Electronic publishing of journals has already arrived, and is established. The Astrophysical Journal and Letters, Astronomy and Astrophysics Supplements and New Astronomy have been publishing a parallel electronic edition since the beginning of 1997. Astronomy and Astrophysics will follow in 1998, and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society are being developed. The American Astronomical Society has been the leader in developing electronic publishing in astrophysics. They have led not only by being first, but also by the high standards of their electronic publication.
One of the stories that school children in Great Britain learn at an early age is about King Canute II. Canute was a Danish king who ruled part of what is now Great Britain from 1016 to 1035. He is famous because he sat bythe sea as the tide was coming in and commanded the tide to go back. It didnot.
Electronic publication is going to bring many changes to the way research is done and published. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages. There are certainly problems which we have not yet realized. The purpose of this Joint Discussion is to stimulate a discussion of what the international astrophysical community would like from electronic publishing. Please do not say that you want electronic publishing to go away, because then you will be behaving like King Canute. But the publishers of journals and the bodies responsible for maintaining the quality of publication are feeling their way into completely new territory. To exploit electronic publishing to the full, and to minimize the disadvantages, discussion in the community is needed.
Electronic publishing will bring great connectivity into journals. While looking at one paper, a click on the mouse will immediately connect with another paper published in another journal. Large tables, theoretical or observational, will be read in the same way from databases. An electronic publication will longer be static. It can be modified to refer to papers published later, it can contain movies or computer programs that can be executed online.