• Lynda Wallace-Hulecki, Ed.D.

Past, Present, and Future Considerations for Scholarly Journals: Leadership in Context


Leadership is a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal that is dedicated to disseminating research-based and practical information of relevance to the discipline of higher education leadership. The year 2015 marks the beginning of a new decade for Leadership—an opportune time to reflect on the past and consider emergent issues of the present with a view to identifying areas for strategic improvement to ensure the journal’s continued success into the future.

Indeed, staying abreast of changing environmental factors that are likely to impact higher education is central to the mission of the Chair Academy (hereinafter referred to as the Academy) and, by extension, Leadership. Ensuring the ongoing success of Leadership in meeting the needs of college and university leaders is not only the responsibility of the journal editors and Editorial Board; but a shared responsibility of all members of the Academy. Thus, this article has been written with two purposes in mind: first, to raise awareness among our readership community of the historic foundations, trends, and issues underlying the evolution of scholarly journal publications to date; and second, to lay the foundation for future considered discussion within the Academy on potential reforms to enhance the quality, relevance, reputation, and value of Leadership as a primary professional resource.

Accordingly, this article is organized into three sections. The first section presents key findings from a review of recent literature on the historic foundations of scholarly journals, including their importance, primary purposes, and defining elements. The second section presents a high-level portrait of the kaleidoscope of emerging issues at the forefront of debate among industry experts. The third and final section provides a brief portrayal of the Academy’s Leadership journal in context, and concludes with a call to action for you, our readership community, to contribute pertinent information to inform future discussion within the Academy by completing a brief online survey. The findings derived from the survey will be presented in the winter edition of Leadership.

I. Scholarly Journals: Past and Present

Overview of Historic Foundations

The year 2015 is a landmark year for Leadership, and coincidentally marks the 350th anniversary since the publication of the first formal scholarly journal in 1665—the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. This publication has been lauded as the first and longest-running English language scientific journal, and for pioneering the fundamental concepts that continue to underlie the model for almost 30,000 scientific journals in the present day (Royal Society website, 2015, Publishing 350).

Prior to 1665, scientists communicated largely by passing letters between each other. By 1665, there were too many scientists for this method of communication to remain practical. Leveraging the growth of the printing industry, the first-ever journals were introduced to serve essentially the same function as that of the current day journal—to provide a venue for scientists and other interested readers to communicate the latest scientific discoveries, as well as to establish the rights over any intellectual advances of individual scientists (Royal Society website, 2015, Publishing 350).

The establishment and success of scholarly journals as we know them was largely the product of the 19th century, when science publishing grew as a result of increased global participation in scholarly and scientific research, as did the proliferation of discipline-specific journal publications. With increased competition for the best scientific papers, more rigorous and systematic peer-review processes were introduced to address issues of author recognition and to ensure quality control (Royal Society website, 2015, Publishing 350). During this same period, new enabling technologies of the industrial revolution–steam-powered rotary printing presses and efficient rail-based mail service—empowered the distribution of journal publications (Eisen, 2013). As a consequence of the escalating costs for printing and shipping articles around the world, two key features of modern journals were made common practice: (1) journal publishers restricted what was printed to only those works deemed to be of the greatest interest to their target audience; and (2) publishers adopted a subscriptions-based business model, whereby journal copies were sent only to those who paid for a subscription (Almeida, 2013).

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, commercial publishers began to selectively acquire journals that were previously published by nonprofit academic societies (Smart, 2014). During this period, substantial increases in journal subscription charges were introduced due, at least in part, to the compounding costs associated with processing more content, implementing new technologies made possible with the advent of the World Wide Web, as well as commercial opportunism (Smart, 2014). However, the budgets available to libraries for the purchase of journal publications did not increase accordingly. The cumulative effect led to what has become known as “the serials crisis” of the late 1990s to early 2000s—the period of runaway journal cost increases and associated challenges for many libraries in maintaining subscriptions (Smart, 2014).

The search for an alternative business model ensued in response to the serials crisis and gave rise to the movement for more unrestricted “open access” to peer-reviewed scientific research and greater involvement of the academic community in the publishing process (Smart, 2014). Active debate over the economics and reliability of various ways of providing open access continues to the present day (Eisen, 2013; Almeida, 2013; Smart, 2014; Ware, 2006).

Present-Day Features of Scholarly Journals

Since their inception, scholarly journals have consistently been a primary form of formal scholarly communication. According to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), scholarly communication is defined as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use” (ARL website, 2015). Of the 30,000 active scholarly journals available in 2014, the vast majority (95%) published only articles stemming from original research, with the balance (5%) consisting of hybrids—academic journals that meld journalistic and research content (Ware and Mabe, 2015, p. 27).

Throughout the literature, the term “scholarly journals” has been used synonymously, and often interchangeably, with “academic journals”, “scientific journals”, “peer-reviewed journals”, and “refereed journals”—an apparent reflection of their defining elements. By most authoritarian accounts (UK House of Commons, 2004; Ware and Mabe, 2015), the core defining elements of scholarly journals include:

  • It is a formal written form of scholarly communication;

  • It is published on a periodic basis by an institution, corporation, or a professional or scholarly society;

  • Its content is written by experts for experts in a specific academic discipline or field;

  • It includes original research or intellectual inquiry along with citations for all sources used; and

  • It usually involves a peer-review process prior to publication.

According to the aforementioned authorities, the fundamental purposes (or functions) of scholarly journals have stayed the course of time to the present day and include:

  • Registration: establishing an author’s primacy as the originator of their scholarly work,

  • Dissemination: communicating the findings to its intended audience,

  • Certification: ensuring quality control through peer review and rewarding authors, and

  • Archival record: preserving a fixed version of the paper for future reference and citation.

Given the proliferation of scholarly journals in recent years, some industry experts have suggested that other related purposes should be added to the list, such as (a) services to assist in navigating or filtering the massive volumes of published material (e.g., key word search tools), (b) building a collective knowledge base on new ideas generated, and (c) fostering knowledge communities on topics of common interest (Schaffner, 2009; Ware and Mabe, 2015).

Since the early 1960s, publication of articles in scholarly journals has become and continues to be used as a prime indicator of professional recognition and standing for the scientific community, as well as a factor in award decisions of research funding organizations (Ware and Mabe, 2015).

II. Emerging Issues

With the explosion of technological advances, particularly since the introduction of the Internet in the early 1990s, a plethora of potential innovations to the scholarly publishing system have been proposed and, in some cases, piloted; yet the pace of widespread change has been reportedly more incremental than revolutionary (Moxham, 2015; Clarke, 2010). Indeed, some industry experts have observed with considerable amazement that disruptive change (described as a “sustaining innovation” by Clay Christensen in his seminal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, 2003) has not occurred as in other communications industries, such as in the newspaper industry (Clarke, 2010).

Findings from a survey commissioned by Canadian Science Publishing titled, Canadian Researchers’ Publishing Attitudes and Behaviours: A Phase 5 Report (March 7, 2014), confirmed the findings from other international surveys of researchers—“that there is a disconnect between researchers’ apparent agreement with the principle of open access (i.e., that research should be freely available to everyone) and their publishing decision criteria” (p.5). Results from the study indicated that the most important journal features were “peer review” for quality assurance and “visibility” in relation to the ability of a journal to “reach” the intended audience as well as “discoverability” with major indexers.

Ware and Mabe (March, 2015, p.160), leading thinkers on the future of scholarly publishing and authors of the 2015 STM Report: An Overview of Scientific and Scholarly Journal Publishing (4th ed.), have posited that the traditional functions of scholarly journals will likely remain much the same in the future given the entrenchment of the publishing enterprise within the academic culture and systems underlying faculty tenure, promotion, and grant funding; but the means by which journals are published will continue to evolve. In relation to the latter, the following select excerpts (abridged) from the 2015 STM Report—a leading industry publication produced for the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical (STM) Publishers—paint a high-level portrait of the kaleidoscope of issues at the forefront of debate within the scholarly publishing industry:

Researchers’ Behavior and Motivation

  • Despite a transformation in the way journals are published, researchers’ core motivations for publishing appear largely unchanged, focused on securing [grant] funding and furthering the author’s career [as a requirement for tenure and promotion] (p. 7).

  • Multiple surveys have [sic] shown that the main factors affecting author choice of journal are the journal’s quality, its relevance, and speed of publication (in that order), (p.71).

Peer Review

  • Peer review is a methodological check on the soundness of the arguments made by the author, the authorities cited in the research, and the strength of originality of the conclusions (p. 17).

  • Academics remain strongly committed to peer review despite some shortcomings… Despite this overall commitment, however, there appears to be growing support among authors for improvements to the system, notably in relation to the time taken and in the potential for bias on the part of reviewers (p. 46).


  • Authors publish to disseminate their results, but also to establish their own personal reputations and their priority and ownership of ideas (p. 16).

  • The digital transition has presented many challenges to the traditional copyright regime based on control of copies and integrity of documents–a single digital document can serve the world and it is essentially never entirely unalterable (p. 75).

  • In the US…[among other countries] there is an active debate on the need for copyright reform. [M]uch of the debate about copyright in the [sic] STM sector takes place within a context of widespread ignorance and misunderstanding of copyright and the rights available under the current regime (p.77). [Note: Some studies have found that this may be one of the reasons for author hesitancy in submitting articles for publication.]


  • All STM journals are now available online with just a few exceptions. Very few journals, however, have yet dropped existing print editions…. Indications from 2015 catalogues and industry discussions are that print editions will, however, finally start to disappear from publishers’ lists in significant numbers over the next couple of years (p.30).

Citations and Impact Metrics

  • The number of citations a paper receives is often used as a measure of its impact and by extension, of its quality…. A journal’s impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which the "average article" in a journal has been cited in a particular period (p.60).

  • Given the shortcomings [and increasing criticisms] of the impact factor, other metrics have been proposed, either as complements or as alternatives (p. 62).

  • In practice, use of the impact factor is so widespread that it looks unlikely to be dropped even if there are technically better measures …though it would be wiser to consider a range of measures rather than relying on any single metric (p. 63).

Business Models

  • Journal publishing has become more diverse and potentially more competitive with the emergence of new business models—[referring to the means by which functions are performed and commerce is conducted] (p. 10).

  • While publishers have always provided services such as peer review and copy-editing, increased competition for authors, globalization of research, and new enabling technologies are driving an expansion of author services and greater focus on improving the author experience (p. 9).

So what are the implications for the future of scholarly journal publishing?

Noah Moxham (2015), a historian and researcher, observed in The Guardian that the scholarly publishing industry is in a period of “radical uncertainty” given the active discourse occurring about the manner in which publicly funded research is or is not made public, the perceived lack of transparency in peer review, and concerns about who benefits from the current model of commercial scientific publishing. In his view, the scholarly publishing industry “could well be facing a major fracture point in the history of science communication.” Similarly, Ware and Mabe (2015) hypothesized in the STM Report that disruptive innovation may become more common in the coming years and that a defining feature will be “the accelerating pace of market and technology innovation, even as the core values remain constant” (p. 160).

Michael Eison (2013), co-founder of the Public Library of Science (a nonprofit publisher of open access research), and Priem and Hemminger (2012), among others, have advanced more radical perspectives about the future of scholarly journals, advocating for the “decoupling” of the traditional functions of a journal as the solution to needed reforms, whereby core functions would be performed as independent marketable services. For example, in a Blog article, “Does the scientific journal have a future?” (Swoger, June 18, 2014), the author observed that a decoupling of journal functions was closer to reality than previously imagined, as most traditional functions of scholarly journals “are now also done independently by third parties, making the scholarly journal less and less vital to the publication process.” Swoger noted that authors are able to post manuscripts online, have them reviewed by independent experts, track versions, and examine article impact without the need for a scholarly journal. In her opinion, an academic publishing model based on the level of an article, not a journal, may be the way of the future.

Whatever the outcome of current debates about the future of scholarly publishing, there appears to be general agreement that some degree of considered reform of the system—in whole or in part—will occur in the decade to come, and that priorities and prospects for journals in the future will depend in large measure on how, and how well, readers value and use journals as a professional resource.

III. Future Considerations for Leadership

Leadership is a peer-reviewed publication published three times per year that is dedicated to disseminating research-based and practical information for the benefit of post-secondary leaders (Academy website, retrieved July 2015). Implicit in the website description of Leadership are the traditional purposes of a scholarly journal (i.e., registration, dissemination, certification, and archival record) in serving a discipline-specific audience—college and university leaders. Thus, Leadership in its present form is well aligned with the core defining elements underlying scholarly journals as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Defining Elements of Leadership in Context

Leadership is published in both print and online E-reader formats. The types of articles published include manuscripts that are based on original research and add new knowledge to the field, as well as opinion-based editorial commentary. Therefore, Leadership may be considered to be within the realm of the 5% of active journals that are “hybrids”—i.e., academic journals that meld journalistic and research content.

As previously alluded, priorities and prospects for journals in the future will depend in large measure on how, and how well, the target audiences value and use journals as a professional resource. Therefore, it is vitally important that an understanding of audience-specific needs, values, and desired improvements to the journal be established. In this regard, a brief online survey has been designed to capture baseline information about our readership community in these areas. The survey should take no more than ten minutes to complete and can be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/X88QBXC.

Ultimately, the quality and relevance of Leadership depend on the contributions of Academy members and the broader readership community. Please take a few minutes to complete the online survey—the findings from which will be reported in the winter edition of Leadership. Thank you in advance for your contributions.


Almeida, P. (2013, April). The origins and purpose of scientific publications. Retrieved from http://blog.efpsa.org/2013/04/30/the-origins-of-scientific-publishing/

Association of Research Libraries. Publishing models. [website]. Retrieved 30-June-2015 from http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/scholarly-communication/publishing-models#.VZLJyOsqc7Y

Canadian Researchers’ Publishing Attitudes and Behaviours: A Phase 5 Report. (2014, March 7). Canadian Science Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.cdnsciencepub.com/learning-centre/impact-and-discovery/Researcher-Survey-Results.aspx

Clarke, M. (2010, January 4). Why hasn't scientific publishing been disrupted already? The Scholarly Kitchen. US Society of Scholarly Publishers. Retrieved from http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2010/01/04/why-hasnt-scientific-publishing-been-disrupted-already/

Eisen, M. (2013, March). The past, present and future of scholarly publishing. Retrieved from http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1346

Moxham, N. (2015, March 6). 350 years of the scientific journal: Celebrating the anniversary of philosophical transactions. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2015/mar/06/350-years-of-the-scientific-journal-celebrating-the-anniversary-of-philosophical-transactions

Priem, J., & Hemminger, B.M. (2012). Decoupling the scholarly journal. Front. Comput. Neurosci. 6:19. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00019. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319915/

Royal Society. [website]. Retrieved 30-June-2015 from https://royalsociety.org/publishing350/

Schaffner, A.C. (2009, 1999). The future of scientific journals: lessons from the past. Information Technology and Libraries. 13.n4 (Dec 1994): 239(9). Retrieved from http://faculty.washington.edu/jwj/lis520/schaffner.html

Smart, P. (2014). The big picture: Scholarly publishing trends 2014. Sci Ed 2014; 1(2): 52-57. Retrieved from http://escienceediting.org/journal/view.php?number=14

Swoger, B. (2014, January 18). Does the scientific journal have a future? Scientific American. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/information-culture/does-the-scientific-journal-have-a-future/

The Chair Academy. Article submission and editorial process. [website]. Retrieved 30-June-2015 from http://www.chairacademy.com/journals/submit.html

UK House of Commons. (2004). The origin of the scientific journal and the process of peer review. Retrieved from http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/13105/2/399we23.htm

Ware, M. (2006). Scientific publishing in transition: An overview of current developments. London: STM Association. Retrieved from http://www.stm-assoc.org/2006_09_01_Scientific_Publishing_in_Transition_White_Paper.pdf

Ware, M., & Mabe, M. (2015). The STM report: An overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing (4th ed.). London: STM Association. Retrieved from http://www.stm-assoc.org/2015_02_20_STM_Report_2015.pdf

About the Author

Lynda Wallace-Hulecki, Ed.D., is a higher education consultant, specializing in strategic enrollment management (SEM). Her consulting and career experience spans more than thirty-five years in working with colleges and universities across Canada and the United States. As an experienced SEM consultant, former SEM leader-practitioner, strategic planner, registrar, and institutional researcher, she brings a unique multi-disciplinary and international perspective to higher education consulting. Lynda is a past member of the Chair Academy’s International Practitioners Advisory Board, a graduate of the Leadership Academy’s Foundation Program, and has recently been appointed to the Editorial Board of Leadership. She can be reached at Lynda.jlresearch@gmail.com .