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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society > When Gutenberg enters cyberspace
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image image image Date published: 16/10/02
  image When Gutenberg enters cyberspace
RTD info special "Talking Science"
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  Publishers, aware that a user-friendly website has become an absolute must, also know that the Internet can be an excellent marketing tool for their printed books and magazines.
   
     
   

'Just as the tools used by scientific research are changing, so too are the tools of scientific communication,' claims the very powerful Elsevier publishing house on its Internet site. The site offers an impressive number of on-line publications, research tools per discipline, access to the full text of works (paysite), and a 'contents alert' service allowing those who register to receive the tables of contents of the journals of their choice by e-mail. Since 1995, a newsletter – designed principally for librarians and other book professionals – also provides the latest news on Elsevier publications and other events.

This is far from an isolated example. The Internet is also opening up many doors for Dunod of France, a 'knowledge' specialist for the past 200 years and now part of the Vivendi group, and likewise for Springer in Germany, founded in Berlin in 1842 (now 86.5% owned by Bertelsmann), which publishes 2 600 titles a year and has a stock of about 19 000 books, 60% of them in English. For traditional scientific publishers, new publishing houses, universities and research centres alike, there is nothing 'virtual' about the Internet. It is a vital new media in which they must invest.

Inflation?
In the world of magazine publishing, the cost of paper is rising, the number of subscribers falling and the only way to maintain circulation is by concentrating on virtual access. This has not, however, prevented an almost unbridled increase in the number of print magazine titles, with a 207% increase between 1986 and 1999. In March 2000, there were approximately 3 000 on-line magazines produced on the basis of paper versions (including 689 on medicine and 165 on physics) out of a total of 8 511 virtual magazines. One no longer speaks of subscriptions but of various kinds of 'site licences' – for institutions or groups of institutions, or for individuals.
(http://www.eblida.org/ecup/)

Electronic publishing not only makes it possible to consult the articles, whether free of charge of otherwise, but also to track down other sources of knowledge through a document search, links, interactive services, electronic commerce, etc. The websites, in fact, operate as a marketing service for mass circulation scientific journals – such as New Scientist, La Recherche, Scientific American – attracting potential readers to the printed versions.

However, this wealth of information of every possible kind also raises a number of questions, especially ethical ones. There has been a lot of talk about access to information and free information (see… page …), but there are other issues too. Richard Smith, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, wonders, for example, about the changes the virtual dimension is bringing to medical information. He set out his ideas at the second International Conference on Electronic Publishing in Science organised by the International Science Council and Unesco in February 2001 (http://www.unesco
.org/science/
). He believes the fact that 'doctors and their patients can have immediate access to the same information' can change their relationship which becomes more egalitarian and is no longer of the 'master-pupil' variety (although a distinction between information and a command of information remains necessary). Moreover, the circulation of details of treated cases, in which a patient can recognise himself and be recognised by others, is a very different matter when these details are 'read' by 500 people or made available on an Internet site where they can be consulted by everybody.


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Disseminator of ideas

Other kinds of publisher, such as Odile Jacob (http://www.odilejacob.fr/)in France, use the Internet to participate in educational programmes. Its multimedia department has teamed up with Jeulin, a specialist in teaching aids, and the école des Mines to launch tools designed for primary school classes as part of a national operation entitled 'La main dans la pâte'. One example is 'L'eau dans le quotidien' (Water in daily life), a CD-Rom with a teaching kit, designed for teachers. In addition to the 'practical' questions of science, the videos teach children to read, think and discuss. This valuable tool was developed in co-operation with Nobel prizewinner Georges Charpak.

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