MJA gets out of the print business

3 minute read

Australia’s chief medical journal is going electronic-only, citing the need for speed.

The Medical Journal of Australia has printed its last paper edition and will now be available only as a fortnightly e-journal and website.

Explaining the decision in a letter to subscribers sent out with the final print issue mid-last month, editor-in-chief Professor Nick Talley wrote:

“The pandemic has made us acutely aware of the need to even more rapidly disseminate the key data that are potentially vital for frontline healthcare workers and policy makers. We remain committed to the MJA publishing the highest-quality evidence-based articles and viewpoints every issue.

“While the MJA has to date been a traditional print journal, digital publishing presents exciting opportunities to go wider, faster and further with our content. Having tested an e-journal model with our readers for the past year, we now advise that the e-journal will replace the print format from July 2021. The new format has the advantages of reducing costs and waste (paper, plastic), increasing flexibility and speed of dissemination as well as improving accessibility.”

TMR asked the MJA whether the move was based on cost as much as speed.

Professor Talley said: “No. These days the challenge for all publishers is to cater for changing reading habits across all multiple digital devices. Thus, any short-term cost savings of not printing are soon offset by the need to continually upgrade the digital offering. Cost is a constant for all publications including scholarly journals regardless of format …

“For the MJA, our gradual evolution to a fully digital format has been driven by our mission to serve the widest possible audience with the highest quality content we can deliver. In the context of health emergencies like covid-19 where information is constantly changing, digital formats allow sharing through citations and social media and this phenomenon has seen the MJA’s digital readership grow exponentially. Given the opportunity to serve a growing readership with critically important research and credible commentary, a digital driven strategy, is in the best interests of the MJA.”

The journal recently achieved a Journal Impact Factor of 7.738 in the 2020 Clarivate Analytics Journal Citation Report, its highest yet, bringing it into the top 20 most-cited medical journals in the world.

Professor Talley, editor since 2015, has just extended his contract for a further two years.

Previous editor Stephen Leeder, an emeritus professor of public health at the University of Sydney, was sacked after a fight with the publisher AMPCo (owned by the Australian Medical Association) over its outsourcing of functions to international behemoth Elsevier, a move for which it cited financial necessity.

Elsevier has been criticised for profiting excessively from academic publishing and restricting the free flow of information (a claim it denies), and has been the subject of an international boycott petition signed by more than 18,000 scientists.

The MJA, which is wholly owned by the AMA, has been published under the current name since 1914, but its history dates back as far as 1846, when it launched in Sydney as the Australian Medical Journal, the first in the country. During the 19th century it merged first with the Intercolonial Quarterly Journal of Medicine and Surgery and later the Australasian Medical Gazette.

AMA members have full access, and an annual online subscription otherwise costs $236.

The BMJ, which continues to print, costs $180 a year for online only but up to $968 for the weekly general practice edition in print and online. The 52 weekly print issues of the New England Journal of Medicine cost $379, while digital-only costs $249 a year.


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