In science, journals have long been the glue that binds a multifaceted system of scholarly communication. In the humanities and social sciences, monographs often play a similar role.
Today most scholarly journals (and a small but growing number of monographs) are distributed on the Internet. Shifting to digital distribution, while saving a lot of trips to the library, doesn't begin to capture the full potential of digital publications.
Despite the opportunity to put information in front of every potential user, access to most journals is still limited to subscribers — just as it was when journals were invented some 350 years ago. Monographs are still going out of print. Even though many older monographs and journals are being digitized, they are often only available to institutions that can afford brand new subscriptions to works that may already be in their print collections.
In contrast, many informal aspects of scholarly exchange — taking place within the so-called “invisible college” — have been far more dynamic than the formal and deeply entrenched publishing process.