A second issue that raises red flags is the December 2019 launch of GetFTR, a new service from Elsevier, SNG, Wiley, Taylor & Francis and the American Chemical Society. GetFTR is a service to facilitate seamless access to published articles by leveraging a one-time-per-device user sign-on. GetFTR will serve both subscribed and open access content located through publisher websites as well as other discovery services, repositories, academic social networks and library systems; it will send users to the “best” full-text version of an article, based on the permissions (i.e. subscriptions) available to each individual user.
The launch publishers highlight the benefits of this service in terms of faster access for researchers to published journal articles. While it is natural for the publishers to highlight these benefits, however, it is difficult to believe that they warrant launching a new service; after all, publishers of consumer magazines and newspapers have offered perfectly functional solutions for over a decade. As Roger Schonfeld has pointed out, the publishers also hope to reap benefits in terms of fighting leakage: a growing proportion of article access takes place outside the websites of publishers (for example, through ResearchGate and Sci-Hub), and this trend imperils the value of all sources of revenue for the publishers.
GetFTR has several disadvantages, both operational and strategic, for academic institutions and, in particular, for academic libraries. Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe wrote a useful, detailed analysis of the operational issues that GetFTR poses for academic libraries. In addition, we highlight a few strategic concerns:
GetFTR imperils competition. Publishers are aiming to leverage their control over content to compete in services where the community currently has access to a wide variety of choices like link resolvers, content aggregators and innovative access brokers like Kopernio and Unpaywall. These different options represent a valuable source of steady innovation for libraries and researchers. The introduction of GetFTR poses the risk that these services will lose substantial volumes of traffic, which could ultimately marginalize them, laying the groundwork for publishers to dominate this area.
GetFTR hurts repositories and inflates the value of “Big Deals.” GetFTR channels views and downloads to publishers at the expense of other sources, including repositories like PubMed Central, arXiv, and similar services – even when these repositories hold the version of record of an article. This will increase the perceived value of publisher-held collections and devalue open repositories.
Privacy protection is uncertain. GetFTR initially promises strong privacy protection. However, terms and conditions for usage can be and are routinely changed by commercial vendors, and – once alternatives are effectively marginalized – the academic community may find itself with no recourse if new terms and conditions are imposed, even if they are unacceptable.
Ultimately, the academic community does not have the information required to assess whether the unique benefits to researchers outweigh these potential significant risks that we’ve outlined. Before academic libraries sign on to GetFTR, it would be useful to request a period of testing to determine any real benefits. Ideally, this would run in parallel to an analysis of the negative consequences, in order to make an informed decision, rather than just accepting the claims of the publishers, who have market motives to offer this service.