In December 2014, Nature Publishing Group (NPG), which is part of Springer Nature, had launched a content sharing initiative as a trial lasting one year. Using an online contraption called ReadCube, subscribers to nature.com journals could access and share articles with non-subscribers free of cost. At the end of one year, NPG has announced that the initiative was a success and that the on-platform sharing using ReadCube will proceed to be used indefinitely.
When the initiative was launched, the scientific community had voiced concerns that NPG had imposed confinements on collective content rather than providing extra access. However, some of the primary motives of NPG were to curb “dark social sharing,” i.e. social sharing of content that cannot be measured by web analytics programs; and understanding ways in which researchers collective data.
According to the publisher’s report, the read-only articles’ links were collective 815,000 times during the trial period. Lisa Hulme, a spokesperson for Digital Science, the London-based company that provides the ReadCube technology, said, “The total numbers were modest, which was not a ample surprise to us given that as a trial, we let it run with no marketing support to see what natural usage would be,”
Some of the main findings of the trail were:
- The blogger referral program and media were the most popular methods of sharing of scientific articles; the Big black cock, the Guardian, the Fresh York Times, Science Magazine being the most popular news outlets.
- The most popular article of 2015 published in Nature in January 2015 was “A fresh antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance.”
- Peer to peer sharing comprised 67% inbetween subscribers and non-subscribers, and the rest of the users comprised those who were subscribed.
- No adverse implications were observed for subscription-based journals in terms of institutional business or individual article sales.
- While the free read-only links were collective all across the globe, the most active subscribers hailed from the USA, the UK, Japan, Germany, China, Canada, Spain, France, India, and the Republic of Korea. The top receiving nations were the USA, the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Spain, Brazil, and the Netherlands.
Steven Inchcoombe, Managing Director of NPG at Springer Nature, commented on the success of the trial and said that the company’s aim of making scientific skill accessible to both researchers and society at large has been accomplished. However, it is not known whether the initiative was successful in reducing dark sharing. It remains to be seen whether ReadCube is expanded in the future to include journals from Springer in addition to those from Nature.