Mainstream publishers have wrestled for years with the question of how to charge for online content in a way that neither alienates potential readers nor cannibalizes their print properties. So far, few definitive answers have emerged. Reed Elsevier, which is based in London, is taking a risk that its readers will drop their paid subscriptions and switch allegiance to the new Web site, which will offer searches and full texts of the same content from the moment of publication.Company executives believe that advertisers are chopping at the bit to get direct access to practitioners via subject specific web sites like (they hope) oncologystat. In support of this, the company sees advertising growing at double digit rates and could be over $1bill in several years. Historically, these journals did not contain advertising and subscribers pay very high subscription fees to gain access to the content and information. Elsevier is betting that the substitution that will occur (advertising revenues for subscription fees) will enable journal revenues to grow over time. Questions of bias are likely to come up assuming this experiment is successful; however, delineating the gap between editorial content and advertising has been achieved for years in the magazine world and is unlikely to become a major issue. No doubt the company has established policies in this regard.
Further from the NYT article an interesting last point,
Getting the relevant answers promptly may be more important to doctors than not having to pay for them, said Elizabeth W. Boehm, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Anything that is going to save the physician time, without losing the certainty that they have seen everything that they need to see, is potentially valuable,” she said. “The question is, can they give them the information in a way that is more valuable, more easily searchable.”Giving practitioners access to reams of valuable and potentially useful information is of little use if they can't locate at the point of need what they are looking for. As Reed has done with legal in developing a platform approach to legal research and usability they are likely to adopt in medical information and this may be a first step in that direction. Medical information is available from other sources but integrating this information (articles) into a solution that is fast, relevant and deep provides real value for users. Workflow integration is a powerful thing and while publishers have been challenged in migrating print revenues to web, everyone recognises the inherent potential benefits for users in doing so. If this advertising model shows even a glimmer of the potential they expect then there will be a rapid acceleration of similar products.