Renting PDFs: Commentary

I’ve taken the time this morning to read the post at The Scholarly Kitchen on DeepDyve and the idea of renting access to scholarly articles. I haven’t played with the DeepDyve site at all yet, but some comments show a less-than-promising access model at present.

What is most attractive about this model is that it does act as iTunes or Netflix in the most fundamental way: you have one site that you go to, search, and download (well, view) from for all of the publishers who are involved. One username, one password, one bank account, and a way to see how much you’re spending on articles every week/month/year.

The $0.99 pricepoint is interesting, and I’m not sure how feasible that is in the long run: the issue of JVP in front of me has 32 discrete “articles,” so if this is about average I’ve been getting ~128 articles per year for my $75 student dues, which comes out to ~$0.59 an article, making it more economical to just become an SVP member and get all the extras that come with that as well. This is great, but I know that the majority of the time what I do with JVP is skim through the volume to see if there is anything interesting, read the one or two most interesting articles in more depth, and put it on a shelf (keep in mind that my main study area is not vertebrate paleontology). If I could skim the whole volume (view all text, figures, and tables) but only download those articles I wanted to read and keep, it would save me money.

Unfortunately this is not currently available, but then again I’m not sure how many people “read” journals like I do. If the DeepDyve model allowed people to freely view a certain number of articles per month without downloading them, would it have more success? How many people want to download, print out, and keep a copy of the work they are citing, rather than reading through the article to find the information they need, writing it down, citing it, and never looking at the paper again? I’ve found that a lot of the information I need is scattered throughout papers, especially historical ones, making this sort of “tactical strike” methodology impossible if I want to see the whole picture.

I’ve always been one to look through whatever volume through which I’m looking to find the article I need out of curiosity’s sake, just in case a related (or otherwise interesting) article can be copied/scanned/downloaded at that time without too much more effort. From conversations I’ve had over the last few years, I’ve realized that I’m not the only one to do this, and that it becomes even more important when looking at older historical works which may have been collaborations split into separate articles within the volume. At least one individual structures his own PDF library according to journal-volume rather than author-date in order to preserve the original collections. (PDF library/reprint structure deserves its own post.)

All in all, I’m not sure how a rental model will decrease piracy of scholarly articles (that sounds amazingly nerdy!). Already, Jill Emery commented that she tried to screenshot a DeepDyve “rental” and it worked, although you only get half a page at a time. If the article were worthwhile, I’d probably take the 10 minutes to screenshot and build a quick and dirty PDF–and I doubt I’m alone here. Piracy gets you a whole article to keep forever and is free; renting costs money and is more difficult to read, even if it’s easier to get. If you don’t have access to a scholarly pirating network (aarr!) and can’t wait a few days (e.g., to ask around on listservs), the DeepDyve model will probably work out, but I’m not so sure about paleontologists–we’re used to deep time.

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