More than 700 publishers, in addition to the 76 that signed on initially, have agreed to make their journal content available to individual users through JSTOR’s Register & Read program, which launches in earnest today after the conclusion of a pilot  that started last year.
The Register & Read program was designed to make access to JSTOR’s treasure trove of journal articles at least a little more open. While access to JSTOR’s full content is reserved for those with ties to libraries that purchase subscriptions, the Register & Read program lets anyone, university-affiliated or not, read -- but not download or copy -- up to three articles every two weeks, for free.
The only thing a user must hand over to gain access to Register & Read is personal information, including institutional affiliation and field of study. That information is shared with JSTOR and interested publishers and libraries. In many cases, it is the primary incentive used to persuade publishers to sign on to Register & Read.
“The fact that we’re able to gather data and help to understand who might be using the content and where interest might be can help [publishers] identify opportunities for building subscribers or membership or reaching new authors,” said Heidi McGregor, vice president of marketing and communications for Ithaka, the nonprofit organization that runs JSTOR.
“Libraries and publishers in the past have really defended people’s right to read without being traced and being held accountable for what it is they’re curious about,” said Barbara Fister, a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed.
Still, Fister doesn’t think the brief form required to join Register & Read will stop many people.
Indeed, 150,000 users signed up for Register & Read during the pilot, though McGregor notes that number is only one out of every 75 people who landed on a JSTOR article since the program launched. Of those 150,000, 30 percent used the program more than once.
But more interestingly, perhaps, only 16 percent of those registered users are independent researchers, the primary intended audience for the project. Instead, most users have been students.
This could be because, as Fister suspects, an increasing number of students come across JSTOR content through Google rather than through their university’s search page, and it’s not always obvious that the article can be accessed free simply by looking it up through the library portal. But in some cases, according to McGregor, the students are viewing articles to which their university’s subscription does not include access. In that sense, the Register & Read program could supplement universities’ subscriptions, which include varying levels of access.
The chances of the Register & Read program replacing an institutional subscription, however, are slim, and McGregor is not at all worried about it. In fact, she hopes that through the program, JSTOR might be able to help libraries better understand their patrons’ needs, and perhaps persuade them to expand which subscriptions they purchase.
“Since we have institutional affiliation reported from users, we can go to libraries and say, ‘We’ve had 300 people on your campus read this or that,’ ” McGregor said.
Fister agrees that Register & Read will not soon replace university subscriptions because, she said, it is simply not sufficient. Still, she applauds the effort JSTOR is making to give everyone at least some access to content, and she said the fact that the pilot was successful is a positive sign.
“It’s great to learn that people really want to read this stuff,” Fister said. “That people who aren’t necessarily affiliated with institutions are curious about it and want to access it -- that’s great news for scholars.”
The pilot yielded good news for publishers, too. According to McGregor, about 60 percent of the journals in the pilot also sell single articles to individuals, but for those publishers, making content available for free through Register & Read did not lead to a drop in sales. And, McGregor notes, none of the publishers that participated in the pilot chose to opt out of the full program.
Though the program seems to be a step toward open access of scholarly materials, Timothy Vollmer, policy manager for Creative Commons, emphasized that it is simply that: an incremental step in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t necessarily term it ‘open access,’ but at the same time I realize that maybe they’re not in a position to release these things out into the wild,” he said.
True open-access material, according to Vollmer, is research that is licensed for fair use. Though Register & Read users can view an article for free, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can use it.
“If I want to use an article and pull out pieces and make a video, I would need to get permission,” Vollmer said. “Under the open-access framework, those rights are stated in advance.”
This is important, Vollmer said, for things like translations or data mining. For example, a researcher performing a computational analysis of a larger number of articles might not have the time or resources to seek permission to use each individual article, but under an open-content license, those rights are granted in advance -- though they would have to be granted by the publisher, not by JSTOR or organizations like it. And, he notes, chances are that most academics would want their research used in such a way.
"When we look at academic authors, their intention is to be read,” he said. “This stuff should be available as widely and as openly as possible.”
Fister agrees, though she said she’s not sure how to make that happen.
“[Register & Read] is better than nothing, and I understand the pickle they’re in, yet I just wish we could solve this a different way and somehow find a funding model that would free this body of scholarship,” she said. “I wish we could come up with a better plan, but I don’t know what that would be.”