Re: NIH's Public Archive for the Refereed Literature: PUBMED CENTRAL

From: Michael Jacobson <mjmd_at_JOURNALCLUB.ORG>
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 10:29:17 -0500

I believe that the discussion about PubMed Central and subversive
self-archiving fails to take into account the natural evolution of
intellectual property rights and commercialization on the Web.

In a visionary article in July, 1995 Wired magazine, Esther Dyson predicted
that, given the ease with which material can be copied and distributed on
the Internet, in the future vast amounts of content will be given away for
free, in order to attract viewers for the purpose of selling value-added
services and for targetted advertising. In Dyson's words:

"We are entering a new economic environment ... where a new set of physical
rules will govern what intellectual property means, how opportunities are
created from it, who prospers, and who loses ... Intellectual property ...
will be copied so easily and efficiently that much of it will be distributed
for free in order to attract attention or create desire for follow-up
services that can be charged for."

This prediction is on target. A perfect example is the recent move by the
Encyclopedia Britannica to make its entire contents available online for
free. In a world where searching for information on just about any topic
can be accomplished for free, using commercial search engines, it has become
impossible to sell access to information to anyone but advertisers. Thus
the fate of Encyclopedia Britannica.

The same process has been happening in the biomedical sciences. Here, a
good example is PubMed itself. Not so long ago, in order to search the
medical literature online, you had to pay over a hundred dollars annually
for Medline access. Then, various mega-medical-websites purchased licences
from the NLM and began to provide Medline access for free on their sites, in
order to attract physician viewers. Soon, the NLM developed PubMed and made
it publicly available. Now, it is hard to imagine medical literature
searching without PubMed.

A similar development is taking place in the medical literature itself.
Already, a growing number of journals are making some of their articles
available for free on their websites, and the British Medical Journal is
even online in its entirety. In line with developments in other segments of
the Internet (i.e. the Encyclopedia Britannica), this trend is sure to
continue. An important factor in this evolution is the increasing interest
of the general public in matters medical. As more and more patients become
consumers of health information and come to their doctors with references
gleaned from the Web, the potential audience for biomedical publishers'
websites is growing by leaps and bounds. This can only attract the interest
of advertisers, who will want to hawk their pharmaceutical wares directly to
the medical internet surfing consumer.

Thus, in the near future, we will see a majority of biomedical journal
articles available for free on the Web, financed by targetted advertising
and sponsored links to other sites and services. We will have biomedical
publisher sponsored mega-sites, geared to consumers, with lots of
consumer-oriented material along with the original texts of journal
articles. Physicians will be able to access these articles as well, but
will also have physician-oriented sections of these websites, where those
who continue to pay for subscriptions will be given value-added services
(such as the ability to discuss articles online with authors). Journals
will shift their income from traditional subscription fees and traditional
advertising to fees generated by online advertising, marketing and services
geared specifically to practicing physicians and researchers.

It is important to note that publishers will only be able to generate income
from online marketing if access to their articles goes through their
websites (or through other sites that pay licences to post articles). Thus,
like commercial broadcast television, biomedical publishers will continue to
demand copyright ownership to material that they publish, while
"broadcasting" it for free on the Internet. If authors were to subversively
post their papers, any access to these self-posted papers would take income
directly out of the pocket of publishers' websites and would not be viewed
benevolently. The shifting of income from access fees to linked services,
which Dyson predicts, will indeed make the medical literature free for
downloading but will also, paradoxically, make copyright restrictions even
more necessary than they are now, in order to protect the income stream from
click-through advertising and marketing stratagems.

It is also important to note that, unlike the Physics literature, the
biomedical literature will attract millions of consumers who all are
potential customers of the huge bio-technology and health care industries.
Not many consumers search for information on bosons and mesons, and those
who do are unlikely to shell out money for a cyclotron.

As for PubMed Central, it will play a pivotal role in this development.
Currently, PubMed is the main access to references in the biomedical
literature. Once the articles themselves are online on various publisher
Websites, it will become necessary to facilitate consumers' and physicians'
access to these articles. PubMed Central will be the direct link from
medical literature searches to the publishers websites where the articles
are presented for free. One-stop shopping for all of your med lit needs.

Once this evolution becomes apparent, I believe that efforts to promote
self-archiving of published articles in the biomedical literature will

Michael Jacobson


Michael Jacobson, MD, MPH, FACP
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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