Big publishers back startup's journal "sneak-peek" service

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William Park
William Park

Five minutes may not seem like a lot of time to make a purchase decision, but research shows it's all a scientist needs to figure out if a published study meets his or her needs. This finding, says William Park, CEO of publisher middleman DeepDyve, prompted the firm to expand its content-streaming service to allow users to take a look at articles in their entirety for only five minutes, after which they can choose from a menu of article "rental" options, including streaming—but not downloading—or buying it outright from either DeepDyve or the publisher.

Subscribing to DeepDyve's rental program will knock 20% off the article purchase price. If the new pitch keeps business flowing, Park says the company will be profitable this year. The firm already boasts a list of partners including Nature Publishing Group and John Wiley, both of which support the service through cross-promotions on their websites, and others.

The new five-minute Freemium approach offers an alternative to the site's two-week access teaser. The two-week teaser requires potential users to submit an email address and a credit card before gaining full streaming reading privileges.

Park said the two different options expands the service's potential appeal. While the 14-day trial gives full access for a long period of time, the sneak-peek capability doesn't require visitors to submit sensitive information to a partner they don't yet know.

At the same time, the shorter access period has an advantage in that researcher needs fluctuate. Under the 14-day program, a researcher who found the service at the tail-end of a deep research period would likely walk away from the offer without using it. Park said this provided "less of a chance to win them over," whereas the Freemium approach is more fluid.

The-five minute approach became a full offering June 5. The five-minute preview works just like paid access – readers get unabridged access to the most current research as well as the archive. Readers can look at as many five-minute articles as they want, but cannot access the same article twice in 24 hours.The June launch is the second change in recent company history—an article-purchase feature was added 13 months ago.

Park said the freedom to preview, rent and ultimately buy articles with a relatively low cost is critical for researchers, who typically end up having to download several articles—which can cost $40 or more—based on free abstracts, and end up with only one or two that really meet their informational needs.

This experience is what prompted the two founders to begin the business in the first place—the former biotech researchers, who had previously tapped into corporate journal accounts, realized how expensive it was to buy articles on their own.

Park would not talk numbers but said that about 75% of the site's visitors (as opposed to subscribers) come from outside the US. He also said users tend to come from expected sectors like biotech and engineering as well as finance, “as opposed to liberal arts and academic usage,” and that the corporate email addresses generally align with companies with around 1,000 employees or fewer.

Park said that in addition to seeking out expected topics like science, technology, engineering and math, the founders have also seen significant interest in what he called "applied fields," such as economics and psychology, and that the company is looking to expand its offerings.

Promoting DeepDyve as a whole has been a muted effort for the company that started first as a business-to-business entity in 2008 and then moved into the rental information space in 2009. Park says the company gets a lot of traffic from search engine optimization and Google.

The publishers themselves also send traffic DeepDyve's way—providing a Freemium preview link on pages that feature the abstracts. The link sends readers to DeepDyve to test-drive the service, and users have the option to buy the article and/or subscribe. DeepDyve gets a cut of purchases and rentals, details for which vary with each publisher.

Park, who described the company as still in start-up mode, said he expects to tap into social-media promotion this year, and will go beyond attending publisher-centric conferences to include industry ones as well.

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