Archive for October, 2007

Libraries shun Google/Microsoft in favour of Open Content Alliance

A New York Times story from last week:

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance

The key issue is the terms of Google & Microsoft deals that prevent making the scanned material available to other commercial search services. Google pays the scanning costs (estimated by NYT to be $30 per book) whereas the libraries have to share the costs if they go with OCA.

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Max Planck Society cancels Springer online deal over pricing

As reported in the Library Journal:

The Max Planck Society (MPS), a major German research organization, issued a strongly worded statement this week to announce it was cancelling access to Springer’s online collection of journals over pricing. The cancellation will take effect as of December 31, 2007. MPS Vice President Kurt Mehlhorn said negotiations to extend the deal failed because, according to an MPS evaluation based on factors including usage and comparisons with other publishers, Springer was intent on charging “approximately double the price” the organization regarded as “reasonable.” …

Heise Online explains:

The failure of the talks means that the various institutes will soon no longer be able to access the common pool of scientific literature via the research surface by the name of SpringerLink that the publishing house provides. The Society will now with the institutes most affected attempt to work out a strategy whereby the supply of indispensable scientific content can be ensure in a cost-effective way. Because the subscriptions taken out in 1997 included the electronic archive rights, which according to the contract stay in force beyond the termination of the same, the scientists will, however, continue to enjoy online access to the paid-for, older volumes of the journals.

In other words, the “Big Deal” arrangements have been cancelled but the underlying subscriptions continue. This isn’t the first such cancellation (and unlikely to be the last) but it is a high-profile row and must be embarrassing to Springer in its original home territory.

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Sermo – an unusual business model

A newish social networking site for US doctors, Sermo, has an unusual business model. The site is (unsurprisingly) free for doctors (and some 31,000 have apparently joined to date) and the owners have also promised to keep the site clear of advertising, because:

Sermo is extremely professional. It is free of advertising and pharmaceutical promotion

So how do they plan to make money? Their idea is based on

“information arbitrage”, the opportunity that arises when breaking medical insights intersect with the demand for actionable, market-changing events in healthcare

In other words, they want to charge pharmacos, financial institutions, healthcare companies and others to participate and listen in on the community:

Clients pay a subscription fee and in return can post questions to the Sermo community. If you vote on one of these postings, you may be financially rewarded for your astute observations.

Sermo made the news in a headline deal with Pfizer. The Wall Street Journal reported on 15 Oct:

Facing financial pressures as some of its best-selling products lose patent protection, Pfizer is looking for more-efficient ways to reach the doctors who prescribe its medicines. Under the arrangement, Pfizer-affiliated doctors will be able to talk candidly with the site’s 31,000 members, potentially giving the company insights into prescribing patterns and a way to show doctors data on its drugs.

As the WSJ notes, this looks like a risky strategy for both parties. It’s not obvious to me that doctors will prefer to “talk candidly” with Pfizer’s shills over having to endure advertising on the site, and given the attention the pharma industry has received for some of its more dubious marketing practices (such as ghost-writing) and what has been seen as its undue influence over the whole medical profession (including, let us not forget, medical publishing), the arrangements are likely to come under some scrutiny from regulators.

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A Guide to Rights and Royalties Management Software

A report I wrote for ALPSP has recently been released: A Guide to Rights and Royalties Management Software. From the blurb:

Just published, this guide is designed to give an overview of the available rights and royalties software systems currently available. It provides an introduction and charts some of the main trends in the field and looks at the potential benefits offered by software systems for book and journal publishers. It offers a number of illustrative publisher case studies and lists and describes the software provided by over 20 of the leading providers.

It’s available from the ALPSP website at £40 for ALPSP members and £70 for non-members, but Amazon are offering it for £28.50.

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How to cite a blog in an academic paper

One measure of the growing importance of blogs in scientific/medical communication is that the US National Library of Medicine has now provided guidance on how to cite a blog entry in an academic paper.

All the research I have seen recently suggests that the number of scientists regularly reading scientific blogs is a very small proportion (certainly under 10% in most fields), and the proportion actively blogging is lower still, but there’s no doubt the trend is upwards.

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PLoS Hubs

PLoS has launched PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials, the first of a planned series of such Hubs:

Launched in September 2007, the PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials collects PLoS journal articles that relate to clinical trials. The Hub is a destination site for researchers to share their views and build a dynamic, interactive community.

Currently, the PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials features articles originally published in PLoS Clinical Trials, along with clinical trials articles from PLoS ONE.

In the future, this new resource will expand to include articles from all the PLoS titles that publish clinical trials. It will also feature open-access articles from other journals plus user-generated content.

Registered users can rate, discuss and annotate articles in the Hub. More details in the PLos FAQ at Questions about the PLoS Hubs

At present, the Hub is little more than a filtered view of articles from PLoS Clinical Trials and PLoS ONE (which PLoS Clinical Trial is being merged into). But it is interesting to see another publisher attempting to create a destination site for a particular research community – some others (albeit very different approaches) include Elsevier’s OncologySTAT and Topic Pages, and IOP Publishing’s community sites such as and

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