Research by Wiley indicates that online formats are becoming a more popular method of accessing research papers. In a survey of 2156 participant who read scholarly papers over last year, 35.4% had accessed and read the paper online, with a further 32% reading a digital version offline and 8% reading the paper through an online app (Deluise, 2017).  This is nicely depicted in the graph below:

We have just recieved the download results from Regional Studies journals over the prevous six months (between 1st August – 1st February 2018).  These results are the number of times that an article has been fully downloaded from the different Regional Studies Association journals.  On first glance, it would seem that Regional Studies towers above its brethren journals: 

Why are the numbers for everything other than Regional Studies so low – does it reflect a lack of enthusiasm for the other journals? Fortunately, there is a statistical skew in favour of Regional Studies that overwhelms the other journal downloads. The graph above does not reflect the number of downloads in relation to the issues per year – Regional Studies has 12 issues per year, whereas Area Development and Policy, a relatively new journal, only has three issues per year. We can adjust the data to estimate a projection for the whole year and amend the figures according to different numbers of issues. Consequently, we get the graph below that still has a significant number of downloads for Regional Studies, and the remaining journals, including Area Development and Policy now have healthier looking download numbers.

After working on the downloaded texts data for the RSA, I wondered how global trends in digital downloads in academic and research circles might be evolving. This article is a brief review of preferred methods for reading scholarly papers and the impact that the Internet is having on printed publications.  I must confess to having digitally read all this material, thus I also conform to the trends indicated by the research described below.

To clarify, although in ordinary parlance we may use the terms interchangeably, for some scholars, there is some difference between reading digitally, ‘where traditional texts are simply delivered via hypermedia with few enhancements’ (Bodmann & Robinson, 2004), and digital reading (Singer et al., 2017), where using the Internet requires new cognitive skills for navigating text and features on websites.

The ubiquity of reading digitally across the world indicates that this is not a phenomenon that is going away any time soon –  increasingly more devices are ‘reader-friendly’ and the convenience of reading digitally continually reinforces its existence (Singer et al., 2017).  International surveys confirm that this is a global phenomenon; Arshad (2017) found that academics at the University of Punjab ‘made more frequent use of e-journals, online reference sources and discussion with colleagues for scholarly activities’. Nicholas et al (2016) confirmed the universal popularity of search engines such as Google and Google Scholar amongst EC researchers from seven countries (UK, USA, China, France, Malaysia, Poland, and Spain). They went so far as to suggest that, for the EC researchers they surveyed, printed journals (and libraries) had become almost completely invisible.

It is not in dispute that the search for scientific knowledge is becoming more interactive and web-based – researchers can now search for new material based on topics and author name rather than sifting through indices of already known journal articles. The rise of dedicated search engines such as Google Scholar are playing an increasingly important role alongside the specific electronic research database (Wolff et al, 2016).  Equally, innovations such as the RSA Expert Register, a members-only area allowing searches of the membership database by specific subjects and fields, promote information and knowledge exchange even before publication. 

Is this the death of the printed journal?

Probably not.  Wolff et al found that over half of respondents in their survey ‘strongly agreed that, regardless of how reliable and safe electronic versions may be, it will always be crucial for some libraries to maintain hard copy collections of journals.’  Digital reading, although immensely popular and convenient for the time strapped researcher, is supported by the reassuring presence of paper printed journals available in libraries and resource centres around the world. And, at the end of the day, those with published works recognise the deep satisfaction of having the physical expression of their thoughts and ideas in hard copy on their shelf.



We would like to thank William Deluise for his permission to use a slide from his Trends impacting scholarly publishing seminar.



Alia Arshad, Kanwal Ameen, (2017) “Scholarly communication in the age of Google: Exploring academics’ use patterns of e-journals at the University of the Punjab”, The Electronic Library, Vol. 35 Issue: 1, pp.167-184,

Bodmann, S. M., Robinson, D. H. (2004). Speed and performance differences among computer-based and paper-pencil tests. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31(1), 51–60. 

Deluise, William J. (2018). Trends impacting scholarly publishing, Wiley Society Executive Seminar, Accessed 12 March 2018

Nicholas, D., Boukacem-Zeghmouri, C., Rodríguez-Bravo, B., Xu, J., Watkinson, A., Abrizah, A., Herman, E. and Świgoń, M. (2017), Where and how early career researchers find scholarly information. Learned Publishing, 30: 19–29. doi:10.1002/leap.1087

Ponte, D., Mierzejewska, B.I. & Klein, S. Electron Markets (2017) 27: 97.

Singer L. M., Alexander P. A., Berkowitz L. E. (2017). Reading on Paper and Digitally: What the Past Decades of Empirical Research Reveal. Review of Educational Research, 87 (6), 1007-1041

Trakhman Singer, L. M., Alexander, P. A. & Berkowitz, L. E. (2017) Effects of Processing Time on Comprehension and Calibration in Print and Digital Mediums, The Journal of Experimental Education, 10.1080/00220973.2017.1411877

Wolff, C., Rod, A. B., & Schonfeld, R. C. (2016). UK survey of academics 2015. Ithaka S+ R| Jisc| RLUK. (15 June 2016). Available at: