In the past, journals were the main way scientific/mathematical discoveries were disseminated and vetted. In some areas, they still are. However, in (theoretical) computer science that role is almost entirely performed by conferences and open web-based dissemination (e.g. arxiv or personal homepages).
There are still TCS journals (like ToC and JACM), but they seem to primarily publish papers that have already appeared in conferences and usually have an arxiv preprint. So I don't understand what value they are adding.
What purpose do journals serve in TCS?
I have heard three arguments in favour of journals, but I don't find any of them convincing:
- Journals supposedly have higher standards for reviewing than conferences. It is true that conference reviewing is under greater time pressure, but it is still the same pool of reviewers (and the amount of time the reviewer is given to read the paper has very little correlation with how long they actually spend reading the paper). As a reviewer, I don't fundamentally treat a journal review request any differently than I treat an external review for a conference.
- Journal versions are higher quality than conference versions. This is true, but it is moot, as most people will read neither. When I want to read a paper, I search for it and click on the most promising link, which is almost always the arxiv version. Thus it is extremely rare for me to read a journal version of a paper even if it exists.
- Journals can provide an additional quality signal on top of which conference the paper appeared in. This seems superfluous and a lot of effort for very little signal.
I have only submitted to TCS journals when invited. I have found the process tiresome, since it creates extra work and drags on for years. Thus I am not inclined to submit otherwise. Is there a good reason for me to submit?