I'm not a huge fan of Weinberger's book, and the bit that Rothman quotes epitomizes much of what I find wrong with it, but the analogy that he makes to the relationship of journals and articles is fairly sound (although whether the articles in a given journal issue are "mostly-unrelated" or not depends on how you think about relationships). We still use the volume/issue convention because we're comfortable with it, and we haven't really figured out an adequate replacement yet. But if we were inventing scholarly publishing fresh, it's probably not the way we'd organize things.
When I spoke to Elsevier's senior managers two years ago, one of the points that I tried to make was that not only is "the journal" as a collection of articles quickly becoming an anachronism, the journal article itself is becoming less important as the primary unit of information. And I argued that as things continue to evolve, the journal article itself will essentially disappear as it morphs into something much more interactive and dynamic.
It's not surprising that this view caused some consternation among some in that particular crowd (one of the other speakers -- a journal editor -- challenged it directly saying that the journal article would definitely be the primary mechanism for sharing scholarly information for a very long time to come), but it was clear that my views were shared by many in the room.
When I met with the some of the folks at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (as part of their library advisory panel) a few months ago, we had a great discussion about how their view of their content is shifting. Like many publishers, they consider the electronic version, not the print version, to be the "publication of record", and, as is the case with many other publishers, they are shifting their publication processes so that articles can be made available as soon as the editorial work has been done. They are also starting to experiment with incorporating multimedia into the article content. The more that this happens, the more it will be impossible for the print version to adequately reflect the content of the version of record. They're not quite sure how they'll handle this, but they are very clearly excited about the possibilities.
At my first meeting of the New England Journal of Medicine advisory board (January 2003), the point was made that they viewed their job as bringing research results to clinicians, not "publishing a journal". For 150 years (give or take), publishing a journal was the best way to do that, but they know that they need to transform what they're doing if they are going to adequately fulfill their mission in the digital age.
In October of 2006, I did a presentation for the annual meeting of the International STM Association in Frankfurt. As I commented here at the time, my talk was well received and the people that I spoke with clearly welcomed the participation of librarians in reimagining the future of scholarly publishing. But it was also abundantly clear that they weren't going to wait for us to show up.
I mention all of these dates because I've been very concerned for a long time that librarians have been late in getting to the table. The contentiousness of the open access debates has been a terrible distraction and has highlighted how little librarians actually know about the publishing process. So I was very excited, and am feeling more optimistic than I have in quite some time, by the energy in the room at the meeting of the AAHSL/publisher liaison taskforce in Chicago last Thursday. There is much planning and follow-up yet to do, but I think we've planted the seed for a truly collaborative effort among librarians and publishers (and editors and authors) to participate in reshaping the scholarly communication enterprise into something that takes full advantage of digital media and serves the needs of scholars and scientists and students far better than the current systems have been able to.
I've argued for years that we cannot create the kind of future that we want in isolation. It's not up to librarians and it's not up to publishers and it's not up to editors or authors. It will require all of us, listening to and learning from each other with patience and goodwill. The meeting in Chicago was a tremendous step in the right direction.