Do Journals Still Matter in an Era of Online Academic Search?
Journals have traditionally served the role of gatekeeper for research publications, marking the quality of papers and offering an organizing filter for search. In the era of preprint archives and academic search engines, some have asked whether journals continue to be relevant in this role. The question is difficult to study empirically because of the deeply confounded relationship between paper impact and journal reputation. We present a measure of individual paper quality that is divorced from journal reputation: the number of citations to preprints posted on arXiv.org, prior to journal publication. We study papers in three arXiv fields: high energy physics phenomenology, astrophysics, and condensed matter. Our two main findings are: 1) we find little evidence that the role of journal reputation has diminished over time, although the effect has likely been inflated in previous research, and 2) more impactful preprints are less likely to be published in a journal at all.