Kotsko on Online Journals

He thinks they can do better in terms of using the medium:

There is no conceivable advantage to publishing a huge mass of material every three months in an online format. In fact, given the reality of people’s online reading habits, that format undoubtedly makes people less likely to read the journal — they get overwhelmed by the amount of material that is there and wind up reading one article at best. Had the same material trickled out as it became available (i.e., once peer review was completed), odds are that interested readers would’ve read proportionately more articles, including articles not immediately in their area of interest (the first to go when the reader feels overwhelmed).

I’m not sure what he has in mind: The Philosopher’s Magazine already runs a site that updates quite frequently, and thus you’re talking more about an online magazine than a journal. The point of journal articles, even though they might only appear semi-annually, is that you know that there (hopefully!) were the result of a slower development of a line of thought, more so than a blog post, and certainly more than you can do in shorter, more accessible articles.

My idea would be that as more journals go online, we’ll have the best of both worlds: people who post blog items can link to quotes and articles that they like, which all would be publishing at different times. This would help bring attention to articles in a way that’s harder to do now that most journals are basically behind the pay walls of libraries…


  1. There’s no necessary connection between the amount of time it takes to develop a journal article and the convention of publishing them together. Trickling them out would give people more time to digest them, instead of being faced with a glut of articles in one publication which they would pick maybe one or two out of and them move on. I have no intention of undermining the journal article format as such — just the grouping/timing.

  2. In fact, as I reread your last paragraph, it sounds like literally exactly what I’m proposing. I’m not sure where the misunderstanding crept in here.

    1. I don’t think there was actually a disagreement, though I did want to point people to your post and wanted to understand better what you had in mind. I don’t know if the trickle approach works any better, but certainly ways of better using the medium would be good. (Perhaps the article and then open discussion blog-style?)

  3. The more fundamental thing would be to remove the barriers to access, obviously. And I don’t think blogs (mine included) are doing enough to promote open-access journals that we have — although I think the kind of promotion you usually see (“there’s a new issue out, here are a couple highlights, check it out”) support my case that sticking to the “issue” format (note: the “article” format is still great!) leads to people being overwhelmed by the amount of material and just kind of passing it over.

    Perhaps integrating into Kindle and smartphones would help here, too. But I know that if I’m primarily going to read something on a regular laptop, I can only handle reading a journal article of average length every couple of days at the very most — so if an “issue” with 6 articles were coming out around every 2 weeks with one article rather than every 3 months with 6 at once, I’d be more likely to at least give all the articles a decent scan.

  4. Yeah, I think that’s a good point. What I was thinking it that I don’t feel overwhelmed if I see one article among a sea of other things to read online, rather than six articles among an infinite sea of things to read online. I think what we’ll see more (I hope!) is a confluence between online journals and blogging. Part of the problem, for example, is that I can’t upload or link to most of the articles that I read given copyright concerns. Open access does change that. But yes, your point is correct, though let’s face it, in any given journal, how many pieces grab our interest beyond one or two? (Except Radical Philosophy Review, of course, which demands reading from beginning to end…)

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