This topic addresses current issues in electronic publishing (epublishing), including a clarification of what epublishing is and a discussion of epublishing advantages and disadvantages, potential cost savings, and media requirements needed to get started. Ludwick and Glazer observe that epublishing is developing as a tool within nursing, much as the more traditional clinical tools of stethoscopes and syringes. The goals of this Online Journal of Issues in Nursing topic are to shed light on the implications of epublishing and to assist nurses in using this powerful new tool in whatever arena of nursing they currently practice.
In the lead article, Jones and Cook describe the "explosion" of electronic journals (ejournals) we are witnessing in academic publishing today and explain why this explosion is occurring. They go on to raise the provocative question: Are ejournals a paradigm shift? Kuhn notes that as a new paradigm emerges as the predominate paradigm, it encompasses the prevailing paradigm and replaces it with one that answers a greater number of questions. Thus, when a paradigm shift occurs, the essential structure of knowledge changes. Jones and Cook argue that although epublishing is having a tremendous impact on nurses, it does not represent a paradigm shift because ejournals are only a new means of disseminating knowledge and not a new way of constructing knowledge. They add, however, that future media developments may be great enough to expand our thinking out of two-dimensional boundaries and produce a new paradigm --- stay tuned.
Ludwick and Glazer, in Electronic Publishing: The Movement From Print to Digital Publication, clarify the maze of Internet communication strategies by delineating various categories of epublishing. One type of epublishing, messaging/networking, includes e-mail applications that correspond with others, network with groups, use various types of mailing lists to share ideas, and/or participate in theme-related chat rooms. Another type of epublishing facilitates information management using computer software, such as CD-ROMs and Internet connections to a variety of web sites. Advantages of ejournals include accessability, collaboration between authors and readers, rapid, and often free dissemination of new ideas, and interest-producing animation. However, epublishing is not a panacea for maintaining our professional competence; technical challenges, difficulty reading from the screen, and becoming lost in the Internet Wonderland continue to challenge those who use this new tool.
The question of whether quality ejournals can be produced at lower costs than print journals is an issue currently undergoing vigorous debate. Budd reviews several studies, identifies relevant line-item considerations in making this comparison, and concludes with a qualified "yes" that ejournals can be published at lower cost. However, ejournals do have publication costs that must be recovered. New service provisions, such as providing hyperlinking to references and other relevant sites, dialogue between authors and readers, and information filtering according to reader interest can be provided to recover costs. Additionally, different types of subscriptions, based on the purchase of specific pages, a particular issue, or the year's publications can be selected to meet the reader's needs. Budd asserts that epublishing is here to stay. The real question is the rate of speed with which epublishing will become the norm.
West concludes this introductory set of articles with very practical "how to's" for anyone considering starting an ejournal for a professional group or an agency. He recommends inviting the major players and decision makers to the planning meetings to discuss the time and the resources needed to get the journal online, planning with the user in mind, and designating someone on the team to think like the user will think. It is also important to include a review team consisting of in-house staff and/or stable customers to develop early "buy in" for the project. West offers suggestions for technology configuration and number of graphic files, and walks the reader through the pros and cons of handling the journal process in-house vs. having it done outside. A most useful sidebar lists options regarding provider services for hosting the journal on the Internet and offers questions to ask before making the decision as to which provider service you will entrust your new ejournal.
The above articles address only a few of the many issues that are arising as we enter the era of epublishing of our body of nursing and health care knowledge. Other questions have also been asked, and new questions will continue to arise. We invite you to share your expertise on these issues and help your colleagues get started publishing electronically by submitting additional articles related to ejournals that can be added to this topic. Remember, one of the advantages of epublishing is that additional articles can be added at any time to previously published articles on a give topic.