Open Notebook Advertising: Making Science Pay, Literally.
By Alan Marnett
Two of the most critical components of successful research are: 1) funding to support experiments, and 2) well-kept lab notebooks to document the results. Over the past decade, technology has facilitated the transition from paper- to web-based notebooks, providing the opportunity to expand access to the lab notebook from your labmates to anyone with an Internet connection. Unfortunately, the recent economic environment has not provided a similar increase in access to funding and many labs have suffered as a consequence. But what if the lab notebook itself could help fund research? On the Internet, a phrase like “expand access to anyone with an Internet connection” sure sounds like advertising opportunity…
Two worlds collide
While software exists to maintain private electronic notebooks, increased access to free blog and wiki software spawned a new approach to the lab notebook – full access and transparency of all results. As Jean-Claude Bradley stated when first coining the term Open Notebook Science in 2006, an open notebook “does not necessarily have to look like a paper notebook but it is essential that all of the information available to the researcher to make their conclusions is equally available to the rest of the world.”
Seeing the opportunity to use the lab notebook for more than results, our good friend and open notebook science evangelist Anthony Salvagno recently asked us whether we thought there were any ethical concerns with advertising in an open notebook. Afterall, advertising may be the most common revenue model on the web and thanks to Google, it can be implemented on a blog, wiki – or notebook – with the click of a button.
As Anthony points out in his notebook today, the approach of running ads in an open notebook is not without potential ethical hazards. Afterall, is it right to generate personal revenue from a product (notebook) that is continually developed using lab funding? What if the revenue is directed to a universal lab account? What if that account is fully transparent? And what about product manufacturers – would you be more hesistant to badmouth a terrible product if you knew it might cost you potential ad revenue?
Anthony has clearly articulated many of the potential issues and we encourage you to visit his notebook for more details. To understand the sentiments of the broader scientific community on open notebook advertising, we worked with Anthony to develop the poll below – Do you think advertising belongs in open notebooks?
Running the numbers
We’re focused on the larger ethical issue at hand, but we’ve tossed the word “revenue” around freely in this article. Is it realistic that we could actually turn a profit in a lab notebook? Here’s how the numbers might shape up based on the following assumptions for banner ads:
- Amount of money earned from every click on an ad in the notebook: $0.10
- Percentage of times an ad is clicked every time a page is viewed: 0.10%
If 1,000 people viewed your notebook every day, you would generate 365,000 page views per year. Given a click through rate of 0.10%, 365 ads would be clicked per year depositing $36.50 in the bank.
OK, it doesn’t look like we’re replacing an R01 anytime soon, but if a lab of ten people were participating we would be looking at $365/yr. That’s a few reagents, a small piece of equipment or even a holiday party! The point is that it’s a start. With time and optimization, all of the numbers above can be increased.
But first we must answer the question should we even be allowed to start?