If you’ve been frustrated by finding at Google a tantalizing snippet of what looks like an invaluable article on exactly the topic you’re interested in, only to discover that it’s behind the JSTOR wall, you’ll want to read this conversation between Tom Matrullo of IMproPRieTies and Bruce Heterick, Director of Library Relations at JSTOR. Here’s the basic point:

In fact, and here’s the maybe-if-and-when good news, the presiding lights behind JSTOR are now looking at various ways and means to open its treasurehouse to all, because they understand that that makes all sorts of sense. They simply have to ensure that by doing so, they don’t remove the parts of their economic model that have enabled them to build a self-sufficient, independent 501(c)3 organization in a relatively short time.

There’s much more in the post and comments; I don’t understand all the economic issues involved, but I’m glad they’re being discussed, and hopefully they’ll be solved before long. (Via Tom’s comment on this post at This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.)
Update. A followup post clarifies the situation, all too depressingly. Heterick wrote Tom:

It isn’t really the case that JSTOR is thinking about “open access” as much as I was carrying forward the notion that JSTOR is always trying to “open access” more broadly to other communities (e.g. secondary schools, public libraries, developing nations). That is an important part of JSTOR’s mission (to extend access as broadly as possible), so perhaps I should have used the phrase “broaden access” instead of “open access” to avoid the confusion with much more highly-publicized “open access movement”(OA).

Tom says, “Apparently JSTOR doesn’t believe that knowledge, the scholarly intelligence of the humanities, belongs to us all. I believe JSTOR is wrong.”


  1. Fantastic news. I hope they go through with it.

  2. I don’t know, was there anyone who assumed that JSTOR kept things gated out of malice, and wouldn’t open it up even if they could find a profitable way to do so? I’m not impressed to hear that they’re “looking at various ways and means to open [their] treasurehouse to all”. When I can dive into the treasurehouse and swim in the vat of gold coins, then I’ll be impressed (and forever grateful).
    (What I really want is a way to subscribe to the full, paid service as an individual, for a reasonable yearly fee, but I can understand the problems that might arise with that model–20 people sharing a login, etc.)

  3. A bit of a sobering follow-up here.

  4. Oh dear. Thanks, I’ll add it to the post.

  5. John Emerson says

    Too good to be true, alas.
    I’d love to see an economic analysis of this. I’ve paid for three articles in my life, at about $10 each. Something has to be really essential for me to pay that much for something I haven’t read yet, since by waiting a few months till I can get to a good library where I can read it to see if I want it, and then photocopy it for about $2.
    Without sponsoring scholarship in any significant way, the present system impedes penalizes independent scholars and anyone in a school with a weak library, for example third world and ex-Soviet scholars. The internet might have had a tremendous positive effect by making journals widely available, including very obscure ones. But that’s been prevented. (Taylor and Francis and JSTOR are two other robber barons.)
    The solution would be for all journals to go to original internet publication and to distribute software, templates and style sheets for authors to submit their manuscripts in from the start — thus partly replacing the MLA and Chicago style sheets.
    A free, routinized, standardized software for the many non-roman scripts would also be a boon for Languagehat types, and likewise for mathematical and other scientific notation.

  6. Bruce Heterick’s elucidation of “open access” is worthy of Microsoft — or Humpty Dumpty.
    I’m especially offended by how many of the pay-walled humanities papers are written by supposed anti-capitalists or anti-classists. Intellectual courage doesn’t extend so far as to put an impressive C.V. at risk, I guess.
    Highly recommended for those who care: Open Access News.
    In the meantime, barbarians outside the wall can always try the pirates — a demeaning retardation of research, but someday we’ll see the scurvy dogs walk the plank, me maties….

  7. While I agree that Google Books snippets are frustratingly tantalizing, and finding that an article is locked away behind JSTOR is very discouraging, I don’t think anyone has the right to expect, much less demand, that JSTOR share everything they have.
    JSTOR is not-for-profit, and they seem to have found a technical solution to a number of serious problems: First, there are so many journals that the cost of both acquisition and storage can be prohibitive. Second, print copies of journals can be lost or damaged.. over very long periods of time, random vandalism could eventually destroy every copy of a particular rare journal issue. Third, for already rare journals, not everyone can even have a copy. For example, JSTOR apparently includes issues of Philosophical Transactions from 1665–and even if your library had a copy, they wouldn’t let you touch it.
    So, JSTOR has has made more information available to more people, without trying to make a profit, but while remaining self-sustaining. As long as they continue to operate, they are also providing a useful archival function.
    Yes, it would be wonderful beyond words to have all that opened up to everyone in the world, on the internet, for free. I wish it were so, too. But someone has to pay for it.
    Tom says: “Apparently JSTOR doesn’t believe that knowledge, the scholarly intelligence of the humanities, belongs to us all. I believe JSTOR is wrong.”
    That seems like a selfish view. I think it is more likely that JSTOR can’t find a way to pay for all of their infrastructure and still make all the content available to everyone for free.
    For better or worse, somewhere in the production chain of journals and their content, there is someone who is neither sufficiently motivated nor moved by the love of expanding human knowledge. That person needs to get paid, and that cost has to be passed down the chain. Scholars may not demand to get paid for publishing their work. Academic societies may not demand to make a profit for publishing a journal, but their editors and typesetters and paper wholesalers do. So does the construction company that builds the library, the electric company that keeps the lights on, and the librarian, too (though usually less so than others–but even librarians have to eat). And the hosting company that maintains the JSTOR servers has to get paid. The commercial publishing outfits they license content from have to get paid.
    Everyone has to get paid, so who’s going to pay for it if JSTOR is free?

  8. How much does JSTOR charge a subscribing institution? How does this compare to SpringerLink, etc.? What about other online databases of interest, like OED or ProQuest (EEBO/ECCO)?
    Would they sell to an non-accredited online university? How many independent scholars would need to sign up to make the numbers work?

  9. Philosophical Transactions from 1665–and even if your library had a copy, they wouldn’t let you touch it
    You can bid on your own next week at Christie’s.

  10. How common is JSTOR access as a provision of public library membership? Multnomah County Library provides it (along with the OED and a stunningly large list of other references), and I had assumed that was common to at least most major metropolitan library systems, but I suppose I could just be lucky.
    I know very, very little about JSTOR as an organization, but from my impression of what they have going on I have to agree with Trey: it’s not clear to me that the lack of free-for-all access is a result of JSTOR wanting things restricted so much as JSTOR only being able to pull off so much at the moment.
    In a perfect world, journals all open themselves up and JSTOR ceases to be viable — the better for all of us, the worse for JSTOR, but definitely a net gain. In the meantime, I can actually get at paper x right now with my library card, which is kind of stunning.

  11. it’s not clear to me that the lack of free-for-all access is a result of JSTOR wanting things restricted so much as JSTOR only being able to pull off so much at the moment.
    But Heterick explicitly denied that: “It isn’t really the case that JSTOR is thinking about “open access”…” They’re not even thinking about it. They like things fine the way they are. And I refuse to believe that all those high fees are necessary to keep things running.

  12. John Emerson says

    If JSTOR et all just lowered their prices to the photocopy price I doubt that I’d be complaining, and they’d get more money from me. From $15 to $2-$3 for an average length article.
    I have one article listed on JSTOR for $15. I’d much rather have it freely accessible, and in fact posted it myself for that purposes. I was never asked whether I wanted it on JSTOR, and obviously have never received a dime. My guess is that the journal publishing my article only recieved a very nominal fee, if anything.
    Nonprofits sometimes turn into milk cows for their management, though I doubt that’s happening here, and they’re often frightfully badly managed in terms of their purposes. In addition, it seems to me that JSTOR is remiss in one of its purposes, providing access. The internet COULD be a way of providing almost-universal access to almost anything.

  13. John Emerson says

    Incidentally, I am a Sinologist of sorts, but am not John Philip Emerson the Sinologis or John Emmerson the Sinologist, nor am I John Emerson the Japanologist or John Emerson the Persianist.

  14. Oh, are you from the Rhode Island John Emersons?
    They’re not even thinking about it.
    I haven’t been following it at all, so I’ll take your word on it that the context supports your interpretation, but his quote can be interpreted just as well to mean “whoa, nellie, let me be clear that we’re not in a position to pull that off…”
    That is, they’re not even thinking of open access in the same way that I’m not even thinking of quitting my job to be a full-time musician. I have, in the literal sense, thought about it a lot and considered the implications, but I’m still, in the colloquial sense, not even thinking of it at this point.
    Which may be an overly generous reading, but that’s where I was coming from.

  15. Well, I may be excessively ungenerous because it’s hotter than the human mind can conceive (no, I see what you’re thinking, and it’s hotter than that), and I’m in the middle of editing a long, badly written article on a topic that requires endless research to factcheck (and even decide on proper spelling of names), and, well, maybe I should give him a tiny bit more benefit of the doubt.
    Maybe when it cools down a little.

  16. 54 and overcast in Portland. The street is actually wet. You might– I’m not being pushy here, or anything, I deeply respect your sense of personal geocentricism, but, I’m, I’m– it’s pleasant here, is all I’m saying.

  17. David Marjanović says

    How much does JSTOR charge a subscribing institution?

    Apparently too much, because neither the University of Vienna nor the University of Paris 6 have access. They have access to Springer/Elsevier and Taylor & Francis journals.
    (But not to the insanely expensive Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. Grrr.)

  18. John Emerson says

    Josh, actually I’m the Portland John Emerson, in Minnesota for now. My son Jesse is the Am/elia – Cal/eb Klau/der – ex Decem/berist Jesse Emerson, whom judging by your “About Josh” you may have met or might meet.

  19. Everybody wins if JSTOR can find a way to be profitable while opening its vaults to the masses (including unaffiliated or lay academics who would otherwise have to pay out of pocket for JSTOR access). I worry that they are not even bothering to explore that option. If they fail to act, current trends toward the free (no pay) model, could leave them with vaults of information which can also be accessed for free, in other words they could be left holding the bag (of otherwise freely accessible materials).

  20. John, very neat. I haven’t met him (I’m pretty hermitous for a musician), though I can hope to yet at some point. Her Majesty was, fortuitously, the album that introduced me to the band. I’ll have to check out his other stuff.

  21. Until that time… try http://www.bugmenot.com. It gets me in. The cookie lasts several hours before a refusal kicks in. Then I just search my C disc for “jstor” to find and delete the cookie, and log back in.

  22. The last comment, by zaelic, is a positive invitation to computer piracy, which I deplore, of course.
    I live on a totally bookless Philippine island, and my internet link is my only one to the outside world. I’m devastated by its absence whenever the NPA blows up yet another electricity pylon on the mainland of Mindanao, and there’s nothing to power it.
    But, PNAS provides me with open access because I’m a third worlder, and my US municipal library that gives me access to JSTOR and a host of other stuff hasn’t yet twigged that I don’t really reside at 112, Main Street.

  23. In fact, JSTOR is extremely cheap compared to commercial aggregators. Foe example, a small public library can sign up to a collection of over five hundred journals for as little as $3000 +$750/year (http://www.jstor.org/page/info/participate/new/fees/pubLibraries.jsp).
    I definitely don’t think it’s their fault that all those articles are not freely accessible – rather, it’s the publishers’ decision. An interesting question is whether publishers are in fact cross-subsidizing the printing from online subscription revenues. My guess is, they are.

  24. John Emerson says

    I think that if JSTOR, Taylor and Francis, Questia, Project Muse, et all aggregated and charged a reasonable flat annual individual fee for the whole package, they’d get a lot more money from me. But $15 / article is exorbitant, and I’ve only paid it three times for absolutely essential articles.
    It’s not exactly a question of these people being bad. They just have a business plan which minimizes the beneficial effects of a great technological revolution, and probably without benefitting the authors much at all.
    Maybe Google will start an academic e-publishing service, and Google’s lawyers will protect authors who want to participate from the various monopolies controlling their works.
    Primary internet publication is the long-term solution, of course.

  25. Sredni Vashtar is quite right: JSTOR cannot open-access its documents (though they have now done so with the public domain ones) because it doesn’t own the copyrights. That said, the MyJSTOR service, which allows me to read three articles for free every two weeks, generally suffices for me. (I have walk-in access to JSTOR via NYPL, but not online access.)

  26. EEBO, on the other hand, is now free, or at least over half of it is, and the whole thing is freely searchable at UMich.

  27. Excellent news!

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