Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DeepDyve Reviewed

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.


Nick said...

So far what I've read of DeepDyve hasn't led me to feel impressed with it at all. I don't see how it would necessarily lead me to want to replace my current *free* PDF gathering methods (institutional access, request from friends or author). =/

Nick Gardner

Mike Keesey said...

Institutional access isn't really "free" if you're paying tuition.

So this is basically the Netflix of research papers? As someone not associated with an institution, I want to like that....

Andy said...

And, it isn't free if you're paying taxes.

DeepDyve is basically the Netflix of research papers, yes. Now we just need the iTunes of research papers!

William Park said...

Hello All,
Thank you for your comments re: DeepDyve. I think everyone has made valid points and we at DeepDyve know we have much work in front of us. We have listed our site as "beta" b/c we recognize that there is considerable content that we must add to make our service compelling, whether that content be open access or closed.

Our plan is to make as much information available as possible, focusing first within STM broadly, then targeting specific journals by subject area. We realize our largest obstacle will be getting publishers to experiment with us so your comments are extremely helpful in giving credence to the publishers that "if we build it, they will come".

William Park
CEO, DeepDyve

Nick said...

I would be willing to pay $50 a year for unlimited access to an extremely inclusive selection of PDFs concerning my research interests, but what would bother me is getting a hold of the rarer journals which probably wouldn't be included.


Nick said...

But what I meant to add to that is that $240 a year seems kind of steep (i.e. $20 a month * 12 months), especially for students.

The alternative where the institution is paying or I'm receiving PDFs from authors seems much more cost friendly from the perspective of a student. The only time it really sucks is when you're either at an institution that doesn't subscribe to the journals or publishers from which you need an article (which happens fairly often and in which case I find myself making ILL requests), when I can't get an email address for an author (i.e. when the paper is very old) or when authors are unresponsive (almost never the case), or when an article is not obtainable through ILL (i.e. no participating library has the journal in their collections).


Andy said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! (and an especially big thanks to William Park, for venturing on over this way)

Unknown said...

There was an interesting article on recently that discussed how Google could soon become the owner of all printed works that have no traceable owner. Open source information is so fascinating. The idea of owning knowledge seems bizarre at first but really is an important issue. I'm glad people are coming up with ways to monetize and reimburse authors while still creating access! Great post.

Mike Taylor said...

Boomka said: "I'm glad people are coming up with ways to monetize and reimburse authors while still creating access!"

You must be new here.

The reality is that academic authors do not get reimbursed -- the only people that make money from scientific publications are the publishers (and they make plenty). And in order to maintain their revenue stream, the one thing publishers are dead set on NOT doing is "creating access". So here we are in a dumb world where authors don't get compensated AND their work is not accessible to Joe Public.

Happily, that model is rapidly dying as everyone who needs access to the literature is realising that it can be had directly from authors, and that PDF libraries are conveniently portable and *cough* copyable. DeepDyve has come along three to five years too late to make a difference to the way things are heading.

For scientists, the current copyright regime is a lose/lose proposition that serves only to impede their work. But, to paraphrase John Gilmore, science interprets copyright as damage and routes around it. Open Access is here to stay, and the increasing stream of palaeo papers at PLoS ONE shows that, in our field at least, more and more people are appreciating its importance.