Note: I am not using the word scam in a legal sense here, but as an everyday language term. Maybe a case could be made that GSA’s behavior is in fact fraudulent, but I believe such a case would fail on a technicality (see below). Still, personally I’d feel scammed, defrauded, swindled if I had fallen for GSA’s trick.
A few days ago work required me to look for various scientific papers on the Hell Creek Formation, including one on its palaeobotany.
There it is, but as you can see the article is not open access, and the Museum für Naturkunde does not have institutional access. That’s not uncommon. And GSA offers a bunch of options to access the article PDF:
So, I can:
- Sign in, if I have a user account with access.
- Purchase short term access – 1 day from the very computer I am on, for US$ 25.00
- Use some weird thing I have never heard of that sounds like a publisher’s bad version of LEGO
- Sign up…..
Well, obviously, 1, 3 and 4 are not really good for anything. Bloc of Docs is nothing but a credit thing that reduced the number of separate credit card purchases, but doesn’t give you a rebate. Signing uP is for
|Member/Fellow and Affiliate||Student/K-12 Teacher|
I ain’t any of that, so no good. And Signing in if I haven’t signed up….. well, you get the idea. In the end, this means I need to fork over a whopping US$ 25.00 for a single article. Ain’t gonna do do for sure! Thus, I started writing an email to our library, asking them to but the article – and then I stopped. After all, this article is part of a special issue, and it is highly likely that we will need more articles from it soon. Thus, I thought it worth checking if maybe there would be a rebate on the entire special issue. And lookie: You can’t buy it in print, but you can buy it in one go as an ebook!
And incidentally, the price is quite reasonable all of a sudden: mere US$ 20.00 for both GSA members and non-members!
Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Why was there no link on the article’s page (the page I get directed to by Google and other searches) saying “Purchase entire Special Issue containing this article for US$ 20.00”?
I guess I know why there is no such link. Quite obviously, nobody in their right mind would spent US$ 25.00 for one-day access to one single individual article if they can instead spend LESS MONEY, US$ 20.00, to get PERMANENT ACCESS to MORE ARTICLES!
So, I click the ebook link and get this:
Oh, so now it is not an ebook format, but a PDF? Suits me, but why can’t GSA get things straight on their own freakin’ website? And it costs even less now, a mere US$ 9.99!
I did buy this, out of my own pocket, and successfully downloaded the entire PDF.
So, to sum up:
If you search for an article of this Special Issue by title, you are directed to a page where you can buy it for one day for US$ 25.00. The page does not inform you that you can buy this article along with the rest of the Special Issue for less than 40% of the cost of one-day-one-article access.
I guess GSA is making a hell of a lot of money by not telling you!
Why is this not legally fraud? In order to be illegal, GSA would have to falsify or misrepresent facts, and gain a financial advantage for them or others while causing you a financial loss. That’s arguably the case if they pretend you need to fork over US$25.00 when in fact US$ 9.99 is enough. But those prices are for two different items, one of which simply happens to contain the other. Nowhere does GSA claim explicitly that the only way to access this one single article is via buying it outright. They just implicitly pretend it is. Thus, any court would throw out a lawsuit.
Morally, GSA’s behavior is clearly wrong. That’s undeniable, and I am looking forward to what GSA has to say when I email them about this.