I wanted to share the response and feedback that has been received to my article on iPubSci. For the sake of clarity, I have broken this down by group:
Scientists at biotech companies, one of the key user groups targeted, were enthusiastic in their response to the idea behind iPubSci. They especially liked a number of the special features that could easily be built in, like automatic notification of papers that has been withdrawn. The low prices suggested for iPubSci were (not surprisingly) embraced as the preferred alternative to buying articles on an individual basis for $30-$35 apiece. Patent agents, attorneys, and those seeking to research diseases for family members were also fans of the iPubSci model.
Academic researchers also liked the iPubSci concept, although they felt less of a need for it due to the fact that they already have pretty good access to the scientific literature through their university libraries. I had a number of positive comments based on the suggested ease-of-use and having a single interface for searching and downloading all articles.
Librarians were split on the concept of iPubSci. Many loved the idea and thought the proposed interface, ease of use, and lack of a need to work out licensing agreements with the various publishers were all strong positives. However, some librarians (all in academia) didn’t see the need for iPubSci, which makes sense since they already feel that they have good access to the literature. Others were clearly concerned about their job prospects under an iPubSci model, since the simple, direct interface would make their roles in the university library system less clear. Layoffs of librarians were clearly a worry if the iPubSci concept were to succeed.
Open access advocates voiced a variety of opinions about iPubSci, but they uniformly rejected the concept for one primary reason. iPubSci needs to be set up with the help of the for-profit journal publishers, and the open access group was adamant about their contempt for this group. Hatred, loathing, and scorn for the for-profit publishers turned up in many of the emails I received. Several members of the open access crowd opined that even if papers could be purchased for as little as a penny apiece, they would still not use iPubSci since some of that money would go to the publishers. There were many different viewpoints expressed as to how the open access movement might achieve its goals, and it was clear that this group has not coalesced behind a single plan. Many people pointed out that the open access publishing concept is no panacea, since the fees charged by the open access publishers are still a burden to many academic contributors, and the timeline for getting articles published can be as long, if not longer, than with some for-profit journals.
While I understand the depth of feeling shared by open access advocates, I was unable to get a single intelligent reply to the same key question I asked each of the respondents. The question was: What would you do to gain access to the millions of legacy articles in PubMed that the publishers are currently sitting on (and selling at $30-$35 apiece)? These articles represent some 2/3 of the articles held in PubMed. Some people suggested that working scientists don’t really need access to these older papers, which simply reveals that those individuals don’t have a clear understanding of how science works. A few others suggested a Robin Hood based model, in which these legacy papers should be “stolen” from the publishers and posted somewhere on the cloud for all to access. While I respect and applaud the efforts within the open access community to advance their new publishing model for science journals, a solution for affordably accessing the legacy articles must be found.
In summary, after reading numerous replies and discussing the concept behind iPubSci with numerous stakeholders, I still believe that iPubSci represents the best approach to providing easy, affordable, and legal access to the scientific literature.