I fully support the shift toward online journals. I have published in them and plan to continue to do so. Yet I think we are far from actualizing their potential. Above all, the self-imposed limitation of imitating the “journal issue” format is undercutting their potential relevance — and this is even the case for publications like International Journal of Zizek Studies, which claimed it would do a rolling publication schedule but does not appear to have adhered to that.
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 understand the desire to imitate print journals, for the sake of standardizing citations, etc., but the fact is that most institutions don’t “count” online journals already. The advantage they offer, in theory at least, is greater immediacy — above all, the possibility of hooking the journal into interested blog circles, thereby generating actual discussion. In fact, trickling out articles could turn the journal itself into a discussion, as opposed to the current model of print publications, where one sends a message into the void for credentialing purposes without any real expectation that anyone will read it.
No online journal I know of is even remotely taking advantage of those opportunities. Many don’t even have RSS feeds, which is the most powerful way of integrating online journals into people’s online reading habits. In a world where online journals are fighting an uphill battle for recognition, the only advantage they have is in making themselves self-evidently relevant — in accelerating the decline of the traditional system by making themselves the center of the actual conversation. All the infrastructure for making this happen is already in place, so it’s all the more disappointing that it keeps not happening.