Pubget is a software for searching the biomedical literature. It’s different from other search engines in that it automatically downloads full image (PDF) articles from the publisher and displays them alongside the search results. The product is an interface that eliminates the step between finding and retrieving, something the creators of Pubget believe saves researchers time that “could better spend curing disease and building the future.”
While the Pubget service is free, the company’s business model is based on selling advertisements to lab equipment and pharmaceutical companies.
You could view Pubget like a news aggregator, framing publisher content in their own interface and adding value. However, the revenue sources for Pubget are the same sources of revenue for many medical journals. I asked Ryan Jones at Pubget if he considered their service to be in conflict with journal publishers. Since Pubmed helps connect readers to relevant articles, he replied, the response of publishers has been favorable.
[Journal] publishers are generally receptive to us because, by driving usage, we support their core subscription business model. They can see that content consumption rates are higher for Pubget users.
The combination of a search engine with an institution-based authentication system and article link resolver is unique to Pubget. Cornell University is currently listed as one of the institutions, along with about 90 others. While the speed and convenience of having articles downloaded automatically as I display my search results is welcome, I do wonder how this feature ultimately saves the time of the researcher.
The Pubget search interface is relatively simple compared to NIH’s PubMed (the source of much of Pubget’s metadata), and does not allow post-search narrowing and refining, common features of most literature databases. So while I may save time by not having to click on a link to the full-text article, I certainly spend more time skimming through my search results.
I also question whether providing the PDF view of articles is really a time-saver for browsing. Publishers have spent years trying to understand how scientists read the literature and have developed features that scientists want to see on a digital platform. Publishers have brought us linked references, embedded tables, images, video, and in-text citations, among other improvements. If the image of an article was what scientists really wanted, publishers could have stopped developing somewhere around 1995.
Librarians have expressed other concerns with Pubget.
Writing on liblicense-l, Andrea Langhurst, Licensing and Acquisitions Librarian at the University of Notre Dame questioned whether mass downloading of journal articles would be considered a violation of publisher licensing agreements.
Many publishers have systems that prevent systematic downloading of digital content, blocking users when they exceed thresholds. The impetus behind these systems is not to prevent use, but wanton abuse. In the latter case, subscription-access publishers worry about wholesale theft of content and a lack of control over one’s business and distribution model. An open access publisher may not make any such distinction in how their content is used.
Langhurst also questioned whether participating with Pubget would make collection analysis more difficult:
I’m also concerned that this would dramatically increase our usage statistics and make it difficult to do any sort accurate cost/use analysis if the service is providing a mechanism for mass downloading of content from provider sites.
Mass downloading may also obscure attempts to develop value metrics such as the JISC supported Usage Factor, and lead possibly to an arms race among publishers to deliver as many articles as possible.
While I have no doubt that Pubget will become more sophisticated and useful as a literature tool, I see the this service as the first of many upcoming attempts to aggregate, repackage, and redistribute the academic literature. And unlike Google Books, no one had to do any scanning. I would not be surprised by the appearance of similar services which aggregate peer-reviewed manuscripts deposited into PubMed Central as part of the NIH Public Access mandate, or a commercial service which scrapes institutional repositories for journal manuscripts, removing the institutional branding in the process.