The very definition of artificial scarcity – discovering HBR

There’s lots of opportunities. If there aren’t, you can make them.” – Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money), Pet Shop Boys

Here’s a tale that’s been taking shape for about a month now. I received a call while I was on the reference desk a while back from a woman who was trying to read an article known to be in the Harvard Business Review. She knew the author name and article title. It was my librarian instinct to walk her through the journal title lookup, but I remembered to check myself and “do as the user does”. So, together, we walked through looking up the article via our discovery layer, Summon. This is what we found:


Huh. No link to full text. Indeed, the user was not confused – there was no access to this article. And this is where I should have been thinking straight and redirect her to the journal title lookup, but in the moment, I became confused myself. This appeared to be one of those HBR articles. The chosen 500. I became flustered and explained that HBR had started charging a levy to link to these articles and since we did not pay, it looked as though she was going to be out of luck (NB: I know now that this was incorrect). I apologized and we ended the call. Of course, I continued on my hunt, and within minutes, not only did I find a copy of the article on the open web (take THAT, HBR), but I also followed the old fashioned steps to look it up via journal title. When I did that, here’s what I saw:


Oh, hey there PDF Full Text! How you doin’? And where were you five minutes ago when a student needed you? Oh, that’s right, stuck behind an artificially created barrier orchestrated by an incredibly greedy publisher. Silly me.

I realized that I had done wrong, proceeded to berate myself for not taking the student’s information down, and sheepishly proceeded to admit my mistake to my colleagues so that we could see what was what. Because this didn’t seem right to me. And indeed, it is not. We opened a call with EBSCO to investigate. We were informed that HBR is detecting SFX links (i.e. those created when linking to content via Summon) as persistent and therefore blocking access. Our reply reiterated that SFX links are decidedly NOT persistent, rather they are OpenURL, so please fix that. The rest of the story is riddled with ridiculous technical explanations about why that won’t be happening any time soon. I’ll spare everyone the details.

This story brings three issues forth:

  1. I really need to work on my reference skills when it comes to thinking on the fly. Facepalm.
  2. EBSCO is the only game in town for online access to HBR. They need to step up to FIX THIS.
  3. None of this would be an issue if HBR wasn’t operating under an unreasonable profit model. This is the very definition of creating artificial scarcity. We have already paid (handsomely) for a subscription to HBR and it is outrageous that our users cannot access them via our discovery layer.

So, friends in libraryland. I implore you to act. If you are reading this, and you have access to a discovery layer and a subscription to HBR via EBSCO, please go ahead and give this a test run. And if you find a similar result as we did, open a call to address this. Contact HBR to tell them that this isn’t cool. Conversely, if you do find that it works, let me know! Maybe we’re missing something and there’s a fix that we are not seeing.

Further reading on how terrible HBR is:


6 thoughts on “The very definition of artificial scarcity – discovering HBR

  1. Pamela Jacobs

    Hi Jane – I just tested this out in Primo and didn’t have a problem. But then Ex Libris and EBSCO aren’t direct competitors…

    1. incidentalacademic Post author

      Hi Pam,

      As it happens, I was in the company of Alison Hitchens this afternoon and she was explaining how TUG is on Primo Local. I think that may be the ticket. It’s got to do with how the discovery layer software creates the link. Good to know, though – we’ll pass that on. Thanks, Pam!

  2. Stephen Francoeur

    I just tried in in our instance of Summon, which led to a SFX menu and then into Business Source Complete, where I got the same error message (“The publisher offers limited access to this article. The full text cannot be viewed from a persistent link.”) and no full text. Browsing the issue though turned up the full text. So. Ridiculous.


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