A new beginning, or the beginning of the end?

The Thorax Blog – an opportunity to muse on respiratory medicine beyond the confines of the print journal, and an opportunity for the readership to provide quick fire responses and feedback, and an opportunity for something a bit different.  So we’ll see how this goes – post 1.

The paper issue of Thorax landed on my doorstep two days ago. It’s a great issue:  Respiratory infection, COPD, Epidemiology, Smoking Cessation, Tuberculosis, and a bit more Pneumonia, not to mention the usual high quality smatterings of Chest Clinic.  But how many people read the issue?  I don’t mean what’s the readership of the journal, but how many people read the paper version, compared with the online version I linked to just 2 sentences, and one hyperlink, above?

10 years ago I started my MD, researching anti-inflammatory treatments in atopic asthma patients.  My first task was to do a thorough literature review of the topic, to get up to speed with the research already done in the area, particularly by my own unit, and to present something that might be acceptable as an introduction to a thesis.  I trudged off to the departmental library to start to read journals.  I read the paper versions.  Mainly because the department had copies of the big journals in the area all the way back to 19 hundred and oat-cake.  Thorax; The “Blue Journal” (including copies of the American Review of Respiratory Disease, but not so far back as to encompass the American Journal of Tuberculosis, with, or without “A Journal of Respiratory Disease); CHEST; Allergy; JACI; and more.  I blew dust off the jackets, and started to read.  A colleague, now retired, was convinced he developed occupational asthma due to the dust from patient notes – I don’t think I had an allergy to the old journals, dusty as they were, but it was hard going, until a fellow research fellow, a cardiologist, asked me why I didn’t just read the digital copies, and save myself the legwork?

And, of course, this is how we work now.

“Have you seen the latest review of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?”
“No… is it good?”
“Yes, you should read it”
“I’ll find it online, I can read it on my iPad”

So what place is there for the print version of a journal these days? I asked my registrars if they read the print version any more. The answer was that they put the paper version in the smallest room, and read it whilst ‘on a break’. They read the online version at work. Reading during ‘a break’ isn’t exclusive to paper and print.

The juniors certainly like to get their names in print – original articles, letters in response to articles, chest clinic articles. But it’s easier, quicker, and more convenient to post a rapid response on a article on an online forum, or reply to a blog post, or even write one.

So if we can read the online version everywhere, carry it around in the cloud, wherever we go, and respond to it almost immediately, what need do we have of the printed version? Is this beginning of the end of the printed journal? Who prints out their photos anymore? So how long does the print version of any journal have..?

Thorax comes through my door every month, and I read it, every month, in its paper, real life, pages, glue and a spine reality. I like reading from paper, and I suspect I’m not alone. I have digital subscriptions to magazines that I don’t read, yet I will buy the paper version from TESCO, thereby paying twice; the Thorax digital subscription comes for free!

So I doubt this is the end of printed versions of journals: it’s easier to read the paper version, I think; it’s accessible without the cloud to power you along; it never runs out of batteries; and there’s something particularly special about flicking backwards through the paper journal, as there is flicking backwards through Cycling Plus (other magazines are available).

Who reads the paper version? Who reads the online version “cover to cover”? How long will it be before we can’t blow the dust of back issues? Or do we need the print versions, forever more?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.


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