The turnaround time that journal publishers demand for correcting page proofs is crazy, right? I honestly have no idea what the hurry is.
As far as I can recall, every page proof I’ve ever received has had an insanely brief turnaround time. Let me tell you two page proofs stories: my first (that I remember), and the most recent.
In the late ’90s, I got a manila envelope in the mail, which had page proofs and a big red stamp on them saying that I had to correct and return them in 2 or 3 days. And I seriously had to laugh. Why? Because this envelope was sent from the UK to Colorado, by boat mail. It arrived three months after it was shipped. I did the corrections and faxed it back. I honestly have no idea if the corrections made it in time. The article came to press a few months after I got the proofs.
I got some proofs this weekend. I went away with my spouse for some quiet work-free vacation. I checked my email when we got to our destination on Friday night. It turns out in the afternoon, I got page proofs, and I was asked to review them and send back my corrections within two days. So, in the time span between when I started my romantic weekend getaway, and when the romantic weekend getaway was suppose to end, I was expected to deliver proofs? Really?
Under more typical circumstances, I simply would let the proofs linger for extra days and get to them when I could. But in this case, it turns out there was a huge doozy of an error in the article that really needed fixing, which I couldn’t let slide, and I would be really annoyed if they went ahead and published it without my correction. (Also, I screwed up and forgot to put the grant number in the paper, and this would have been a bad thing too.) So I took time out from my weekend to work on the proofs, because the risk of letting these errors slip through would have been horrible. Maybe they meant 2 business days, not two calendar days. But they didn’t say, and because I’m a gullible schmuck, I delivered. Would the uncorrected version have gone to press if I waited a few more day? Well, probably not, but I didn’t want to take the chance. (I still had a wonderful weekend, by the way. And now I’m back home Sunday night, writing this post.)
Journals are just collecting papers together, and as soon as they’re ready, they tend to be promptly published online. I do realize that some journals are still binding them into a paper journals. I suppose at one point in history, publishers needed to compile everything on a tight-ish schedule for a particular issue. Nowadays, with the speed of the internet, and the steady rate at which articles are processed, there should be plenty of time for authors to correct proofs to get them ready for the next available issue. By switching things over to the internet, we saved ourselves a couple weeks by not having envelopes in the mail. But still page proofs are on a really short clock. This situation is absurd to you as it is to me, right?
What makes this even more absurd that journals need a few months, at a minimum, go to through the review process. It just doesn’t seem to make sense for them to require such a rapid turnaround on proofs.
While it doesn’t seem to make sense, I can imagine how, in the universe of publishing, it might somehow make some kind of sense. Many journals still are publishing articles that are published in bound issues, which are archived in libraries and universities worldwide. Academic societies with publishers have contracts for a certain number of pages or articles per volume or per issue. Because these bound issues are being put together, even though nearly all of us are accessing articles online, the schedule of print production still has publishers captive. But c’mon, let’s get real, can’t you just ask for a week instead of a couple days?