COUNTER Code of Practice Release 5

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Across the world, everyone wants to measure returns on the investments that they make, writes Tasha Mellins-Cohen

In scholarly publishing, one of the ways to measure a return on investment is to assess circulation and usage statistics.

For digital content, the assessment method of choice is COUNTER reporting. COUNTER was an early example of the scholarly communications community coming together to create and maintain an industry-wide standard, in this instance for counting the use of electronic resources.

In 2016, the COUNTER team – mostly volunteers – started to talk about drafting a new version of the Code of Practice to replace Release 4. They wanted to address the challenges around inconsistencies in the reports, metric types, and formats of Release 4, as well as taking the changing needs of both publishers and libraries into account.

In January 2017 the first draft of Release 5 was made public, with a request for feedback, and now in May 2017 we are about to share the second draft incorporating lots of changes in response to the feedback we received.

Consistency, clarity, and flexibility

The working group were determined to make Release 5 of the COUNTER Code of Practice internally consistent, unambiguous, and flexible, so that it will be easier for publishers to be compliant and so that the Code of Practice can be adapted and extended as digital publishing changes over the years.

Consistency in report formats

Release 5 consists of four Master Reports. Each of the Master Reports is associated with several pre-set filtered Standard Views, but can also be sliced and diced to suit the needs of the person working with the report. In total, there are 16 Reports and Views in Release 5, down from 27 reports in Release 4. The Reports and Views share a common header structure, common terminology, and common column headings.

Consistency and clarity in metrics

As with the reports, we have reduced the number of metrics being tracked in Release 5 – 12, down from 25 in Release 4.
Most of the metrics have been renamed for clarity. For example, usage metrics in Release 5 break down into investigations and requests. An investigation is tracked when a user performs any action in relation to a content item or title, while a request is specifically related to viewing or downloading the full content item (Figure).

Aside from investigations and requests, Release 5 also tracks various types of access denials and searches.

The Code of Practice includes a glossary which defines the metrics, so that they are interpreted the same way by all publishers.


Flexibility is built into Release 5 with the introduction of attributes, pieces of information which can be associated with multiple metrics. Providing information about matters such as year of publication, access type, and data types means that we can roll up or drill down through reports with ease, eliminating the need for the kinds of special purpose reports we had in Release 4.

The reason we were so keen to build in flexibility is for future-proofing: our intention is that Release 5 will be subject to a continuous maintenance process, changing over time to stay relevant, instead of being replaced by a Release 6.


Release 5 is on track to be published this summer, with compliance becoming mandatory for COUNTER reports covering January 2019 onwards. To support publishers in their journey to Release 5 compliance, the very popular Friendly Guides which were produced to accompany Release 4 ( will be updated to cover Release 5, and we’ll also be updating the COUNTER Report Validation Tool (

Please direct questions or comments about COUNTER’s work to Lorraine Estelle via the Project COUNTER website:

Tasha Mellins-Cohen is a COUNTER-volunteer and a member of the Release 5 working group​