Is it really a Brave NOW World?

“Brave NOW World” was the theme at the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Annual Meeting in Baltimore last week where several ideas were presented for new publishing models and technologies. Geoffrey Bilder (CrossRef) returned this year proselytizing the same model he presented at last year’s meeting. In his usual dry, in-your-face style, he revisited his “iPub” model including some of the same jokes about publishers and librarians. If one reads excerpts from last year’s meeting, it tells the same story but no where near as enjoyable as watching him present the arguments.

Bilder envisions an “iPub” searchable database for research papers similar to that of the iTunes music database. iTunes, with its “critical mass of content, simple interface,… and disaggregation of content…,” he argues, lends itself to a scholarly publishing model. He sees that a huge challenge facing researchers today is gathering research that is now available from so many different sources. “Library silos aren’t much better than publisher silos,” he comments. Bilder envisions one location for research storing, which would make it easier for researchers to find and gather data. iPub would contain many research papers from many different disciplines and provide a friendly user interface to search for this research. Much like iTunes, where many types of music are located and can be “searched” by Genre, Artist, or Title; on iPub, a user would be able to search for papers by discipline, key words, Author, Title, or Journal. Then, analogous to iTunes users creating their own music libraries and playlists, iPub users could create their own research libraries from their already existing papers on their hard drive, plus retrieved papers from iPub database. However, the one aspect of the iTunes model that Bilder views as not being compatible with the “iPub” model is cheap, simple pricing (i.e., $0.99 downloads). He believes that “iPub” would have to incorporate a system of variable pricing for monopoly pricing reasons.

Bilder says iPub would be “scary” if this envisioned system were built by someone not in scholarly publishing. But perhaps this system is already built…

During this same conference, Victor Henning, co-founder of Mendeley, presented Mendeley’s research/collaboration tool. Mendeley is based on a different music industry sharing model, Last.FM. In fact, two out of the 13 members of Mendeley’s staff were once part of Last.FM’s staff, including Stefan Glaenzer, Last.FM’s former Chairman. Mendeley’s goal is to provide a tool that “makes research social.” Mendeley provides stats about your own research library, discussions, and recommendations about research papers, and provides trends and charts about readers, authors, and titles.
So, does Mendeley have many of the qualities of the “iPub” model that Bilder envisions?

• Critical Mass of Content: Right now a researcher can “gather” papers from a number of databases – including PubMed, PLOS, and arXiv to name a few (complete list of databases that are compatible with Mendeley’s interface.) But maybe more important than the databases from which one can gather research articles is the database that Mendeley itself is currently building. In April, Mendeley had its one millionth article uploaded to the database. And in Victor’s own words:

“…we’re not hoarding all that data just because we can, no Sir! Our vision is to create the largest open, interdisciplinary and ontological database of research – as crazy as that sounds, remember that (whose former chairman and COO are our co-founders and investors) pulled it off in the space of music within just three years, using the same user data-aggregation model that Mendeley is built on.”(One Million Articles Uploaded to Mendeley!)

• Simple Interface: Gathering research articles into one’s own personal library is very easy with Mendeley. It’s as easy as clicking on a “bookmarklet” while on the web page of the research article. However, as of right now, I do not see any search capabilities onto Mendeley’s own database for research articles, nor onto partnering databases. I am willing to bet that database search is in Mendeley’s future as a Premium service.

• Disaggregation of content: Right now, users on Mendeley are divided into 25 disciplines, including Biological Sciences and Humanities. Statistics regarding papers on Mendeley’s database and in user’s libraries can be filtered by discipline. As Mendeley’s database grows, I am sure that more granular subdisciplines will be added. It is assumed that in the future, Mendeley users will be able to search Mendeley’s database by discipline, key words, Author, Title, or Journal (or any other capturable metadata.)

Would Mendeley’s model lend itself to “cheap pricing” and “simple pricing”? When Henning was asked about how this model could generate revenue, he mentioned a few ideas including “premium services” and “site licenses”, but during his presentation he also mentioned “personalized recommendation” statistics and other services that could lend themselves to “adaptive pricing tools.”

Much conversation after this presentation was centered on “optimal pricing” for pay per download papers. The core question remains if publishers are ready to follow Bilder’s advice about pricing and pay per downloads? Perhaps other revenue models would be more feasible and have lower perceived risks for publishers.

Mendeley says that they want to make research social and I think they have a great concept, the question is whether the publishers are likely to support the concept or take a Recording Industry Association of America type stance. It is surely an exciting time in scholarly publishing …