How does the traditional journal publication model work?

The conventional scholarly publication model operates as a dynamic cycle engaging researchers, publishers, peer reviewers, editors, and libraries. Initially, researchers delve into their respective fields, conducting rigorous studies and subsequently documenting their findings through manuscript submissions to publishers. These manuscripts undergo meticulous scrutiny by publishers who determine their suitability for further evaluation by peer reviewers. Peer reviewers, esteemed experts in the field, provide invaluable feedback and editorial suggestions to enhance the quality and integrity of the research before it is finalized for publication. Traditionally, scholarly journals earned most of their revenue from fees charged to subscribers [1].

Upon incorporating the suggested editorial revisions from peer reviewers, the researchers will proceed to submit their manuscripts to the publishers for publication as articles in their respective journals. Subsequently, these journals undergo dissemination to fellow researchers via journal subscriptions offered by libraries or, in certain instances, through individual subscriptions.

The traditional scholarly communication model is based on the pair document — metadata, where a document is generally a digital scientific article and the relative metadata is provided as a set of structured information supporting interpretation and discovery of the article [2].

Libraries play a crucial role in safeguarding journals for future accessibility. By maintaining these archives, researchers are provided with a vital resource to draw upon as they embark on new investigations. This perpetuates a continuous cycle within the traditional publishing paradigm, wherein each generation of scholars builds upon the foundational work of their predecessors, fostering innovation and advancing knowledge.

The expenses associated with this model typically encompass subscription fees for libraries and other journal subscribers. Additionally, researchers often incur page fees for manuscripts exceeding a certain length. Regrettably, researchers and peer reviewers typically do not receive compensation for their valuable contributions, while publishers commonly generate profits from the process.

The traditional journal publication model has been the cornerstone of scholarly communication for many years. Let’s delve into its workings:

  1. Publication Process:
    • Printed Format: Prior to electronic publishing and online digital documents, journals were disseminated through printed formats. Each journal typically published a set number of issues annually.
    • Subscription-Based: Readers, both individuals and institutions, could subscribe to these journals by paying an annual fee. In return, they gained access to the journal’s content.
  2. Key Characteristics:
    • Printed Issues: Journals released regular issues and volumes, containing research articles, reviews, and other scholarly content.
    • Access Restrictions: Only subscribers had access to the journal’s content. These articles were usually protected by copyright laws, limiting their use and distribution.
  3. Revenue Model:
    • Subscription Fees: Revenue was generated through user subscription fees. Institutions, libraries, and individuals paid to access the journal.
    • Copyright Transfer: Authors often needed to transfer their copyright to the publishers when submitting their work for publication.
  4. Advantages and Disadvantages:
    • Advantages:
      • Quality Control: Traditional journals maintained rigorous peer review processes to ensure the quality and credibility of published research.
      • Credibility: Being published in established journals enhanced researchers’ credibility and reputation.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Limited Access: Restricted access hindered the dissemination of knowledge beyond subscribers.
      • Cost Barriers: High subscription fees limited access for researchers and institutions with limited budgets.
  5. Transformation and Challenges:
    • Digitalization: The advent of digital technology transformed scholarly publishing.
    • Open Access: The rise of open access journals democratized research by providing free and immediate access to articles.
    • Choice Dilemma: Researchers now face the challenge of choosing between open access and traditional publishing.

Traditional publishing offers numerous benefits. The well-established reputation and esteemed status of traditional journals, coupled with their meticulous quality controls and rigorous peer review processes, render them highly desirable among researchers. Nevertheless, challenges persist. Limited access to journal articles and exorbitant subscription fees can constrain the dissemination and impact of published research. Additionally, the protracted publication timelines associated with traditional publishing can prove cumbersome and time-consuming, potentially impeding the timely sharing of valuable scientific insights.


  1. McCabe, M. J., Snyder, C. M., & Fagin, A. (2013). Open access versus traditional journal pricing: Using a simple “platform market” model to understand which will win (and which should). The Journal of Academic Librarianship39(1), 11-19.
  2. Bardi, A., & Manghi, P. (2015). A framework supporting the shift from traditional digital publications to enhanced publications. D-Lib Magazine21(1/2), 1-9.

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