. The pathogenesis of contact lens–related keratitis. Optom Vis Sci 2006; 83: 866–73.
2. Wojtkowski M, Kaluzny B, Zawadzki RJ. New directions in ophthalmic optical coherence tomography. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: 524–42.
3. Tuten WS, Tiruveedhula P, Roorda A. Adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope–based microperimetry. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: 563–74.
4. Chui TYP, Zhong Z, Song H, Burn SA. Foveal avascular zone and its relationship to foveal pit shape. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: 602–10.
5. Garrioch R, Langlo C, Dubis AM, Cooper RF, Dubra A, Carroll J. Repeatability of in vivo parafoveal cone density and spacing measurements. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: 632–43.
6. Tam J, Dhamdhere KP, Tiruveedhula P, Lujan BJ, Johnson RN, Bearse MA Jr., Adams AJ, Roorda A. Subclinical capillary changes in nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: 692–703.
7. Schmoll T, Unterhuber A, Kolbitsch C, Le T, Stingl A, Leitgeb R. Precise thickness measurements of Bowman’s layer, epithelium, and tear film. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: 795–802.
8. Swanson MW. Medical decision-making capacity and cataract surgery. Optom Vis Sci 2012; 89: e23–6.
© 2013 American Academy of Optometry