Article sharing in the digital age

This February, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) opened a community-wide consultation about the article sharing that takes place on Scholarly Collaboration Networks (SCN) such as: ResearchGate, and Mendeley.

If you are new to the SCN concept then this quote from a blog interview with Fred Dylla (CEO and Executive Director of the American Institute of Physics who leads the SCN working group), will help you to understand their growing role:

The ways by which scholarly information is delivered and used by researchers is rapidly evolving. Researchers have always shared copies of articles from the inception of the journal when print copies were shared among collaborators. Sharing an electronic copy with a colleague is now done with a key stroke. Sharing networks facilitate the dissemination of articles and related information among an entire collaborating group. Internet tools have simply improved the efficiency of a standard academic practice. As the use of sharing networks increases, ambiguity has grown over how to access, share and use journal articles on platforms and tools like SCNs.

Our subscribers know all about the difficulty of article sharing from first hand experience and unlike many of those seeking information via SCN, they are not affiliated to an academic library. The solution that we offer them is instant and affordable access ($40 per month) to over 12 million articles from 10,000 peer-reviewed journals and naturally we’d be delighted if article rental technologies like ours and others could also help to facilitate legitimate and unambiguous article sharing.

Representatives of the following organizations drafted these voluntary principles on article sharing and asked for feedback from the community via a series of questions.

  • AAAS
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Institute of Physics
  • AIP Publishing
  • Digital Science
  • Elsevier
  • IEEE
  • John Wiley & Sons
  • Nature Publishing Group
  • Springer
  • Taylor and Francis

We are sharing our answers with you below, as part of our commitment to transparency (you can also find our 2014 Annual Report here). You can see all the submissions here. We want to know what you think of our reply, a key part of which is that:

There are many stakeholders that are interested in a sensible solution to article sharing and collaboration. First and foremost researchers themselves; publishers; funders, and article service providers (such as ourselves and others)…I believe expanding the working group to include additional stakeholders would be useful to introduce a broader set of ideas and perspectives.

Feel free to share your views on Twitter, Facebook  or leave a comment on this blog. Our CEO, Bill Park, is attending the London Book Fair next week, so please look out for him there (email:


DeepDyve’s contribution to the STM consultation on Article Sharing

Here at DeepDyve we develop innovative technologies to empower the discovery and access of authoritative research for those who are not affiliated with a library. As CEO, I welcome the consultative approach of the publishers who were involved in drawing up these voluntary principles. I agree with Fred Dylla that “consensus building is a process and we all benefit from increased dialogue”.

By way of some background on our organization, we were the first to enter the article rental market in 2011, are independently owned, and represent more publishers than any other comparable vendor with over 12 million rentable articles from more than 10,000 peer-reviewed journals.

Since our launch, we’ve been improving our product to meet the needs of our subscribers, doubling in size each of the past 3 years. Similar to other online subscription services, users can register for a two week risk-free trial. Should they continue beyond the trial, they can rent and read-only as many articles as they wish for $40 per month.

In many respects, the fact that we facilitate legitimate access to pay-walled research articles puts us in a unique position to comment on these draft principles. With this in mind, I have responded to each of the five core questions.

Q: What impact do you think a unified approach to scholarly article sharing would have?

I think the key word here is “unified”. There are many stakeholders that are interested in a sensible solution to article sharing and collaboration. First and foremost researchers themselves; publishers; funders, and article service providers (such as ourselves and others). To date, SCN’s have (with the exception of Mendeley) been notably absent from industry wide discussions but they are hugely popular with researchers. If a unified approach could be created and implemented, the impact would be tremendous in fostering collaboration and dissemination.

Q: Do you have other ideas about how the sharing of scholarly research should function within the research community?

First, I think it is impractical to try to define a ‘typical’ size of a working group. Aside from the challenge of agreeing on a number, there is the question of who (or how) will this size be monitored and enforced? And as technology advances (e.g. Wikipedia), is it anachronistic to even attempt to define or limit the size of a working group?

Second, how will you define the ‘purpose of the group? Will researchers have to utilize a standard tool or process for creating a group, inviting ‘suitable’ members, etc.? And who will build this tool, and who will audit these groups to ensure that they are in compliance, and that only appropriate articles are shared?

Third and related to my first point, is it reasonable to exclude the ‘general public’? As other commentators have pointed out, what about corporate scientists and citizen scientists (some of whom will complain about lack of access to research they funded out of their tax dollars) and of course patient groups? DeepDyve serves many of these customer segments and we believe it would be a costly mistake to ignore them, and per my earlier point, challenging and impractical to implement.

While publishers offer individual policies for author sharing and public access, this current patchwork is inconsistent with the Voluntary Principle “to make sharing simple and seamless”. In fact, it is quite possible that this fragmented landscape ironically helped propagate the very success of the SCN’s. With claiming over 19 million members and ResearchGate likely in the same vicinity, unfortunately the cat may be out of the bag and publishers must offer a unified, simple way to allow access in a manner that is reasonable and convenient. Having stated that, I also believe that it is unreasonable to give away premium content that required considerable investment to produce without anything in return.

A balance needs to be achieved, and I believe trying to define sharing is going in the wrong direction, and the attention should be on the access itself – we should focus on defining levels of access, rather than levels of sharing. In that respect, I suggest that sharing be unlimited. Allow anyone to share anything with anyone. Not only does it align with all the stakeholders’ aspirational goals concerning dissemination, it again would also be challenging to implement a system that somehow manages the activity of such a diverse audience across such a diverse set of platforms where people could possibly share.

If there are limits to be applied, apply them towards access where “FREE” remains a reasonable option, along with additional premium options. In our new world where there is growing pressure ‘for all information to be free’, there will be a growing need for innovative new models of access. Rental companies such as DeepDyve employ this strategy in allowing users to sample an article for free, rent and read-only the full-text for a modest amount, and PPV for full PDF ownership.

Q: It is our aim to continue to refine the thinking and approach to article sharing. What feedback or guidance can you offer for further consideration or to help next steps?

For any unified proposal to be successful, it must offer the user an experience comparable to what they experience today on SCN’s to ensure adoption and compliance. On a positive note, it will have the significant advantage of allowing authors and readers the ability to share and access articles legally (that was a huge advantage of iTunes when it launched: it made it easy and affordable for users to do the right thing); second, it must be reasonably priced; third, it must be cross-publisher to replicate the convenience of accessing everything from one place; and fourth, it must be simple and easy to use with a consumer-oriented design.

Q: Would your organization be willing to actively participate and contribute to this process?

Yes we would.

Q: Do you support the STM’s initial outline ‘Voluntary principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks’?

I think it is an important first step. In addition, I believe expanding the working group to include additional stakeholders would be useful to introduce a broader set of ideas and perspectives.