Jeromy Anglim's Blog: Psychology and Statistics


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ways that closed access academic publishers could improve

Accessing journal articles has certainly got easier over the years. Nonetheless, there are still many issues with how closed-access journals provide access. This hampers the scientific process.

Accessing a journal article that my institution has paid for should be as simple as going to the standard publications home page (with  one more click to download the pdf).

While from a broader societal level, there are many reasons to like open access publishing. However, for working scientists with institutional access to most journals, the day-to-day issue with closed access publishers is usability related. Here are a few things that I wish all publishers would do:


Do not add cover pages to PDFs

Some publishers still insist on adding an initial page to their PDFs.
Many have stopped doing this. But I notice Emerald still does this.

When the user clicks download PDF, Download the PDF

  • Do not ask the user to consent to terms and conditions (as JSTOR requires)
  • Do not give a pop-up with further options (e.g., Elsevier - do  you want to download article or issue; T&F do you want to download the PDF or an interactive PDF)
If you want to provide two different type of downloads, then include two different buttons on the main page.

Do not try to open the PDF in a publisher-specific proprietary PDF viewer

Th user wants to download the PDF to their computer or view it in their normal viewer. Often they want to collate it on their own computer.

Facilitate seamless access for those with institutional access from the official landing page

Users generally have access to journal articles through their institution. Publishers should do their best to ensure that anyone who has institutional access is able to quickly  get access through the official manuscript landing page. They should err on the side of granting access.  Whether this involves simple institutional sign-in, cookies, etc. The point is that the official page for a manuscript (i.e., the one that the doi directs to) should provide simple access to articles for people with a subscription (institutional or otherwise). Forcing users to jump through hoops using library proxies, links from Google Scholar and so on is not helpful. This all compounded by the fact that there are many different publishers. Basically, the experience for someone with institutional access should be seamless whether they are accessing the article via a mobile phone or a computer, whether they are on campus or not.
Presumably, there are many solutions to this. Cookies, simple authentication systems, and so on. The point is, it should "just work" on all devices from all locations.

Do not throttle downloads

I heard recently that someone was prevented from downloading articles, because they had reached some kind of short term maximum. This is not good. Or at the very least, such a throttle should be implemented only when downloads hit the thousands in a day, not 20 or 30 articles.

General Principles

  • Listen to the usability experts and not the legal department
  • Your priority is facilitating access to scientific knowledge


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