Demand-Driven Access to Journal Articles
From Publisher Token Systems to Aggregation Plays: eBook and Journal Article Access is Converging
If you read my November column in Against the Grain you know that I believe demand-driven acquisition and metered-usage models will grow in both degree and importance for university library collection development strategy and in terms of providing a fertile pathway for new business models. In “The Blurring Line” I am especially interested in emerging business models and the people and companies behind these efforts to innovate. In this column I will explore demand-drive models in the delivery of journal articles. It has always struck me that the book publishing world can learn much from the journal publishing world in terms of open access and the journal publishing world can learn much from the book publishing world in terms of demand-driven access. Of course much book and journal publishing goes on under the same roof, but frequently the respective publishers struggle with incorporating the advances from the world of their counterparts.
In journal publishing all too often the discussion around new business models is confined to explorations of open access versus the traditional publishing model. Open access is a critically important topic, especially for scholars seeking the broadest dissemination of their ideas and the broadest access to research. But open access will inevitably be constrained by its funding models and/or business models, whether they be state/university-driven or publishing company-driven. I suspect I will be writing a future column on new publisher business models to fund open-access in journal publishing, but that is for another day.
The same pressures that are pushing open access forward are behind the growth of demand-driven models. Declining state and university budgets coupled with better data analytics and data sources combine to simultaneously force and empower librarians to look harder at the big deal and broad-based subscriptions. I believe that the big deal will slowly but inevitably unwind as a primary business model for acquiring journals and most second- and third-tier journals will face increasing pressure to experiment with demand-driven models. Of course, top-tier and very high-usage journals will be somewhat insulated from these pressures, but the drive to maximize revenue generation will compel the savviest publishers to strike the right balance between a variety of business models to meet the most possible customer segments. And librarians and scholars will use a mix of content acquisition methods to get the needed research in scholars’ hands as fast as possible, so we are sure to see a healthy mix of open access, subscriptions, ILL, rentals, and peer-to-peer sharing.
In the remainder of this column I want to stay true to the mission of The Blurring Line and look at some examples of where demand-driven is heading in the journal world with a specific focus on aggregation players in the space.
The forerunner to demand-driven models in journal article access was the token system introduced by publishers such as Wiley, Nature Publishing Group, and Future Science. This is a very straightforward model dating back to the late 1990s. The publisher offers a package of tokens for a fixed fee, and the library and its patrons draw down on a fixed account of tokens as they access individual articles and at their leisure with no period or term of usage. Depending on the degree of control the library is seeking over token usage, regimes can be put in place. For example, Wiley’s token system offers a “Super User” through whom requests must pass before a token is dispensed and an article is accessed. The token system looks and functions like PDA, but was the construct of individual publishers seeking a controlled and tightly monitored system to dispense single articles for unsubscribed journals. The token system, however, suffers from a lack of scale in that it is confined to single publishers. The recent introduction of aggregation schemes for demand-driven access to journal articles offers new and interesting opportunities. Here I will focus on three stand-out examples: Deep Dyve, Get it Now, and ReadCube.
DeepDyve is a professionally-oriented service that has aggregated nearly 10 million articles across thousands of peer-reviewed journals sourced from 100+ scholarly publishers. DeepDyve is focused on selling memberships to individuals and organizations in the professional/corporate space. This is not a PDA model, but rather a rental model predicated on access for a term of use/access to an individual article. The DeepDyve story is compelling as it represented the first aggregation scheme oriented toward delivering affordable, real-time access to journal articles with an emphasis on marketing to professionals and researchers outside of the university. And DeepDyve’s membership model opened up new spaces for thinking about how content could be monetized, not only in terms of distribution channels, but also in terms of revenue generation models.
The Copyright Clearance Center’s (CCC) service, Get It Now, provides a similar service to that of DeepDyve, but aimed at the scholarly researcher in the university library. If the library selects an unmediated service, access to articles is provided via an open URL search and the library is billed on a monthly or bi-monthly basis and articles can be shared across users if the library has an annual copyright license from CCC. A mediated service is also available where purchase requests are first approved by a librarian. Get It Now, in its unmediated form, functions as a demand-driven purchase model but does not necessitate an upfront commitment of dollars toward a purchase pool as with most DDA programs. The greater flexibility in the Get It Now methods of payment, coupled with the broad aggregation of publisher journal content represents a significant advancement over the single-publisher token system.
The most recent entry into the demand-driven space for journal articles is ReadCube Access. ReadCube has taken the model as far as the most progressive eBook publishers in terms of access and payment models. The demand-driven component of ReadCube Access launched last year with journals from Nature Publishing Group and is looking set to grow (they also have an individual purchasing system that accepts credit card payment that is available for NPG and Wiley articles). ReadCube Access offers a variety of payment models ranging from rentals to outright purchases and supports a demand-driven model based on single institution or consortia-based purchasing pools that are pre-set and metered, as with eBook demand-driven models. And ReadCube offers a PDF download option with no digital rights management or associated restrictions on usage.
As the models and companies described here attest to, we are moving in the direction of more strategic and creative thinking about how libraries obtain non-OA content. As Phil Jones of ReadCube notes, “For high-use, low cost-per-download titles, subscription and even the Big Deal will continue to be highly cost effective for quite some time into the future. For low-use, niche or higher cost-per-download content, however, patron-driven acquisition will often provide the best value.”
Thoughtful and creative publishers, librarians, and researchers will lead the way in demonstrating how usage models can be converted into business models. We will see more convergence in how book publishers and journal publishers implement open access and demand-driven models. And aggregators of content, like ReadCube and CCC, will provide the impetus to implement these new models across wide swaths of content. Ultimately, the measure of value in eBooks and journal articles as either high volume usage or deep but limited usage, as revealed through better data analytics, will inform new business models. There is little room left to hide and mediocre content will come under pressure and may, counter-intuitively, also be a fount of innovation in business models as mediocre content will be the first content to be unsubscribed. Either way, the library and the researcher will win through faster access and better return on dollars spent.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.