Many of the recent posts on this blog have dealt with issues of access to the scholarly literature for those outside the library systems of large research institutions. A digital divide is developing in academia, largely due to the expensive costs of institutional subscriptions and pay-per-download distribution schemes of commercial and non-profit publishers alike.
Thus, I was very excited to hear about the launch of DeepDyve. This website essentially offers a rental service for scholarly publications. Search a database, find an article, and view it on the website's Flash viewer. The prices are quite reasonable - 99 cents per article for the Basic Plan, $9.99/month to get 20 rentals a month on the Silver Plan, and $19.99/month to get unlimited rentals on the Gold Plan. I decided to test out a free trial of the Gold Plan and see if DeepDyve was right for me.
Promotional literature promised "30 million articles from thousands of authoritative journals," so I was expecting good things. Landing on DeepDyve's simple, attractive home page, I sat down to run my first queries.
Unfortunately, the hype hasn't yet caught up with the reality of scholarly publishing. A search for "Triceratops" launched from the web site's home page generated over 84,000 hits. . .most of which were completely irrelevant medical literature ("Median and Radial Nerve Compression About the Elbow" popped up on the first page, for instance). Using the site's advanced search filters, I was able to trim the results down to 71 articles. Of these articles, 8 were listed as "free" (they were already available through open access journals) and 61 only offered a preview of the abstract. A scant 2 articles were available for rental (from the journals Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics).
Why such a poor showing? It comes down to the fact that many of the societies and publishers that own or license our publications haven't yet reached an agreement with DeepDyve to allow rental of relevant articles. Thus, papers from heavy hitters like Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleobiology simply aren't available.
The rental plan also may turn some people off (although I don't think it is a complete deal breaker). In short, you can't download a PDF - all you can do is look at the file within the provided viewer. This is useful for those times when the article turns out to be irrelevant. But, it may ultimately prove unsatisfactory for those inevitable moments when you want to be able to access literature away from an internet connection (and we all have those times!). And, it seems somewhat unsettling to pay for content that you don't actually get to keep (unlike services such as iTunes).
I want to like DeepDyve. . .I really do! It promises to open up swaths of the scholarly literature that were previously unavailable. But, right now DeepDyve is shackled by the limited availability of publications (at least for us paleontologists). There is very little value-added over a standard Google search. Perhaps the future has big things in store. . .I'll be keeping an eye on the situation!
For additional commentary on DeepDyve, and some responses from the company, check out this post at the Scholarly Kitchen.