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Traditional journals, even those available electronically, are changing slowly. However, there is rapid evolution in scholarly communication. Usage is moving to electronic formats. In some areas, it appears that electronic versions of papers are being read about as often as the printed journal versions. Although there are serious difficulties in comparing figures from different media, the growth rates in usage of electronic scholarly information are sufficiently high that if they continue for a few years, there will be no doubt that print versions will be eclipsed. Further, much of the electronic information that is accessed is outside the formal scholarly publication process. There is also vigorous growth in forms of electronic communication that take advantage of the unique capabilities of the web, and which simply do not fit into the traditional journal publishing format. This paper presents some statistics on usage of print and electronic information. It also discusses some preliminary evidence about the changing patterns of usage. It appears that much of the online usage comes from new readers (esoteric research papers assigned in undergraduate classes, for example) and often from places that do not have access to print journals. Also, the reactions to even slight barriers to usage suggest that even high-quality scholarly papers are not irreplaceable. Readers are faced with a 'river of knowledge' that allows them to select among a multitude of sources, and to find near substitutes when necessary. To stay relevant, scholars, publishers and librarians will have to make even greater efforts to make their material easily accessible.
Learned Publishing is the journal of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, published in collaboration with the Society for Scholarly Publishing. The journal is published quarterly in January/April/July/October.
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