What are Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)?

By eContent Pro on Sep 27, 2019
What are Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)?

As an early career researcher, there's nothing worse than misplacing a key reference. Especially when it's the result of technical difficulties.

At some point, we've all revisited a webpage in search of an important document, only to discover the resource is no longer available. Whether it's been relocated, the link no longer works, or that particular site is now dead, it'll require time and effort to track down this lost content, which could be invested elsewhere.

Thankfully, there is a solution. Researchers can avoid this issue by familiarizing themselves with digital object identifiers (DOIs), the most secure way to pinpoint articles, books, journals, etc.

Brief Description

Digital object identifiers (DOIs) are a unique alphanumeric sequence assigned to intellectual properties, ranging from scientific papers and books to commercial videos and music. In an electronic format, the DOI for literary work is usually found near the copyright notice, as well as on the work’s database landing page. Research citations also include DOI numbers, if available, at the very end.

For reference, here’s a sample DOI number:


What’s the Deal with DOIs?

Think of digital object identifiers as trackers, able to keep tabs on content with more stability than a traditional web address, or Uniform Resource Locator (URL). If content is traced solely via URL, then any changes to the initial web address could ‘break’ the link, causing content to be – worst case scenario – lost within the dark recesses of the world wide web. DOIs, on the other hand, are much more stable, as they track content based on metadata.

In terms of a book, metadata refers to key bibliographic details that allow distributors and retailers to easily identify what a publication is all about. These elements can be necessary details, known as core metadata – like the book title, author(s), price, and language – or additional details, known as enhanced metadata – like author bio(s), critical reviews, associated URLs, and keywords. But, all metadata benefits a book’s marketability, in one way or another – especially enhanced metadata, which optimizes searchability.

The DOI Link

DOI numbers, once assigned, always remain the same, but metadata associated with the content being identified may change over time. That’s why there’s a DOI Directory that stores digital object identifiers, which publishers can access at will. Whenever, let’s say, a book’s associated URL changes, publishers must update the DOI’s metadata to include the new URL. This is also necessary if other elements – core or enhanced – are modified. Failure to update metadata can result in a broken link between the identifier and content, rendering the DOI ineffective.

As long as the identifier/content link remains intact, DOIs can be copied and pasted into search engines, like Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, to find the desired content. However, if you’re a publisher whose DOI number doesn’t pull up the appropriate content via search, it’s best to seek technical support on the International DOI Foundation’s website.

Purchasing DOIs

DOI Registration Agencies (RAs) “collect metadata, assign DOI names, and offer other services such as reference linking or metadata lookup.” Services rendered vary from agency to agency, but all RAs are capable of registering DOIs. From there, it’s a matter of preference, as each RA differs in terms of pricing, business model, etc. Hence, it’s advised that prospective customers shop around before committing to an agency.

To ensure quality, the International DOI Foundation maintain standards among organizations directly tied to their DOI system, namely RAs. Please refer to the International DOI Foundation’s current, official list of registration agencies below:

For example, if you’d like to register your DOIs with Crossref, becoming a member is required. Annual rates differ between funders – funding organizations registering DOIs to track “research grants they have awarded” – and non-funders – everyone else, namely publishers. Both funders and non-funders pay fees on a sliding scale, based solely on their organization’s finances.

Non-funders are assessed, on a yearly basis, by their annual “publishing revenue” or “publishing operation expenses” – whichever amount is higher.

On top of membership fees, both funding and non-funding members must pay to register all contents’ digital object identifiers. Every journal article, peer review, and grant must be registered individually, at an additional cost. DOI prices, however, are minimal, ranging from $0.06 to $2.00 apiece. Members can even receive substantial discounts when registering select DOIs in bulk. Keep in mind, there is also no fee for updating identifiers’ metadata once content is registered.

Find this article helpful? Check out more free nuggets of wisdom from eContent Pro:

What Are Impact Factors?

An Overview of Open Access

What Is an ORCID iD?

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