JSTOR, get out of the way

Has this ever happened to you?  You are hot on the trail of exactly the article you need to complete a thought, a post, perhaps a book, and, oh no!, you hit the red light from JSTOR. 

Chances are you have.  As of June 2007, the JSTORE database contained 729 journal titles and over 165,000 individual journal issues, totaling over 23 million pages of text

Wikipedia says,

JSTOR (short for Journal Storage) is a United States-based online system for archiving academic journals, founded in 1995. It provides full-text searches of digitized back issues of several hundred well-known journals, dating back to 1665 in the case of the Philosophical Transactions.

JSTOR was originally funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, but is now an independent, self-sustaining, not-for-profit organization with offices in New York City and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

But I say, this stuff is bought and paid for.  It is time to release it into the public domain.  Surely, there is a university server somewhere that would assume the costs.  Google, I am quite sure, would be willing to shoulder the burden. 

The fact of the matter is JSTOR is holding precious resources captive to sustain itself…and its ability to hold precious resources captive.  This content was created by academics funded by not-for-profit institutions.  JSTOR is not reinvesting revenue in academic production.  It is, as I say, now self sustaining in the worst sense of the term.

JSTORE is taxing public knowledge in order to sustain its ability to block access to public knowledge. 

Time to let go.

17 thoughts on “JSTOR, get out of the way

  1. Peter Bromka

    I shudder when I see the red J logo, as it means I’ve either come to the end of the road, or begun a new journey searching for a student willing to lend me their library ID#. Both options are unfortunate.

  2. Steve Portigal

    Hmm. I saw that for the first time last night, great timing. I found “You are not currently authorized to access this article.” just a little bit rude for an error message.

    We just finished watching The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl and I was doing some reading up about her and the film. But not thru JSTOR.

  3. Trevira

    Where’s the petition? I’ll sign it right now!

    I’m a research student at a British university that has a JSTOR account, but even with that I often find that the articles I want to access aren’t covered by the particular deal my university has signed up for. Academic material is often punitively priced, even for electronic versions that don’t have to cover small print run costs.

    Consider the example of institutions such as the Library of Congress and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, that are sharing high quality files of their amazing photographic collection (the stuff out of copyright or in the public domain) on flickr. This isn’t just a charitable gesture – they are reaping the benefits of increased awareness of their archives, valuable contextual information and searchable tags contributed by viewers that they would not have acquired by any other means, not to mention the warm glow resulting from sharing and contributing to the global pursuit of knowledge.

    JSTOR need to rethink their business plan and engage with the movement towards ‘commons’ projects that are reaping unexpected rewards for the institutions that take the plunge.

    [btw I’m a long term reader, often too shy to comment, but this issue pressed some significant buttons for me!]

  4. Lee Kennedy

    My understanding was that JSTOR licences the content from the academic journal publishers and provides digital access, so it is the orginal publishers who are keeping it subscripition based rather than open access

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  6. Angela Canin

    Prof McCracken, your blog and thinking on innovation and “just in time” marketing and insight has caught our attention and I would very much like to get in touch with you to talk about possibly speaking at one of our events. I am not a very experienced blogger (as you may have notice) and hope that I am not breaking a special unwritten “blogger law” by approaching you this way. I am not sure how else to get hold of you. Could you contact me?

  7. CV Harquail

    The paywalls that keep me from reading academic research drive me crazy, because (although this may seem irrational) every time I hit one, *I feel like I’m being punished for my curiosity*.

    As a way to deal with this, I have developed a list of workarounds, starting with the online services of my town library, to the online resources of my state university (where state law makes a few of these databases available) to searching for a working paper version or loose pdf to the very last option– asking a friend still in academia to send me a copy.

    As an independent scholar, I review for and submit to journals where I can’t even access their archives, despite the work that I do ‘for them’. My workarounds help a bit, but having my access to information blocked or detoured slows down my learning. I understand why the paywalls exist financially (hey, I’m a retired business school professor). And I also see how the paywalls are supported by an old-fashioned approach to knowledge workers/working. Only those in the “guild” (i.e., in university jobs) get full access, despite the fact that many knowledge workers contribute to the research in one form or another, as research participants, taxpayers, reviewers, promulgators, etc. Do we just have to wait until Google gets around to digitizing Administrative Science Quarterly? Grrrr…

  8. Jeremy

    You are so correct it hurts.

    This deserves a general campaign to open those publicallyt funded archives up to the public.

  9. Erin

    I was just having this same discussion this morning. It is devastating when I come across a hot nugget of insight and information only to be shut down and left searching for an intern who still has a university access ID. We need to progress beyond the red J.

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  12. Jared Carter

    The foregoing comments are true, and commendable, but they’re not the entire story. In scooping up the academic journals and putting price tags on their articles — a form of intellectual lap-dancing, as one observer has noted — JSTOR also grabbed up a number of poems that had appeared in those journals’ pages. College English, for example, regularly solicited and published contemporary poetry for many years.

    JSTOR ripped these poems off without so much as a fare-the-well to the original copyright holders, many of whom are still alive and active. Opting in or opting out was not an option extended to the “content providers.” JSTOR now expects pay-per-view money from you, the viewer, if you should wish to look at one of those poems.

    Meanwhile, the poet is not only shut out, but shown the door if he or she complains about infringement. It is time, indeed, to shut down JSTOR, or modify it significantly, since it is not-for-profit, and copyright infringement is a violation of federal law. Should JSTOR continue in its rapacious ways, its not-for-profit status should be revoked.

  13. A happy JSTOR user


    It’s certainly true that while JSTOR may be nonprofit, it does have to pay the academic publishers for access, and it is unreasonable to expect them to give away their product for nothing.

    I’ll admit that for years I “paid” for my JSTOR via my childrens’ college tuition. This gave me the time to figure out other access when the last one graduated.

    In the meantime, my local library sprung for the service. Had I not been so lucky, I’d happily have paid $100-$200 per year for the service. While casting around for options, I did contact JSTOR and was met with an Iron Curtain of indifference and bureaucratic indifference–they simply could not imagine a private-sector-type individual subscription service.

    What is needed, then, is not “free JSTOR for the masses,” which might overwhelm demand and tick off the journal presses, but rather a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to sell their services to the general public.


    A happy JSTOR user

  14. Trevira

    A little glimmer of hope here (discovered via our university’s research librarian):

    University of Glasgow announces new Publications Policy
    “The University of Glasgow is proud to announce a new Publications Policy which will require authors to deposit the full text of peer reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings in the University’s institutional repository Enlighten
    (http://www.gla.ac.uk/enlighten ) where publisher agreements permit this . . . In joining major institutions and funding bodies worldwide the University recognises the importance of free and unrestricted access to scholarly literature in the furtherance of research; and the importance to researchers of maximising the impact of their research across the world.
    Professor Steven Beaumont, OBE CEng FRSE Vice-Principal Research and Enterprise said ‘The University of Glasgow generates over 3,000 research papers per year. Since we began to put these into Enlighten on a voluntary basis there have been over 1 million downloads. Enlighten really does help the University to showcase its research and to increase the impact of that it has on society. This new policy will make that impact even greater. I very much appreciate the support of Senate in adopting this move.’”

    Sounds like there may be other universities that have adopted this policy, and you can be sure I’ll be seeking them out! Doesn’t help with previously published articles, but still . . .

  15. dude

    to follow up–JSTOR pays the publisher’s lots of $ for the rights to host the content. if they didn’t charge and in turn pay the publishers, they would not legally be allowed to keep the content available.

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