Three years ago, I was waxing lyrical about the virtues of digital publishing (Menzie 2017). A fair bit has changed since then: computers and broadband connections are even faster, the price of data and storage is even cheaper, and the internet is full of even more cat memes. The pace of change – and adaptation – has been even more rapid over the past six months. As we’ve all discovered during 2020, digital communication can be key – from receiving e-mails and electronic copies of things we’d normally be getting through the post, to ‘attending’ Skype meetings, lectures via Zoom or a drink with a friend over FaceTime. For many of us, working from home has also become the new normal. Most of my desk work is still routinely done from my home office, although increasingly work is done on the go as well. I mentioned in my previous BB eye that all of my photos were stored on a wireless hard drive that sat in the corner of my desk. That technology proved to be short-lived. An upgrade to my online storage platform of choice allowed me to upload my entire photo collection – original RAW files and all – to the cloud. Now, I keep low-res copies of all of my photos on my laptop: they are good enough for me to be able to view and edit them when needed, but not so large that they take up more than a few tens-of-gigabytes of space. If I need an original photograph for publication, I simply go online and download the files I need. This has really freed things up. If I’m heading away, no longer do I need to consider carefully packing a hard drive; or a copy of a hard drive if I’m worried about my master copy getting damaged or lost. All I need is my laptop – even that is thinner and lighter than the one I was using three years ago – and I’m away. Remote working has been taken to the next level.
I visit Morocco every year. Just four or five years ago, I went ‘off-grid’ for ten days and friends were lucky to get a reply to a text message let alone an e-mail. The hotels had no internet, and I needed a second mortgage to turn on data roaming on my phone. Now, every hotel has at least a reasonable internet connection. In most cases, that internet connection is good enough to download high-res photos, upload documents, and get on with work as if I was at home. I sit and reply to e-mails on my phone from the passenger seat in between birding sites, saving the heavy work for when I’m back on my laptop in the evening – or, increasingly, on my tablet. Even in the remotest parts of the Sahara there are places with a strong 4G phone signal. Remote working really has become truly remote.
Increasingly, too, I can bring at least some of my library with me. Publishers such as Bloomsbury are routinely making their latest publications available in electronic format as well as in print; mostly simple PDFs or ePub books, but they’re effective and they deliver the content well. The prices are, in my opinion, still too high for non-physical products; but at least the electronic offerings are good quality – in some cases, better quality than the print books (see Brit Birds 113: 304–305). I can easily travel with 100 of these on my laptop, tablet, or even my phone. Compare that to how many books you would realistically want to squeeze into a backpack or suitcase. Even the nine volumes of BWP have recently been ‘appified’ to a digital version that I can carry around in my pocket.
At the time of my previous BB eye, British Birds was publishing content on a simple-but-effective digital platform. In the time since then, we’ve been busy working on a new, custom-built digital product that we hope will help BB to keep up with the rapid pace of digital change and provide the new standard for how our subscribers access our journal. This September, we launched BB Online. BB Online is web-based and is accessed through the BB webpage: www.britishbirds.co.uk
BB Online will, we hope, give our subscribers everything they require from a journal like BB. It takes full advantage of all of the plus points that digital publishing brings: higher-resolution photographs, video and sound files, and access anywhere… even in the middle of the Sahara. The specially designed platform presents BB content in a way that is easy to read, quick to navigate, and simple to reference. The digital product is treated with the same care as the paper issue, designed to give the most pleasing experience while still delivering the same peer-reviewed content as the printed issue. Subscribers will not just have access to current issues though: a subscription to BB Online gives access to the entire British Birds back catalogue. That’s more than 100 years of content, easily browsed by volume, issue and page number or found by using the powerful search feature. Remember that seminal paper on stint identification (Jonsson & Grant 1984)? You can navigate straight to it, along with the rest of the contents from Vol. 77. Looking for papers on identification of Green Warbler Phylloscopus nitidus? You can search for the species’ name and be presented with the most relevant papers. Perhaps you want to read through the past decade’s rarity reports. With BB Online you’ll have access to them all. Some of those reports are rather long: a search within an article will jump you directly to the species you’re looking for in a way that simply isn’t possible on paper. And, when you’re away from home, the content is available through an app that allows subscribers to store issues on their mobile devices for accessing away from a data connection.
We know that many of our subscribers are still fond of their paper copies and the thud as the magazine hits the doormat at the start of each month. As much as I could repeat the advantages of digital one more time, that cannot take away the tactile connection we have to printed copies. In my eyes, though, they’re different products for different situations. Retiring to your favourite armchair with a print copy of BB and a cup of tea is the default reading experience for many, and while taking your laptop to the same armchair may be initially less appealing, there’s no denying that rummaging around to find the back issue that contains that paper you’re looking for is soooo much easier with a digital subscription. The good news is that existing subscribers will be able to add digital to their existing paper subscription for just a small amount extra – and we hope that the benefits gained will help all of our readers, new and old, to enjoy the wealth of content published in British Birds.
Jonsson, L., & Grant, P. 1984. Identification of stints and peeps. Brit. Birds 77: 293–315.
Menzie, S. 2017. BB eye: The digital issue. Brit. Birds 110: 2–3.
Stephen Menzie is manager at Falsterbo Bird Observatory, Sweden. He sits on the British Birds Board of Directors, the BB Editorial Panel and BBRC. He is a keen birder and ringer with a passion for identification, moult and ageing.