Sunday, June 15, 2014

JSTOR slowly opens the gates of academy research

If you've ever run into the frustrations of discovering an interesting article is out-of-reach behind JSTOR, the gate-keepers of academia, here's some (limited) good news: JSTOR will make available the beta version of a new program, Register & Read, which will give researchers read-only access to some journal articles, no payment required.

Jennifer Howard at Wired Campus reports that there are some strings attached, and the accessible journals constitute just eighteen percent of JSTOR's annual requests. In the article Howard reports that JSTOR said it turns away almost 150 million individual attempts to gain access to articles yearly.

That is a lot of potential paying customers. Here's the fine print of JSTOR's free beta, from Howard's post:

... Users won’t be able to download the articles; they will be able to access only three at a time, and there will be a minimum viewing time frame of 14 days per article, which means that a user can’t consume lots of content in a short period. Depending on the journal and the publisher, users may have an option to pay for and download an article if they choose.

To start, the program will feature articles from 70 journals. Included in the beta phase are American Anthropologist, the American Historical Review, Ecology, Modern Language Review, PMLA, College English, the Journal of Geology, the Journal of Political Economy, Film Quarterly, Representations, and the American Journal of Psychology .

The 70 journals chosen “represent approximately 18 percent of the annual turn-away traffic on JSTOR,” the organization said in an announcement previewing Register & Read.

Howard also reports that the relative success of JSTOR's 2011 access-test program, Early Journal Content, has been a prompt to further public access, though likely through some kind of eventual paywall.

....In September 2011, JSTOR also opened up global access to its Early Journal Content. According to Heidi McGregor, a spokeswoman for the Ithaka group, JSTOR’s parent organization, there have been 2.35 million accesses of the Early Journal Content from September 2011 through December 2011. ...”We absolutely consider this to be a success. In the first four months after launch, we are seeing over 1 million accesses to this content by people who would not have had access previously. This is at the core of our mission, and we’re thrilled with this result. The Register & Read beta is an exciting next step that we are taking, working closely with our publisher partners who own this content.”

The number of annual denied requests has raised questions -- perhaps mostly among frustrated researchers, or the merely curious who like to read beyond their college years -- that JSTOR has been searching for a pay-tier system, as well as waving away scholarly research criticism.

By offering the new program, JSTOR is making some tentative and potentially lucrative steps to its information access, just at the time when web neutrality is at issue. The key is in McGregor's phrase "our publisher partners who own this content": the answer to JSTOR access, it appears, will be in the paying price for information.

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