Geoffrey Bilder – 2009 September 07
OK, so this has nothing to do with any Crossref projects- but there is an interesting new PRC report out by Mark Ware in which he explores how SMEs (small/medium-sized enterprises) make use of scholarly articles and whether the scholarly publishing industry is doing anything to make their lives easier. This is a topic that is close to my heart. For the past few years I’ve been saying (most recently at SSP09) that I think scholarly publishers are much too quick to dismiss the possibility of creating an iTunes-like service for scholarly publications (aka “iPub”). The report certainly seems to indicate that there is an important audience that would benefit from such a service (SMEs) and even goes so far as to cite my occasional rants on the subject. The summary of my iPub argument has been that:
It seems to me that the industry could provide a single interface and PPV shopping cart interface targeted at allowing people who work outside of traditional subscribing institutions to easily purchase individual article downloads from scholarly publishers. The system would be modelled at least in part by Apple’s iTunes, a system that has been lauded (and denounced) for revolutionising the way in which consumers buy music online. The chief virtues of the iTunes system are often cited as being:
A scholarly publishing “iPub” system could seek to emulate many of these strengths but not all. Clearly such a system could not impose uniform pricing or dictate pricing, as that would be anti-competitive. The PRC report makes this same point.
Some, including the PRC report, also claim that the publishing industry has no equivalent of the “iPod” and that this would be a weakness of the system. I don’t agree with this- I think that the “iPod” in this case is currently called “paper.” In the future we will almost certainly migrate to some iPod/Kindle-like device, but as far as fulfilling most of the iPod’s functionality (portable rendering of the content) right now, I suspect paper fits the bill.
Finally, there is a another oft-expressed concern that such a system might confuse channels for existing audiences and that librarians in particular would be very hostile to such a system. The truth is, I don’t know how librarians would react to such a system. The few I’ve mentioned it to certainly seemed amenable to the idea. Maybe this is where the PRC should do some follow-up research?
In any case, it seems to me that there is potentially much to be gained by simply providing an easy PPV experience where users don’t have to register with multiple sites and cope with multiple shopping cart applications. Publishers can’t seriously think that they gain competitive advantage through their shopping carts? If not, then why not standardise on a uniform interface that is easily purchased from? Perhaps it doesn’t have to look like iTunes but can instead look like PayPal (PayPub?). Providing a simple mechanism like this might enable the industry to meet the needs of important and often overlooked audiences. I keep wondering if CCC could help publishers do something here?
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