Millions Not Served

February 21, 2012

Michael Eisen notes that Cambridge University Press is offering up a new rental access model, namely 24 hr view-only availability for £3.99.

More importantly the CUP notes that their website tracks “millions” of hits to their Abstract pages which turn away otherwise empty handed.

I’m no genius but the iTunes experience would seem to provide a simple path for publishers. Drop the price point (for full access, mind you) until the market responds. Maybe that is £3.99, maybe £0.99 or maybe even less. I don’t know but there is very likely a nominal rate that gets those millions who are currently turning away to pay for the article.

Or maybe the Netflix model would work better. Again, the cost is going to have to be reasonable. I read a lot of Elsevier content but still the barrier has to be low. £50.00 per year for (real) access to *every* journal? I might even do that just to cover my browsing when I don’t want to wrangle with VPN and proxy servers.

One of the interesting things to arise in this recent round of OpenAccess discussion, in my mind anyway, is the role OD science blogging. Especially the style which focuses on explicating, you guessed it, research articles. What great advertising for publishers! Free product shilling from a small but generally dedicated class of folks.

Even Ed Yong may not be able to write purty enough to get the casual reader to part with £3.99. But to part with £0.25? Maybe that would be possible.


No Responses Yet to “Millions Not Served”

  1. becca Says:

    If we want to precipitate the netflix model, one could argue the best strategy is to start up an old school napster for papers. They’ll drop the price soon enough if they have to compete with free.

    Also, I would totes spend £3.99 for an Ed Yong piece on a topic I was researching to tell the general public about. But not for a Nature paper.


  2. neuromusic Says:

    In all of these cases, the distributor is not the publisher. We need one non-publishing company to take the role of negotiating price points and distributing content. Ideally, they will distribute said content in a way that tightly integrates with existing content that I “own” like iTunes does with music collection. (i.e., manage the collection and it will be a lower barrier for people to use you for distribution, too).

    Where is my existing library of research articles? Mendeley. And they have an opportunity here.

    Or if another company can figure out a good way of doing this distribution, they will need to also figure out how to tightly integrate it with Mendeley or EndNote or whatever reference/PDF managers scientists are using.


  3. Dirkh Says:

    Just let me pay a reasonable price per article, like the iTunes model. Simple, no advance committments. I don’t mind paying per article, but that buy price is somewhere way south of the current 30+ bucks. However, I don’t want to be muscled into annual subscriptions or monthly fees for journals I might access once or twice a year.


  4. dave bridges Says:

    does anyone know anyone who pays whatever the crazy whole amount is, when 90% of the time you can email the corresponding author or #icanhazpdf? i think if this model proceeded (providing a corresponding loss of institutional subscriptions), it would be a boon for open access journals


  5. The model is essentially here on iBooks, just not at a reasonable price point, and not quite as seamless. You can find individual PhD thesis and papers….


  6. coding_doc Says:

    In this day and age of the internets I seriously question the role of a publisher. Any author can publish the produced content. There is however hosting, editing, review and publicizing as added values that were traditionally provided by the publishers of the day.

    I am with neuromusic when it comes to redefining the roles publishers used to play.
    One thing we have to banish into oblivion is the unholy association of publications in particular journals and an authors career prospects. If you add the criminally significant delay of findings, mixed with increased politicization and lack of quality and transparency in the ‘classical’ peer review (see retraction watch) it is clear that the current system is outdated.

    Furthermore I would advocate that publications, as temporary and personally constrained cognitive digests that derive knowledge from data, should include the data they are based upon. Traditional publishers will merely reincarnate their paper-based business within the internet without really taking advantage of it. We are no longer constraint to use distinct distribution channels for ‘publications’ and data. It is time for a more holistic approach worthy of the 21st century. It is conceivable that public data repositories could play a major role by publishing articles about the data they host.

    We need a more agile model of publication, distribution, and peer review that allows these processes to occur in quasi real-time to increase efficiency and establish a truly global collaboration in science. Publication is not the end (or culmination) of research, it is a recurrent and integral step of research itself.

    It is time that we establish a culture where scientists can receive career credits for the quality of their research as judged by the consumers of their results. These consumers are mostly barred from having a voice, let alone having ready access to judge the results beyond ‘abstract’ graffiti decorating the paywalls of today high impact journals.


  7. in my comment above, at least, I didn’t advocate “abolishing the role publishers used to play”. rather, I advocated a distribution service to mediate between content users (researchers, journalists) and content publishers.

    one of the major players currently doing this is university libraries and other research institutions. individual institutions will negotiate rates with publishers, then charge their “members” effectively zero dollars (or take them out of overhead costs or student fees, etc).

    there is no reason that a company could not come along and (a) establish an “institutional” relationship with as many publishers as possible, paying the publisher a flat fee for unlimited access to their content, then (b) charge individuals a reasonable and flat per-article fee and distribute said articles through a nice intuitive interface, side-by-side with open access papers for free. it could guarantee publishers money and they could pull a profit.

    the business model would need to be worked out, but it could work. Mendeley or Endnote is probably in the best position to do this, actually.


  8. William Park Says:

    Hi, this is William Park, CEO of DeepDyve. I enjoyed reading this post and the comments, it’s a very timely subject. We have created a service where users can “rent” and read the full-text of an article for as little as $0.99. Through our cloud-based service, users can access an article via their browser for a certain duration of time, however they are not able to print or download the PDF. We are creating alternative access models designed to make access to academic and scholarly research more affordable and convenient.

    In talks with publishers and societies, we found that they had hundreds of millions of “turn-aways”, i.e. visitors who were unaffiliated with an academic institution and who left the publisher site when confronted with a paywall. In researching these users, we found that most worked at small to mid-sized businesses (generally they were not individual researchers or consumer hobbyists) which lacked the budget to subscribe to that particular journal. While the price of the article was an obstacle, they also were frustrated when they purchased an article only to find it didn’t meet their needs; and they were inconvenienced by the many different publisher sites they had to visit and register.

    To date, we’ve been encouraged by the adoption we are seeing with both publishers and users. Dozens of publishers have contributed over 5 million articles, plus we offer another 20 million free (open access) articles from sources such as PLoS, ArXiv, Hindawi, PubMed and others; on the user front, we’ve seen our traffic increase 5x this past year, and interestingly, 70% of our visitors are from outside the US (although most paying subscribers are from North America and W. Europe).


  9. iGrrrl Says:

    And on a lighter note, this from The Oatmeal on how nice people turn pirate because of the equivalent cluelessness by the entertainment industry:


  10. Joe H. Says:

    Unanswered question: Who pays the fee? Simple answer for the private consumer, they pay it themselves. But who are most of these turnaways? Are they domestic researchers trying to access something their institutions don’t subscribe to? Are they international researchers? Or are they the citizens and journalists who are forced to live without “traditional” access?

    For one working under the umbrella of an institution, research or otherwise, I think few would be willing to fork over their own money to access content that is necessary for “work”. Would you buy your own office supplies? Your own internet connection for office use? No. These are supposed to be supported as part of the job. I would not fork out money from my own pocket to purchase single-use articles at any price. I’m working on grant-supported research, and that should come from my university or from our lab funds. I just can’t think of a practical way to make that work. No one’s gonna give lab members a PO card to buy articles at will.


  11. Mr. Gunn Says:

    Sorry to get to this late. Simply making articles cheaper won’t fix the infrastructural problems with how research is distributed and shared today. It doesn’t make sense to have the fee on the reader side, because that will inevitably come with some shitty DRM that will only cause more problems.


  12. Chebag Says:

    “problems”? For pirates, you mean.


  13. Nah, you don’t need DRM. Just make the shitte cheap enough that most people will buy it rather than steal it. Oh, and also sue the motherfucken shitte out of a bunch of first-year grad students at some shitteassse colleges that don’t have subscriptions who stole a bunch of articles.


  14. neuromusic Says:

    Joe H- I don’t think this is being proposed as a model to completely replace the current institutional distribution models. And the DeepDive CEO answered your questions about who the turnaways are… and they’ve built a company targeting that market.

    As you noted, a service like this would be very costly and of little value to researchers who need maximum access to the entire literature. Hence, the institutional access agreements that are already in place.

    As far as “renting” an article for 24 hours goes, this is only good for a midlevel manager trying to grab a good citation “to make a point” in their next powerpoint presentation to the senior executives. Hence, “they also were frustrated when they purchased an article only to find it didn’t meet their needs”. Though I appreciate the effort that DeepDyve has made, renting access to content seems absurd to me.

    And I wholly agree with William Gunn that this is not a solution to the bigger problems. But those bigger problems will only be addressed when Congress requires publicly-funded research to be publicly accessible (ideally, Open) as soon as its published. In the mean time, a way to cheaply distribute individual articles could help to increase access to those for whom current costs are a barrier. And I suspect the key to this may be intermediaries between the publisher and consumer.


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