Publisher: KeepMedia, Inc.
Cost: $4.95/month, $49.95/year
Tested: April 20-22, 2004
KeepMedia is the latest player in the relatively low-cost digital article business, but it may be a tad too late. Four years ago, when Steven Brill launched his Contentville service charging $3 for a typical magazine article and $10 for a dissertation, I wrote a skeptical review about its viability. I was skeptical for several reasons. One was that there were far better priced alternatives, like Northern Light and eLibrary — the former with three times as large a journal base as Contentville. It further fueled my skepticism when FindArticles.com launched, offering articles for free, although with fewer journals.
It made me even more skeptical when Contentville refused to identify by title the nearly 2,000 journals it professed to cover — a very odd decision by Brill, who championed revealing sources in Brill's Content, which also went out of business, although not as soon as Contentville. The project was ill-conceived, ill-managed and ill-advertised. Even had it not been, it would have had a hard time with its two competitors.
Since then, the awesome Northern Light service was acquired by Divine, Inc., which ran it into the ground in no time, along with many other information services that the nouveau riche company bought and destroyed with its infernal management abilities before filing for bankruptcy. The eLibrary service, recently renamed HighBeam, increased the subscription price of its archive, which has 28 million documents, to $30/month or $99/year (although recently I got an offer for 25% discount). FindArticles.com has remained free.
In the meantime, ProQuest launched its excellent but surprisingly under-advertised XanEdu service, targeting students with the subscription price of $20/three months (the minimum commitment) or $50/year — providing by far the most bang for the buck. However, the most important difference and challenge for KeepMedia comes from the fact that many public libraries now offer huge archives of magazines and newspapers via the databases of Thomson Gale, UMI, EBSCO and H.W. Wilson for free (funded through your tax dollars, of course). Such services were not nearly as common four years ago as they are now.
KeepMedia is the brainchild of Louis Borders, who brought us the lovely Borders bookstore chain, as well as the unsuccessful Webvan service. His new service was launched last July and I have kept an eye on it to see how it evolved. The price of $5/month or $50/year is remarkable, but it must be put into perspective.
KeepMedia had 160 magazines, journals and newspapers (along with two tabloids) at the time of testing in late April 2004, along with newswire stories from AFP. The size of the archive is not revealed and my usual extreme test searches did not help in determining it. However, run of the mill topical test searches indicate that it is much smaller than any of its competitors.
A query about KeepMedia, for example, found only four articles in KeepMedia, 10 in FindArticles.com, 24 in HighBeam and 19 in XanEdu. The search for Webvan yielded 112 articles in KeepMedia, 904 in Findarticles.com and 2,378 in HighBeam. In XanEdu, only the first 50 records were shown, so I could not determine the total number. But, even when limited to the title and abstract fields, it yielded more than 50 records for the period of September 2003 - April 2004.
More importantly, a large proportion of the 160 sources in KeepMedia are for special-interest groups. Journals, like Stitches, Profitable Embroider, Fire Chief and Insurance Conference Planner, may have a rather limited target audience. With all due respect to the farmers, I really wonder if they will sign up in droves for digital access to the Corn and Soybean Digest, National Hog Farmers, Hay and Forage Grower or the Delta Farm Press? It speaks for its potential popularity that there are regional editions of the Farm Press — Southeast Farm Press and Southwest Farm Press — but that may not be enough for survival.
I realize that the professional and trade journals are clustered by target audience. I am happy to see Library Journal, School Library Journal, EContent, The Atlantic, Variety, Publisher's Weekly, Críticas and Book magazine. But I don't understand why only the Miami Herald, Esquire, The Knot and Men's Fitness appear under the relationship category, but not the other newspapers or Psychology Today? I don't doubt that Men's Fitness has to do with relationships, and hence is included in the relationship category, but then why are Muscle and Fitness (both the original and the female edition) and FLEX not included there as well?
Even if you don't have a subscription, you can see an informative part of the articles in KeepMedia, which is laudable. Articles are presented in full text, but images are only occasionally included, as is the case with the illustration in the "Very awkward facts" article from OpinionJournal.com, the free Web companion of the Wall Street Journal. Often, it is essential to have the illustrations, such as tables and charts, to better understand an article. This is a big advantage of XanEdu, which provides an optional page-image version of articles for a large proportion of its archive.
Next to the full-text article, you will find a toolbox that offers a number of options. One of them is for finding articles similar to the one you are currently reading. Most of the time the automatically retrieved results are very good and show records that are indeed related, as is the case with other reviews of the same book about health care. However, there are also often false hits, albeit understandably. For example, a record with a listing of other books by the same author is among the related items, even though those books are travel-related.
As a subscriber, you may also track an article, which means that if related articles are entered in the system you are notified through e-mail, a nice current awareness service. Unusually, you may also add a note to an article when you decide to keep it, which can serve as a reminder of why you saved the article.
Articles from the current issue cannot be displayed in their entirety, even if you are a subscriber. At this price, it is a reasonable moratorium, and for newspapers and weeklies it is not a problem, especially as many of them offer the current issue on their own Web sites. A link to the current issue of the magazine would be useful. In dire strait, articles from the current issue may be purchased for $2.95, and you are duly alerted. Alternatively, you may ask for an e-mail alert when the moratorium is over.
You can browse the sources by selecting the volume and issue in a pull-down menu, then picking the article from the table of contents page — an elegant and useful feature.
Search options, however, are simplistic and there is not a single word in the help file about searching. Experience will teach you that a space between two words assumes an AND relation, so the search book review is interpreted as book AND review — retrieving nearly 900 records that contain both words. You must put the query terms between quotes if you want to search for an exact phrase. The query "book review" retrieves 187 articles. It would be useful to be able to search by title and author or to distinguish a search for articles about, for example, Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen versus articles written by her. Limiting by year would also be useful for focusing a search.
Given the large proportion of highly specialized journals, the user should be able to limit the search to a set of designated journals. This set should remain active until modified by adding or removing one or more journals. Results may be sorted by date — the default order is by relevance. Beyond the features mentioned earlier, the article may be e-mailed or printed in a print-optimized format.
You may check your history, but it is not a search history — it shows the list of article titles that you have looked at. There is a separate option to look up the kept articles. Overall, the software is appealing, except for the limited search options.
KeepMedia could be a very good value at $5/month for unlimited access, but the number and types of sources included may not be attractive enough, especially when compared to XanEdu or to the free digital archive that your library may offer, which will have more magazines, journals and newspapers at no charge to you.