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* Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Removing Yourself from the Online Conversation

Last month, I wrote about the positive shift I’ve seen at OCLC and how they’re looking outwards in order to become part of the bigger online world. I’ve been hesitant to post about an opposite case, in part out of hope the company would change its mind, but since Beatrice mentions it, here goes.

I am greatly disappointed in Library Journal. I had heard they were taking one big step forward by implementing blogs and RSS feeds in a redesigned web site, but unfortunately it turns out they’re taking two even bigger steps backwards. I can [not happily] live with the fact that you have to endure popup ads when you visit their site, but in a move so confounding my jaw is still on the floor, they’ve moved their current and archived articles behind a paywall. So a lot of the really great, progressive articles, from the last year in particular, are now gone from the web. The oh-so-timely-and-conversation-starting Meet the Gamers article? Goodbye. Michael’s and Aaron’s IM article? Sayonara. Michael’s article discussing tech planning and techno-lust? Lights out. Stephen Abram’s Born with the Chip article? Won’t see you later, alligator.

So what exactly were the folks at Reed thinking when they made this decision? Obviously they’re hoping to sell more magazine subscriptions, but at what cost? They might gain a few circulation statistics, but here’s what they’re losing in return. Of the big three “commercial,” general, library journal publishers, LJ was the only one that put its content out there for free. The overwhelming majority of Information Today’s and ALA’s magazine content is closed off, which left the entire playing field to LJ. And what a field it was! They got all the link love and blog buzz from the online world. All of it, because we could link to their articles and discuss them. Beyond that, the whole world could read their articles and point to them and discuss them. Just check out this search for proof.

And now all of that love and buzz is gone, along with any future pagerank from Google et. al. Flipped off like a light switch. Because, let’s face it – every librarian on earth either has a print subscription to LJ or access to a database that indexes it, not to mention interlibrary loan and photocopy services. Heck, Beatrice even notes the citation in her post, knowing full well that any librarian worth any salt can get a copy of it. However, at my office, I’m not even on the route list for LJ, so while we do have a subscription, the only time I read it is when someone points me to the online version. I could probably dig out the information to log in to the web site in the future, but why bother when I can’t share it with anybody else anyway? Basically, LJ keeps my organization’s subscription but loses me as a reader.

So who is this really going to affect? Not librarians overall. All they’ve succeeded in doing is putting a nuisance barrier that’s just a big enough nuisance in the way of the people who can already read it. This just means non-librarians can’t access all of this great content and us bloggers won’t be linking to them anymore. I hope that whoever made this decision starts watching their referrer logs to see just how much traffic drops off as a result.

Even worse, they recently implemented the Tech Blog with some great contributors. It’s out there for everyone to read, not just subscribers, but when I first heard about the project, I had assumed that the bloggers would be able to point to and discuss new articles from the magazine. I thought LJ was also going to try to corner the “conversation” market of online libraryland with comments, trackbacks, and lively discussion. Now, what would be the point? There’s no circle of discussion to start.

I think it’s unfortunate that at a time when our profession is striving to make headway with the open access movement (and when some of us are pushing libraries to join the larger online conversation), one of our most forward-looking professional journals chooses to close the door on content. I’m sure they’ll continue to publish interesting and valuable content - I just won’t know about it, which in turn means I won’t be able to blog about it. To some degree, it’s my loss. To a larger degree, LJ just lost everything it had built up over the past several years, making their’s the bigger loss. I really hope they reconsider this decision, for both our sakes.

Disclaimer: I’ve written several “Product Pipeline” columns for Library Journal, and I was named a 2003 Mover & Shaker (luckily, that link still works). I really like LJ and I think they do great work; I’m just sorely disappointed in this decision, which I think is short-sighted.

I wrote this post over the weekend, and I am most happy to report that LJ is indeed changing this horrible situation. I decided to still go ahead and publish the full post for those companies/organizations that might be contemplating such a move, because I think it would be a bad one. You want to participate in the online conversation, not remove yourself from it. (That goes for libraries, too, but that’s a separate post for another day….)

Word has it that the paywall will be coming down in the next two or three weeks, so now I can also publicly applaud LJ for recognizing the problem so quickly and taking steps to resolve it. Like ALA’s decision to redo their site after the last disastrous fiasco, this says good things about the willingness of those involved to admit a mistake and rectify it. Maybe LJ is going to corner that market after all…. 

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