Admittedly, the established model for publishing scholarly material is not widely known and seldom considered, even by those who are directly responsible for the academic articles to which we often turn for our term papers. “I've never really been obliged, or encouraged, to think the issue through,” said Michael Dewar, Professor of Latin Language and Literature at U of T. “As a member of the University's faculty I am given access to what JSTOR has to offer free of charge. But, conversely, I have never been consulted about its business model or its costs.”
The price for producing scholarly journals is deceptively steep, with respect both to money and to manpower. Dewar, who spent ten years on the editorial board of Phoenix, a journal of Classical Studies based at Trinity College, was eventually offered the position of Editor with overall responsibility, an opportunity which he declined. “There were several reasons for that decision, but an important one was [knowing] that taking on the job of Editor would mean yet more weekends and yet more evenings spent doing work that was usually tedious and, when not tedious, annoying, and yet less time spent on my own scholarship,” he said.
After the exhaustive work spent preparing a scholarly journal, the product is polished and compiled, and its editor sends it to a for-profit publisher who produces the physical issue. But since the readership for such products is nigh infinitesimal, publishers sell their content rights to companies such as JSTOR, who digitize and distribute the material online. They then sell the content back to the universities, first for an Archive Capital Fee (ACF) and then for Annual Access Fees (AAF). So the privilege of accessing JSTOR’s Arts & Science I collection costs U of T $45,000 initially, plus another $8,500 annually.
“Universities that created this academic content for free must pay to read it,” writes McKenna. While U of T, with its annual libraries budget reported to be in the neighbourhood of $72.5 million, can weather such financial costs rather easily, smaller institutions must devote a considerable chunk of their budget to such online resources. “The UC San Diego Libraries report that 65 per cent of their total budget goes towards getting access to JSTOR and other databases,” McKenna claims.
But McKenna generalizes and oversimplifies. “The situation is more complex than she presents it, and perhaps worse than she allows,” said Dewar. Upon reading McKenna’s statement that “faculty are given course release time to edit the journal and a small stipend,” Dewar snorted out loud. “Far from ever receiving a single moment's course release let alone a penny of stipend, I do not receive any royalty payment if someone uses JSTOR to read something I myself have published in, say, Classical Quarterly,” said Dewar. “But then that was also true when Classical Quarterly was only available in hard copy, so I do not feel the loss.”
While evidently far from perfect, JSTOR is still a useful intermediary in making scholarly materials available to both students and academics. Universities cherish the prestige offered by the literary journals they produce, and academics often find professional advantages in performing services to the scholarly community through their work with them.
JSTOR has also recognized its reputation as a walled garden of academia that has denied hundreds of thousands of attempts to access its resources. Once previously available only to those institutions able to shoulder its hefty licensing fees, JSTOR now offers a “Register & Read” program, which grants temporary access to specific journals to those who would not normally have the privilege of enjoying such content.
McKenna may take issue with how JSTOR and services similar to it function, and indeed there is much to be said on the further matter of how the public indirectly funding the creation of such scholarship has severely limited access to it. But whatever its fault, JSTOR remains a pleasant and useful service for both students and professors alike. “I can obtain without leaving my office much that would previously have been available to me only if I hiked over to Robarts,” Dewar concluded. “I'm personally much more concerned by the degradation of undergraduate teaching in our public universities than by the ways in which any of the research they produce is turned into a commodity.”