Economists Omar Al-Ubaydli (George Mason University) and Rufus Pollock (Cambridge University) have self-archived "The Dissemination of Scholarly Information: Old Approaches and New Possibilities."
Here's an excerpt:
In this paper we began by setting out the basic goals of the scholarly communication system. We compared the current, journal dominated system, against those goals and found it wanting, and explored in detail alternative options in which distribution and filtering are separated and centralized filtering is replaced by a distributed, decentralized approach.
Using a simple model we explored the factors underlying the development of the current journal paradigm. There were two main factors: a) the high costs of information transmission in the pre-digital era (and, associatedly, fixed costs and economies of scale in transmission which make journals an effective club good) b) the natural complementarity of filtering to distribution which leads journals to act as filtering as well as distributional mechanisms.
With the collapse of transmission costs in the era of the Internet these original rationales for journals have disappeared. It is now possible for distribution and filtering to be separate and for the development of richer, and more complex filtering models based on decentralized, distributed mechanisms—with this latter process dependent on the first (if distribution and filtering are tied—as in the traditional journal model—distributed mechanisms make little sense).
We explored the various benefits of such alternative distributed mechanisms—and also provide a detailed description of how such a mechanism would function in appendix A. One of the main implications of our work discussion is that a crucial benefit of the open-access approach, in addition to the obvious one of reducing the deadweight loss to access, is that it permits the development of radically new matching mechanisms based on a richer set of information which offer major efficiency (and other) advantages. This second benefit, though often overlooked, is a major one, and is, in the long run we believe, likely to be the most significant.
Unfortunately, it is hard for new approaches to take hold because of the lock-in to the traditional 'closed' journal model engendered by the mutual expectations of authors and readers. Given the potential benefits afforded by innovation in this area, it is crucial that the potential of new approaches be thoroughly considered so that the scholarly community can adequately assess the options and, if necessary, take collective action to achieve mutually beneficial change.