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DeepDyve’s Rent-to-Own Service
Posted On October 29, 2009
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DeepDyve (, a California-based company with offices in Shanghai, announced a new content delivery initiative on Oct. 27, 2009, that allows people to rent premium journal articles for as low as 99 cents per article. Aimed at knowledge workers who may be individual consumers or scientific professionals, DeepDyve's rental system draws from its aggregation of more than 30 million articles from thousands of professional publications, primarily in the biomedical, scientific, and technical areas.

DeepDyve searches the deep web and allows for very lengthy queries, up to 25,000 characters, in its search box. It encourages searchers to cut and paste entire paragraphs, relying upon its KeyPhrase algorithm to return relevant results. It searches content from scientific publishers, learned societies, patents, open access journals, and annual reviews. Some of these materials, for example MEDLINE, are free. Items from publishers that have not signed up with DeepDyve's rental program allow searchers to preview them at no charge. The for-rent items are marked at the right-hand side of the results list under the "More Like This" button with the 99-cent rental price.

DeepDyve's CEO, William Park, notes that there are some 50 million knowledge workers in the U.S., of which 35-40 million are noninstitutional users. It is these knowledge workers that DeepDyve's rental program should benefit.

The Traditional Model

Think about the traditional research process into scholarly literature. Confronted with an information need, researchers search through numerous online databases and visit publishers' sites to identify and obtain relevant journal articles. They scan article titles and read abstracts (if available) to ascertain whether an individual article is worth reading in full text. There are several problems with this model.

It's a fragmented system, requiring searchers to cope with differing search protocols-it leaves them wondering if they've really done a comprehensive literature review. The scientific user experience is frustrating from a recall perspective. As Park says, "There's no Amazon for scientific research."

Researchers in academic institutions have the advantage of having access to journals purchased by their institution libraries. Those researchers working outside academia generally have a much more limited pool of journals available in-house, and they must purchase individual articles at very high prices. Even researchers within academia find that their libraries don't own every journal, and with the shrinking of library budgets, that pool of journal titles continues to decline. If their university library lacks a journal, they too must buy the full-text article. These articles are far from cheap, with prices at $30 or more. It is cost prohibitive for many of these knowledge workers to own every article.

Then there's the issue of relevance. How does the researcher know from the title and the abstract that the article is truly relevant? A wonderful title does not necessarily equate to an article that furthers the researcher's progress. DeepDyve's rental program allows the researcher to read the entire article before committing to buying the full text. This is a boon to both researchers and publishers. As Park points out, the current conversion rate for article purchase is only 0.2%; the major constraint being the high price. He is convinced that being able to rent before you buy will significantly raise this percentage.

Renting Journal Articles

The rental price of 99 cents buys you 24 hours of unlimited views of the chosen article. A silver monthly plan costs $9.99 per month for renting and reading up to 20 articles per month for 7 days. The gold monthly plan is $19.99 per month, giving subscribers reading access to an unlimited number of articles for an unlimited amount of time. Payment is via PayPal. DeepDyve is currently offering a 14-day free trial with unlimited access to journal articles.

Rental means just that: DeepDyve is not selling articles for you to own. You can read the article on the screen. You can't download it, you can't use a screen capture, and you can't print it. You can take notes from the article you're viewing-but only with those old-fashioned devices, pencil (or pen) and paper. The viewer is Flash-based and is a proprietary system developed by DeepDyve. Park compares it with the YouTube viewer, which also prohibits you from downloading material.

For individual researchers, the DeepDyve search engine provides advantages in recall and precision for search results. The rental program gives knowledge workers a cost-effective alternative to acquiring full-text journal articles. For libraries, DeepDyve's rental plans could be an effective alternative to purchasing expensive, annual journal subscriptions. Some publishers are probably worried about this, fearing that they won't be able to make up lost revenue from a cancelled subscription by selling several individual articles. Given the state of library budgets today, it's very likely that the library would be forced to cancel the title anyway, regardless of whether DeepDyve provides a rental option or not.

Reaching Out to Publishers

What about publishers? DeepDyve had 25 signed up upon launch. Some prominent ones-Elsevier, for example-are missing. Park thinks that DeepDyve's rental program is a lead generator for publishers. Not only do publishers gain from a revenue-sharing deal on the rental prices, they can put a rental link on their own site and reach a new market of knowledge workers through DeepDyve. From my test searches, it appears to me that the learned societies have been more inclined to adopt this plan than the for-profit publishers. On record as supporting DeepDyve's rental program is Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society, who said that it "enables us to serve these new users without compromising the products we offer to our traditional subscription customers."

Park believes that the traditional content delivery model is not sustainable. With DeepDyve's emphasis on a wide selection of scientific and technical journals, the affordability of the rental plan, and the ease of use, the plan's appeal goes well beyond the established corporate and academic markets. He sees "a large, untapped market" in noninstitutional knowledge workers. The new motto for DeepDyve, "Research, Rent, Read," sums up the essence of how Park envisions the new, more progressive content delivery model.

Although the company originally compared the rental program to NetFlix and iTunes, I'm more inclined to think of it as one of those "rent to own" strategies employed by prospective home buyers. It certainly makes premium content affordable and gives researchers the opportunity to look at an article to determine its applicability before paying full price for the full text. DeepDyve has taken an important step in making professional literature easy to find, ready to read, and appropriately priced.

Marydee Ojala is editor of Online Searcher (part of Computers in Libraries magazine) and ILI365 eNews. She has program development responsibilities for several Information Today, Inc. conferences.

Email Marydee Ojala

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