Following up on my post last week on academic publishing, JSTOR has announced that it will be testing changes that may open up access further.

In the coming weeks, 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. All users have to do is to sign up for a free “MyJSTOR” account, which will create a virtual shelf on which to store the desired articles.

This is a welcome development in that it is “better than a kick in the head” which is basically what most academic publishers seem to be doing, liberally. JSTOR’s test is limited to a few journals although they are ones JSTOR believes comprise a good chunk of what people try to and fail to get access to. But it is qualified:

But there are limits. 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.

This is actually a pretty serious limitation. When you are researching something, how often is it the case that you just look at one article? Indeed, you have to cycle through a few to find the one you really need.

That said, what can they do? Even a freemium model requires exclusion from the ‘good stuff.’ The choice for JSTOR is precisely what the margin of exclusion is going to be and, let’s face it, whatever it is, it is going to come up short if we really think of this as a body of work necessary for research as opposed to articles people might casually read as a form of entertainment (like this one or this one).

One option that occurred to me was this (and let me say the idea is half-baked): suppose that each subscribing institution got to have a certain number of additional users (I’m thinking 1000) from somewhere else. It may be something they could specify (like a country or another poorer institution) or may just be the first 1000 who rock up. The idea being that the higher institutions who are paying for JSTOR can, at the same time, extend their licensing terms a little to give generic access to others outside. This already exists for their alumni but why stop there?

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