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Cambridge U. Press Would Like to Rent You an Article

Will researchers pay for short-term access to journal articles? Cambridge University Press is about to find out. The publisher has just announced a rental program for articles from the more than 280 peer-reviewed journals it publishes.

“For just £3.99, $5.99 or €4.49, users are now able to read single articles online for up to 24 hours, a saving of up to 86% compared with the cost of purchasing the article,” the press said in an announcement. “After registration and payment, the reader is e-mailed a link, through which they can access and read the article in PDF format as often as they wish during the subsequent 24 hours.”

Readers may not download, print, or copy and paste the articles. That’s similar to the conditions set by DeepDyve, which also offers 24-hour, no-download access to research articles, but on a monthly subscription basis.

Simon Ross, the managing director of Cambridge’s journals program, said in an e-mail that the model might appeal to students who need an article for only a brief time. But he said it’s mostly intended to help with the problem of so-called turnaway traffic. Researchers, especially those who aren’t associated with an institution, often see only the title and abstract of a paper they’re potentially interested in. High pay-per-view charges sometimes put them off buying the full version. Mr. Ross said that the rental program gives them an option to read the full article for less money and then decide if they want to buy the text on a pay-per-view basis.

He shared some of the press’s analysis of 2010 activity on its Cambridge Journals Online site. Out of 60 million views of journal abstracts, 20 percent came from institutionally unaffiliated users. And very few of those abstract views—0.01 percent, according to Mr. Ross—led to pay-per-view downloads.

“The model is also in tune with changing user behavior and attitudes,” Mr. Ross said in his e-mail. “We know that our users access more articles but spend less time per article. The rental vs. owning option is applicable in all sorts of businesses (Zipcar, for example).”

A highly informal poll on Twitter produced more initial skepticism than enthusiasm about the Cambridge article-rental plan. ”24 hours access, w/o ability to markup or download, or view again? Nope. No researcher I know would get much use from a 24-hour evaporative e-article,” one librarian responded. Another said, “Do they use the flashing device from ‘Men in Black’ to wipe any memory of the article after 24 hours as well?” One researcher said it seemed most likely to appeal to researchers without institutional affiliations. Let us know in the comments what you think.

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