(Published 13 December 1997)
Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1558
Full text current issues available from the world wide web in March
- Tony Delamothe, Web editora ()
The world wide web looks like becoming the most rapidly adopted communications medium ever. By next year 25% of American households will be connected to the web—just five years after its creation. Telephones took 35 years to achieve similar penetration of households, television 26 years, and radio 22 years (M Chong, personal communication). The rest of the developed world may be a few years behind the United States, but there is little doubt about the direction in which it is heading. The ability to connect to the internet from the domestic television is likely to accelerate the rate of its adoption.
The number of visitors to the BMJ's website has been climbing steadily over the two and a half years since its inception and, on current projections, will overtake the number of non-member subscribers to the paper journal (17 000) by the middle of next year. The internet gives us unrivalled reach, with readers from 100 countries visiting our site each week,1 40% of whom “rarely or never see the paper journal,” according to our recent online questionnaire.2 Some 70% of users come from outside the United Kingdom. One of our original aims—to reach those parts of the world that the paper journal doesn't3—has been achieved.
Since we launched our website, massive commercial investment has unleashed a wave of innovations in web technology, many of them directly relevant to online publishing. Lacking the skills to exploit these ourselves, we looked elsewhere for help and have appointed HighWire Press to develop our website. A division of Stanford University's Green Library, the press has a mission to “foster research and instruction by providing a more direct linkage between the writers and readers of scholarly materials.”4 Having watched library budgets fall and the cost of journal subscriptions rocket, its librarian—directors were quick to spot the internet's potential to change the economics and efficacy of publishing.
Within just three years of operation, HighWire has attracted 27 journals to its electronic stable, including Science and Blood. No single source can boast a more highly cited collection of science, technology, and medical journals, and by mid—1998 another 70 journals will have moved their online versions to HighWire. Paul Saffo of California's Institute for the Future recently described HighWire as “one to watch—certainly one of the most exciting developments on the web.”
The BMJ's website moves to HighWire in March. Initially, the site will provide the full text of the paper journal (including links to the classified supplement) and allow users to nominate the topics on which they want to be kept informed. A searchable archive of past issues will be added, as will further features allowing users to customise the site according to their interests. Access to the site will continue to be free, although this policy will be kept under review. (Unexpectedly, publishers have found that giving away electronic versions of paper publications has increased rather than decreased paper sales.5)
These are fast moving times for the journal and the BMJ Publishing Group. Next year will also see substantial developments in the internet presence of the group's 30 specialist journals and of the BMJ Bookshop.