DOI: Digital Object Identifiers

I decided I needed to educate myself a little when I saw Paul Lomio’s post (April 26, 2010) on Legal Research Plus: “What If Law Journal Citations Included Digital Object Identifiers? A Snapshot of Major Law Journals“. The post referenced an article by Benjamin J. Keele, abstracted (March 18, 2010) on SSRN: “What If Law Journal Citations Included Digital Object Identifiers? A Snapshot of Major Law Journals“.

The abstract began in a way which made me skeptical:

Prevailing citation practice in law journals is to use uniform resource locators (URLs) when citing electronic sources. Digital object identifiers (DOIs) provide a more reliable and robust mechanism for citing digital, scholarly articles.

The first footnote in the article to contain a DOI was footnote 6, citing Dana Neacsu, “Legal Scholarship and Digital Publishing: Has Anything Changed in the Way We Do Legal Research?,” Legal Reference Services Quarterly 21, no. 2 & 3 (March 2002): 105-122 [doi: 10.1300/J113v21n02_06]. The link is actually: So I didn’t really need to have worried that there was some new alternative to URIs that I would have to learn about. This isn’t that big a deal.

At first, the link appeared to be broken, which I thought was inauspicious. A couple of tries later, though, all was well. The link resolved to:
The IP address of my office computer was recognized as being part of the York University range, so I could access the article itself. The download was prefaced:

This article was downloaded by: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network]
On: 26 April 2010
Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 783016864]
Publisher Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

The International DOI Foundation (IDF) has a website: The membership list is relatively small, but includes such worthies as Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons, Springer SBM, Wolters Kluwer International Health & Science, the Copyright Clearance Center and the Publishers Licensing Society. The Copyright Agency Limited is an affiliate.

I’m afraid I won’t be joining. According to the membership brochure, the annual dues are $US 35,000 for general members and $US 70,000 for charter members. Even the annual fee for affiliates is $US 2,000.

If others want to have fancy URIs for their publications, they can buy services from one of the Registration Agencies. The first of these was Crossref, operated by the Publishers International Linking Association, Inc. (PILA), a not-for-profit membership association. [I tried googling PILA, and all I got was, so don’t bother.] The publisher fees for 2010, if your total publishing revenue is less than $1 million, is $275. Crossref’s Publishers & Societies include

  • American Association of Law Libraries
  • Canadian Medical Association
  • University of Toronto Press, Inc.

This is far from the only fee involved. There are “Deposit Fees,” applicable I think if the document to which the link is made is stored at Crossref. They seem to be $1.00 per deposit. Alternatively, there are annual “CMS Basic Affiliate Fees (formerly Local Hosting)” of $1,000 if your revenue is less than $1 million.

Another registrar is Bowker. Their fee structure is different. There is a one-time registration fee of $250, and you can have up to 999 DOIs for only $500 per year. Bowker’s customer list doesn’t seem to be available.

I don’t need to be sold on the persistent link idea, but I confess that this approach to the problem puzzles me. Maybe it makes some sense for a publisher who treats it like a total outsourcing solution, but it seems to me that, even then, a publisher would need to retain the capacity to switch to a competing registrar if the annual fees rose significantly. On the other hand, it isn’t at all obvious (to me, at least) how, with most of the work of having persistent links being done in-house, there could be corresponding savings that would justify a publisher in paying all these fees.

Maybe some knowledgeable person will volunteer to complete my education in this respect.


  1. There’s got to be something else to it, right? I guess the publishers have made the DOI their standard, or else why wouldn’t they use a free service like OCLC’s PURL resolver, which you can download or use their server?

    The other side of this may be that persistent URLs aren’t what publishers do. So now there is a service industry to provide them all the extra stuff they want to do to make their content findable (I was surprised at all of Bowker’s services around publications, including DOI, Syndetics, etc.).

    I think it’s just a way for publishers to increase their database licensing revenue, by embedding or upsell-ing the DOI service (and its fees).

  2. What about usage reports? Would it be any different using a DOI to get the data if it eventually used your (subscribed) link resolver to acquire the information?
    Very interesting! Thanks John.

  3. John,

    You’ve done a great job of outlining the DOI system and how it works. Allow me to elaborate a bit more.

    Each International DOI Foundation (IDF) Registration Agency (RA) may have its own application for using DOIs. The application that is used most is reference linking in scholarly communications, which is what CrossRef DOIs provide. In addition to providing the infrastructure to deposit DOIs for content such as articles and the metadata that correspond that content, CrossRef also provides web interfaces for discovering DOIs. That way, publishers can submit the metadata for their references and retrieve DOIs, increasing the value of their content for their readers.

    If all CrossRef was was a way to provide persistent URLs, that would be pretty great. But in addition, it is a business linking agreement. CrossRef members promise to assign DOIs to their current journal content (and are encouraged to do so for other types of content and older content), and they ALSO promise to link their references. One agreement with CrossRef precludes the necessity for each publisher to have a bilateral agreement with each other publisher, and provides a common technological infrastructure so all the links work the same way.

    The end result is enhanced services for readers, which is really what we are all about.