Two days ago, May 29, the Dutch Royal Library published a press release (in Dutch only) in which it announces an experiment with Elsevier to give private persons and independent researchers ‘cheap’ access to about 2.5 million articles in about 400 Elsevier journals, mainly medical ones. Cheap means a price of 6.50 euro per article. The experiment is scheduled to run until the end of the year. Should the test turn out to be successful, Elsevier and the Royal Library may decide to continue and expand the service.
An interesting experiment. Obviously, Elsevier is confident that it can segregate this market from the profitable university library market, and, more importantly in this case, the corporate library market, at least in the Netherlands, for now. Strange though that the Elsevier website doesn’t mention this news anywhere, at least yet.
Unfortunately, the press release does not mention how success of the test will be measured. A simple test would be profitability and it should not be too hard to score on that one. The cost of setting up the search engine for the Elsevier journals that are already hosted on the Royal Library’s servers should be marginal, so with a couple of thousand articles sold, the service would already be a success. Nevertheless, marketing of such a new service takes time and 7 months for this experiment seems to be short.
But there might also so be a more strategic goal behind the experiment. It looks to me that Elsevier is sort of creating an alternative road for cheap access to specific user groups, much like their program for developing countries. This can then be used as an argument in the ongoing open access debate, much like: Look, we poor publishers are only saying that publishing costs a lot of money, and see, we are doing our very best to create affordable access options for poorer customer groups.