Ours is a maddening and dazzling age of communication revolution; a time of wholesale, unceasing transformations in the ways that we share, receive, and store information; an era of profound, still-unfolding changes in how we as professionals, friends, and family connect and keep in touch with one other. Was it merely a decade or so ago when print journals and books still housed the bulk of scholarly discourse? When mobility in accessing information meant the porting and reading of a physical book or sheaf of copied articles on a train, at home, or at a conference?

Fueled by investor enthusiasm, competition, and continuing technological advances, the communication revolution shows no sign of exhaustion. How then can the authors, readers, and publishers of research chart and react meaningfully to such rapid change? Stepping back and taking a breather from the onslaught of hyped devices and adroit acronyms, let’s look briefly at six key trends impacting the development of scholarly publishing at present. It is helpful to keep in mind that, cumulatively, these six trends have impacted positively on the dissemination of research, regardless of the discipline, by making content more accessible, visible, and sustainable.

1. Digital forms of publishing. As of 2011, digital bytes convey and store formal discourse among researchers more than printed words. Scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals, monographs, and reports are disseminated primarily online in electronic form; the increasing excellence and affordability of print-on-demand technologies also allow printed versions of such publications to remain an option for most readers. The four ASHA journals are all published today chiefly in digital form online, with all back issues available electronically; on-demand printed editions of ASHA’s journals are also available for purchase. Although publishers, authors, and readers in the humanities and social sciences have notoriously lagged behind their STM counterparts in capitalizing on digital publishing, this transition is escalating in those fields as well.

Such an immense, foundational transformation in how we communicate research demands further interrogation: Why publish electronically?

It’s usually more affordable (though keep in mind that the development and maintenance costs of electronic publications are not free, especially for multimedia applications). Digital publishing eliminates extensive upfront costs such as printing and shipping. Readers across the globe thus have equally affordable access to research online; also, some traditionally expensive types of print publications such as those of inordinate length, steeped in color, and/or laid out on glossy paper stock can be disseminated digitally in a more cost-effective manner.

It’s faster, for publishers, authors, and readers. Obviating the physical manufacturing phase of publishing enables journals and books to reach their market more quickly; once a work has been digitally typeset (preferably in XML, or extensible markup language) and proofread, it’s ready to be released to the world and accessed instantaneously, everywhere. In some cases, such as the journal articles published by ASHA, as a publication is making its way through the digital production process, earlier working versions will be made instantly available online as they materialize. Readers no longer need to wait for a publication to be shipped to them; instead, through any number of electronic portals they can readily access the desired content on the actual day it is made available.

It’s so much more robust and versatile than the printed page. By incorporating multimedia components and/or by seamlessly pulling in and linking readers through a text to additional research content and data elsewhere, electronic journals and books encourage more potent and more interesting types of scholarly dissemination. For example, it’s clear that embedded or linked video and audio files can augment and vivify evidence-based research in audiology and speech-language pathology in ways just not possible through a two-dimensional print medium.

It’s more durable. It’s easy to overstress this advantage since changes in technology make problematic long-term digital archiving. As electronic platforms evolve, archivists and publishers need to remain vigilant and upgrade constantly the digital encoding and means of access for all of their publications, past and present. Assuming such curatorial attention and the survival of civilization as we know it, a library of digital content, including ASHA’s journals, should endure for the ages.

And it’s greener. Digital publishing isn’t completely green, since the devices needed to access and store information need to be manufactured and shipped to users. Nonetheless, it can be agreed that no trees are harmed in the making of a digital publication itself and no fossil fuels are expended in transporting its content repeatedly to readers.

2. Parsing and leveraging content. An increasingly prevalent trend among journals publishers, particularly in STM, is to maximize the availability (and profitability) of publications by enabling readers to access (and purchase) discrete units and bundles of content beyond a journal issue or subscription. Like the listeners using iTunes, researchers today are empowered increasingly to gain access to the precise configuration of content they desire—an individual article, a handful of articles within a journal issue, or a bundle of content across journal issues, different journals, or, for some publishers, across a range of topically related books and journals. Such fracturing of the print-bound journal issue and book is not new—faculty and graduate researchers have been selectively picking and assembling content for themselves since the long-ago days of the Kinko’s-printed course packets. ASHA’s journals similarly can now be accessed as discrete articles or bundles of content. Such versatile leveraging of content in no way signals the demise of journals, but rather their redefinition. Instead of being limited to a series of discrete printed events, journals are now increasingly regarded as prestige brands identified with a certain type of continually unfolding scholarly content, whenever the date of availability. The journal is dead—long live the journal!

3. Connecting with associated content environments. One of the great perceptual shifts accompanying the communication revolution is the acknowledgment that, upon release, each digital publication—book, journal issue, journal article, research report, and whatnot—does not stand alone but is intrinsically embedded within a greater semantic world, a dynamic, relational landscape of content resonance and searchability. Through metatagging and linking, scholarship disseminated digitally emerges not in a vacuum but as part of a research or discovery pathway interconnected with discourse and content elsewhere online: a host of robust commercial and library search engines, data repositories, and information commons; related blogs, Listservs, forums, e-mail blasts, Facebook pages, YouTube content, and Tweets. Likewise, readers conducting research online can be directed seamlessly to any of the ASHA journals through a variety of resonant sites and search engines.

4. Increasing receptivity to multimedia components. As noted above, the digital medium possesses great potential to accommodate multimedia components, most notably video and audio streams. Working within the constraints of cost and familiarity with new technologies, researchers across many disciplines are increasingly capitalizing on this potential of electronic publications to communicate their findings. The promise of multimedia for disseminating research in audiology and speech-language pathology is considerable; the ASHA journals thus encourage such deeply textured and dynamic articles from contributors by supporting publication of electronic supplemental materials. Text and data files can be included as supplemental material containing, for example, clinical and experimental procedures, discourse transcripts, data from individual participants, and other content that previously was considered too impractical, or even impossible, to print. Inclusion of video and audio files in scientific writing enhances both the translation and replication of research. The ability to include multimedia files as an integral part of research dissemination is redefining the nature of scientific writing (see JoVE to experience a visual journal). It is likely that this revolution will not only affect how research is reported but also how clinicians, and other consumers, use the information.

5. Growing interactivity and dialogue. Scholars and students today are increasingly comfortable using Web 2.0 social media sites such as wikis, blogs, MySpace, Second Life, and Facebook, where they participate in virtual communities through collaboration and interaction. In 2011, the impact of such interactivity and community-building on researchers has chiefly occurred around their content—through forums, Listservs, and blogs—rather than affecting directly the form or process of dissemination itself. However, as evinced by such dynamic media as Sophie andCommentpress digital publications themselves can potentially house and facilitate interactive discussions of content between authors and readers, and—most notably for SLPs and audiologists—between evidence-based researchers and clinicians. Although largely unexplored at present, such interactivity holds considerable promise for engaging practitioners more fully in the process of research.

6. Moving to mobile. Perhaps the most profound recent consequence of the communication revolution has been a gradually accelerating shift from a web-based to a mobile-based method of accessing online information. Such mobile devices as the Kindle, Nook, iPad, Droid, and iPhone are increasingly becoming the preferred way for both casual users as well as researchers to read and retrieve. The increasing individualization and mobility of researchers places a special burden on scholarly publishers to anticipate such portals and pathways to their content and respond accordingly. Online journals need to be refitted for cross-platform mobile viewing; downloadable applications for the most popular mobile devices need to be made available to readers. Both initiatives are currently in development by ASHA to maximize access to our journals.

These six trends are revolutionizing the world of scholarly publishing. Though change is happening quickly, the publication industry appears to be adapting. For example, in 2010, publishers launched new journals at a higher rate than in 2005 (see the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers). Also included in the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers’ report, more than 96% of STM publishers now support online access to their titles. In conclusion, the perspective of Kate Wittenberg, Director of the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia University, is shared below, as it aptly captures the approach to this changing landscape that ASHA has taken.

“Scholarly presses should continue to publish the best work being produced. That is our job. We need, however, to deliver that scholarship to our readers in the format they find most useful, most supportive of their own work, while maintaining a workable financial model to support its publication. That means exploring new formats when they become available. New technology, used intelligently and effectively, offers the opportunity to provide scholars and their students with the material they need in a useful form, and it offers scholarly publishers one way to maintain their role as creative and skilled disseminators of that work. It is our job to figure out what is intelligent and effective in the digital/online format.” (see CIAO: A New Model for Scholarly Publishing.)