Five people every second are denied access to JSTOR

February 29, 2012

I read in the Chronicle of Higher Education that JSTOR “turns away almost 150 million individual attempts to gain access to articles” every year.  365.25 × 24 × 60 × 60 = 31557600 seconds per year, which means that 4.75 attempts to access papers on JSTOR are refused every second.

Every second, five people somewhere around the world try to enrich their understanding of science, and are prevented from doing so.  And that is just on one site.  I have no idea what the corresponding figures are on ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, etc.

There has to be a better way.


19 Responses to “Five people every second are denied access to JSTOR”

  1. scazon Says:

    Crucial to note: it’s not just science that these people aren’t getting, it’s about access to *everything* in JSTOR. All its content, not just science, isn’t free access.

  2. Nick Gardner Says:

    I’m one of those five, every day.

  3. ginckgo Says:

    I’m not one of those five – because I’ve given up.

  4. Nima Says:

    Are these five people per second all PAYING subscribers, or just interested people trying to access a single article like myself?

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Nima, those five people are the ones who can’t get access, so presuambly they’re not paying subscribers. They are people who follow a link or see an abstract that they like, try to download the full text, and are rejected.

    ginckgo makes an important point as well: these number are under-reported because they don’t take into account the many people who have learned their lesson, that access is not for them.

  6. Indeed the current model of research publication is way out of step with the common goals of scientists.

    My experience with ransomized clinical trials appears in the OnSurg blog here:

  7. I’m glad people are talking about this, and I hope that steps we are taking will help get access to more people. You might be aware that JSTOR made about 500,000 articles freely available earlier this year – See Early Journal Content: We are also launching the Register & Read beta mentioned in the Chronicle article to give people better access (they’ll be able to read the full content online) and to understand how many of that 150 million are, as you say, “trying to enrich their understanding,” as opposed to just being a click/traffic or people who simply haven’t logged in through a JSTOR participating institution. These are first steps. We are working with the publishers that own this material to sort out how we can provide access directly to individuals going forward. JSTOR is not like an Elsevier in this regard — we don’t own this content and are limited in what we can do — but we and many of our publisher partners share the mission to get access to as many people as need it and are working to develop solutions.

    As background on JSTOR, you might also check out a few key facts:

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hello, Heidi, many thanks for joining us. It’s very interesting, reading the fact-sheet that you linked, to see that there were 74 million downloads in 2010 — almost exactly half the 150 million blocked downloads mentined in the Chronicle article, which means that only one thirds of access attempts are successful. I think that is very sad — it means that JSTOR could be doing three times as much as it’s doing to make science available. (BTW., I hope it’s clear to you in both the original article and here that I am speaking more in sorrow than in anger.)

    I’m really not sure what to make of a service like JSTOR. My anger with publishers is that they erect artificial barriers to access, and the solution to that is Gold OA — charge the author rather than the readers. But since a service like JSTOR has no authors, it’s not obvious to me how you can be financially sustainable without imposing access barriers. Is that something you discuss?

  9. Thanks, Mike. I’m amazed every day at how much we have been able to accomplish (more people have access to the content on JSTOR than ever did before) and how much more there is to do. Providing sustainable, quality access is critical though, and you are right that the Gold OA model is not an option for a resource like JSTOR.

    There are certainly other options to consider, some of which we are thinking about — low-cost direct to reader model, advertising, endowment funded, and combinations thereof. We’re also working with libraries as a means of reaching more people in more ways — the ability for schools to provide alumni with access, for example, and our long-standing policy that *any* JSTOR institution can provide walk-in access to people exemplify this.

    One of the key issues for JSTOR, and we are unique in this regard among many online resources, is that we were founded and committed to preserving this material into the future. Libraries are relying on us to archive the digital content we hold, to migrate it over time, and to be able to provide access to content years from now, even when it may no longer be of use to as many people. We also fund research and the building of complete paper repositories of the content on JSTOR — partnered with the University of California and Harvard — to ensure the public has reliable back-up as one piece of an overall preservation strategy. I mention this because this responsibility and the costs involved influences the kinds of funding models we pursue.

  10. Nima Says:

    Ok thanks Mike. That means I’m one of those five, I just wasn’t sure if JSTOR is also making things difficult for their paying members to access, which would be outright abuse. I have tried to access many papers on JSTOR and it keeps asking me to subscribe.

    Often I will be looking around on the DML, see a link to a new paper, and then be dismayed that it’s a paid article on JSTOR or Elsevier or Wiley, etc. I assume the people posting these links have probably bought subscriptions. But it’s truly a slap in the face to everyone else that JSTOR doesn’t make their science articles open-access. They make quite a few of their history papers freely available…

  11. Michael Richmond Says:

    How many of the 150 million attempts are due to search engines and spiders who crawl the web automatically?

  12. Nick Gardner Says:

    “I assume the people posting these links have probably bought subscriptions. But it’s truly a slap in the face to everyone else that JSTOR doesn’t make their science articles open-access. They make quite a few of their history papers freely available…”

    No. What you should be assuming is that those people are either posting from reading the abstract, that they have direct access through being members of an institution (students or faculty) or that they are getting indirect access through a campus library…

    Most people rely on institutional access, I know very few people who actually pay out of pocket to gain access through paywalls.

  13. David Marjanović Says:

    I laughed out loud at the headline.

    Museum für Naturkunde speaking here. We have no access to JSTOR… or for that matter the super-expensive Journal of Systematic Paleontology (published by Cambridge University Press) that I would need pretty often.

    the solution to that is Gold OA

    I like (Acta) Palaeontologica Polonica better: charge everyone ( = the taxpayers) and don’t make a profit. That makes it cheap.

    How many of the 150 million attempts are due to search engines and spiders who crawl the web automatically?

    Good question, but Google, at least, does search full texts and even shows snippet previews from behind paywalls.

  14. Nick Gardner Says:

    The high value is plausible, remember JSTOR does not only house science articles, but those related to art, history, and so on. It’s quite plausible to me that 0.02% of the world’s population might be individuals who are interested… I know that I will open and browse JSTOR many times during a month while doing basic literature searches (I’m sure I account for 100’s of access failures during that much time).

  15. David Marjanović Says:

    I know that I will open and browse JSTOR many times during a month while doing basic literature searches (I’m sure I account for 100′s of access failures during that much time)

    Why do you bother opening it when you can see the URL starts with

  16. Heidi McGregor Says:

    I hope people will continue to bother. In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere, we did release the Register & Read Beta this week which allows anyone to sign up for an account and read a limited number of items on JSTOR for free. There are 75 journals available in this beta right now, but if it goes well, we intend to expand it to 1,000+ journals. Our aims are to provide better access for people while also learning more about who they are and what type of access they need so we can develop new, sustainable models to support it. As someone else noted here, these are big turn away numbers right now but we don’t know how much of that is noise vs. people who really want the material. Register & Read will help us to understand this. You can read more about the beta at:

  17. […] think about that in reference to barrier-based academic publishing. It doesn’t serve authors, it doesn’t serve readers, it doesn’t serve academic libraries, but doggone it, at least it costs vastly more than it […]

  18. will Says:

    It does my bloody head in. Every single day. I’m trying to get a degree here and I can’t even login to the damn thing (I have access but the website is literally useless/it does not function!)

  19. […] cannot login jstor. Yes, it’s a very common problem. Two years ago, we calculated that five people every second are denied access to JSTOR. […]

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