A Pay per View project

Examining the efficacy of a pay per view system as opposed to subscriptions for journal access in an NHS healthcare library setting.


In the Autumn of 2015, Jo Thomas, Trust Library Services Manager at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS FT (NLaG) and Jacqui Smales, Knowledge Services Manager at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust  (HEY) discussed submitting a bid to David Stewart to fund a ‘Pay per View’ project within the LKS of our respective Trusts. It led to discussions with Richard Osborn in 2016, under the ‘Discovery’ remit of the KfH strategy that  ultimately bore fruit in the form of some funding from Health Education England, enabling us, after some hitches setting up, to carry out the project from October 2017 until the end of February 2018. Jo and Jacqui enlisted the help of their staff members, Chris Lawton, Specialist Librarian for e-Resources at NLaG and Tim Staniland, Outreach Librarian at HEY, to run the project.

We wanted to see if we could build upon the work that Jenny Lang, Head Librarian at Salisbury NHS FT, had carried out in 2013 regarding Pay per View.


We could see that article requests were declining to a degree within our services, subscription bundles of e-journals were ever increasing in price, and the ‘bundle’ nature of them meant that they always included a considerable percentage of content that we felt we did not need or want.

Although NLaG still subscribed to e-journal bundles, HEY didn’t, meaning that we were potentially good comparison sites to run such a project. We wanted to know if it would be cheaper for our users to access content of journals on a pay per view basis which would mean that we, as librarians/knowledge managers, would only be paying for what was actually being used. We thought that the results of our project may also help inform the procurement decisions surrounding the National Core Content.

Different Approaches

It was decided that we would take a different approach to the project at each site, with NLaG using a debit card to purchase articles online on behalf of our users, therefore taking a mediated approach. HEY purchased a ‘bundle’ of articles/book chapters using Elsevier’s ScienceDirect ArticleChoice®service with the intention of letting their users ‘loose’ in terms of acquiring their own online journal articles via ArticleChoice®

Our Findings

At NLaG we had to promote our PPV article request service regularly to get any uptake, and ultimately used PPV to satisfy our regular article request service.  For the duration of the project we logged ease of access or any difficulties encountered when purchasing articles for our users.

At HEY only 2 people took up the offer of being given access to ArticleChoice® and only towards the very end of the trial, one of those individuals then got in touch to say they were having difficulty using the service.

It was decided at HEY not to open up the project to satisfy regular article requests. However, in order to understand the experience of the individual having difficulties, we tried the ArticleChoice® service ourselves and realised that it could be quite cumbersome for users not regularly searching databases or online journals themselves to access articles via this particular method.


From our small study, it became clear that pay per view using a debit or credit card, albeit a mediated approach, is a viable economic option for LKS with a small budget. However, the drawback of the mediated approach is of, course, that it can only occur during the staffed opening hours of the LKS. The ScienceDirect ArticleChoice®approach can be both a little cumbersome and relatively narrow in scope compared to using a debit/credit card, but has the advantage for the end user of being available outside of normal working hours.


A combination of maintained ILL lending groups that have well thought through subscription plans, spreading the costs across different sites, whilst maintaining access for as many libraries as possible combined with pay per view, British Library On Demand and Open Access, would be an excellent step forward.

Full report can be found here

Chris Lawton, Jacqui Smales, Tim Staniland and Jo Thomas

2 thoughts on “A Pay per View project

  1. Apologies – ‘hot takes’ abound in this post:

    We’ve used ArticleChoice for years, we also buy Emerald content this way, we will buy other content this way when other providers make it easier to do so. PPV holdings are integrated into our linksresolvers like any other so when users want access they click the link in Discovery or HDAS and get the paper they want. To our user there is literally no difference between accessing a PPV article or any other article. I’m not sure why the authors wouldn’t have implemented this system in their trial – artificially gatekeeping the content is bound to distort the results.This trial, if anything, seems to be measuring the perseverance of the end user in overcoming bizarre obstacles that librarians like putting in their way. At some point it becomes easier for a department or a team to just get the paper through BL or a draw-down system themselves – and not have to wait for a librarian to action something. Library staff can also be doing something more productive than sourcing ILLs.
    I think looking at it from a pure cost perspective is also misleading – enabling users to access all of ScienceDirect or Emerald content (for instance) through HADS/Discovery produces so many full text hits in a linksresolver that users have far more confidence in your systems, holdings and as a result library service – even if they are not accessing this PPV content.
    There are major problems with PPV content – firstly the more its used the more it costs, this seems obvious but as usage increases rapidly (as it will) then costs increase also. Secondly – the ‘uptodate’ problem – its no fun being at the mercy of dominant publishers and its very bad PR to withdraw something that your users have become accustomed to. Finally, in another comparison with ‘uptodate’ at the end of the day when the subscription is over to be blunt – you’ve got nothing to show for it.
    Overall I see the PPV model as an elegant solution to a financial problem.

  2. Many thanks for the write up. Makes interesting reading. The main selling point of these schemes are instant access for the end user but as they are not user friendly, they do lose one of their main selling points.

    As a mediated service – if it takes 1 hour to do 5 requests at an average of £30 per article its probably easier, quicker and cheaper just to order a urgent request from British Library. But we would never have known that without your work….

    In my opinion it also re-iterates that until these schemes are made more user friendly (and hopefully cheaper) – a mediated document supply services is still a fundamental service for our customers.

    Maybe one day we will get a “spotify” model for journals 🙂

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