Today’s Guest Post explores toll-free linking as a way for publishers to enable authors to share works published in subscription journals. Guest blogger Todd Reitzel has worked in publishing at several STM and social science associations, most recently the Association for Psychological Science. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The recent controversy over the American Psychological Association’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down notices reminds us about the tensions to be negotiated between author interests and publisher interests. Authors are generally interested in getting their content out into the research community and ensuring that their content is accessible. Publishers are generally interested in getting out content that’s useful to the research community and ensuring that their investment in the content reaps value that sustains the endeavor.
Over the past few years, many dimensions of cooperation between authors and publishers have emerged, including offering exclusive licenses to publish (ELPs) and Creative Common licenses as an alternative to copyright assignments, and allowing article postings on personal sites, on university sites, and in university repositories. These practices are allowed by many publishers, and some authors may practice these whether the publisher allows it or not. Many publishers also help authors fulfill grant funding requirements (eg, the NIH deposit requirement to PubMed Central) by making the article deposit for the authors or participating in CHORUS to help authors comply with public funding requirements.
One longstanding tool of cooperation between authors and publishers is an underutilized one: the toll-free link. Toll-free links lead to the version of record on a journal’s publishing site and constitute an all-around win addressing both author interests and publisher interests.
Toll-free links work by giving full-text access to a given article to anyone who clicks on it. If a publisher provides a toll-free link for an article to its author, the author can place that link on her or his website or online CV, in the author’s institutional repository, or even in a third-party repository.
A toll-free link serves an author’s interests because it provides immediate access to her or his content to anyone in the community.
The link leads to the version of record on the publisher’s site, giving full-text access to a specific article without giving access to the rest of the journal. An expiration date may be put on a toll-free link, if the publisher chooses. And some systems can customize a link to work only when placed on a certain site (eg, the author’s CV), again only if the publisher chooses.
A toll-free link serves an author’s interests because it provides immediate access to her or his content to anyone in the community. Because the access is to the version of record, it reminds the community that the article has been validated through peer review.
A toll-free link also serves a publisher’s interests because it brings the community to an article’s version of record, where the publisher logs the online usage. Healthy online usage is one key indicator for demonstrating content value, and for most publishers it is a top priority.
Content usage through toll-free links may not get included in librarians’ usage reports that help them decide whether subscribing to a given journal is a good purchase. That said, bringing the community to content under a journal’s or publisher’s branding can serve as a loss leader, a sample of what the journal and publisher offer, and may lead to increased demand for content under that brand. So a toll-free link can be a marketing tool.
So why aren’t toll-free links used more extensively? They are available on many major publishing platforms, including HighWire Press and Atypon, and some independent publishing platforms such as the Association for Computing Machinery, which has nicely branded its link service as the ACM Author-izer. Some major platforms, however, do not offer toll-free links, and some major publishers don’t take advantage of their platform’s ability to generate the links. Alternatively, Wiley and Springer Nature have begun offering PDF views through ReadCube, but those don’t allow printing or saving, whereas toll-free links usually allow full use of features.
Two associations I’ve worked for, the American Educational Research Association and the Association for Psychological Science, offer a toll-free link to any author who requests one, but those organizations also use the links to lead users from their association websites to key research content in their journals.
There can be some administrative challenges to toll-free links. For example, when a journal moves to a different platform, links must be regenerated and redistributed to their original recipients. But content management systems can help publishers manage their toll-free links, thus create new replacement ones. When SAGE Publishing moved the Association for Psychological Science journals to a new platform recently, SAGE used its toll-free link records as the basis for generating links on the new platform.
The link regeneration process was not without some effort, but isn’t it better to put effort into something that benefits both authors and publishers instead of something that creates tensions?
Correction: Post above has been corrected to remove a mischaracterization of ReadCube, which stated that its links were time-limited, whereas they can be both time-limited and perpetual.