Circulation of print newspapers and PetroChina — what do they tell us about Open Access publishing?

The November 6th Wall Street Journal (WSJ) contained two seemingly unrelated articles that caught my eyes.  First, there was a piece by Sarah Ellison that “circulation at the nation’s biggest newspapers slid again in the latest six-month period by an average of 2.6%…”.   Ellison pointed to data from the Audit Bureau of Ciriculations that average weekday circulation at 538 daily US newspapers reported six months declines, ending September 30, 2007, of 2.6%.   The second WSJ article written by Andrew Batson and Shai Oster was titled “How big is PetroChina?”.  PetroChina is the main oil and gas producer in China.  Yesterday, astonishingly, it apparently, by some measures, leap-frogged to become the world’s most highly capitalized company with a valuation in excess of $1 trillion.  This would make PetroChina more highly valued than traditional behemoths such as Exxon Mobil or General Electric.


The common thread between these two stories is that the world is changing, quickly!  Long-held dogmas are being shattered overnight.  The newspaper circulation numbers tell us that increasingly the dissemination of information is via the internet, and print media is becoming much less important.  The PetroChina story is a huge surprise.  While most of us are grudgingly accepting of the idea that the geocenter of economics, politics, sciences, and various aspects of human society is inexorably moving Pacific-ward, few appreciate the extreme rapidity of this change.  Is PetroChina the first clarion of many more that the best, the biggest, and the most expensive will no longer routinely be Western icons?  Time will tell, but “don’t bet against the trend!”


What do these two items say about Open Access (OA) publishing at journals like Retrovirology?  Retrovirology has always been printless, and we fully embrace the ideal that “if you have internet access, you have free full text access.”  As seamless internet access to fee free knowledge sites increasingly becomes the accepted culture, this new reality speaks to our strength and well for our readers and our authors.  Lastly, the PetroChina saga teaches an important message — ignore the inconsequential, the downtrodden populace at your own peril.  If you write and publish only for the access of today’s elite scientific audience in developed economies, will you be reaching tomorrow’s best and brightest?  

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