Elsevier Continues To Build Its Monopoly Solution For All Aspects Of Scholarly Communication

from the but-can-people-be-bothered-to-support-open-alternatives? dept

Techdirt has just written about the amazing achievements of Sci-Hub, and how it now offers the vast majority of academic papers free online. One implication may be that traditional publishing, with high-cost journals hidden behind paywalls, is no longer viable. But as we noted, that doesn’t mean that traditional publishers will disappear. For one thing, many are embracing open access, and finding it pretty profitable (some would say too profitable thanks to things like “double dipping“.) But there’s another way that academic publishers, particularly the biggest ones with deep pockets, can head off the threat to their profits from developments like Sci-Hub and open access: by diversifying.

Mike wrote about one example last year, when Elsevier bought the preprint service Social Science Research Network (SSRN), arguably the most popular repository of research in the fields of economics, law and the social sciences. Since SSRN deals in preprints, which can be freely downloaded, sites like Sci-Hub are no threat. Similarly, preprints are generally posted before submission to journals, and therefore can flourish whether or not those journals are open access. Now we have yet another significant move by Elsevier, reported here on the Scholarly Kitchen blog:

Elsevier announces its acquisition of bepress. In a move entirely consistent with its strategy to pivot beyond content licensing to preprints, analytics, workflow, and decision-support, Elsevier is now a major if not the foremost single player in the institutional repository landscape. If successful, and there are some risks, this acquisition will position Elsevier as an increasingly dominant player in preprints, continuing its march to adopt and coopt open access.

As that post explains, Bepress is not a publishing company, but seeks to provide key elements of the general infrastructure needed for scholarly communications. That includes things like repositories — the stores of articles produced by researchers at an institution, or covering a specific field — and “showcases”. Bepress’s product in this field is called Digital Commons. It claims to be:

the only comprehensive showcase that lets institutions publish, manage, and increase recognition for everything produced on campus — and the only institutional repository and publishing platform that integrates with a full faculty research and impact suite.

It’s a shrewd acquisition by Elsevier. It continues to move the company beyond the role of a traditional publisher into one that can offer a complete solution for the academic world, with products and services handling every aspect of scholarly work. By acquiring more and more parts of this solution, Elsevier can integrate them ever-more tightly, which will encourage users of one element to adopt others. If this process of integration can be carried out successfully, it will leave Elsevier with almost total control of the sector, beyond even today’s already profitable position.

That may be great for Elsevier shareholders, but it limits choices for the academic community. Fortunately, there are ways to counter Elsevier’s rise to monopoly power. Techdirt wrote about one of them last year, when a new open preprint repository for the social sciences, SocArXiv, was created soon after Elsevier bought SSRN. There are already a number of open source alternatives to Bepress products, and supporting those rather than moving to Elsevier-owned services is an obvious move for those in the academic community who wish to preserve their independence. The problem is that doing so is likely to require a certain amount of effort, and it may be that institutions, libraries and academics don’t have the time or energy to do that, and they will simply sign up to Elsevier’s monoculture without worrying too much about the long-term consequences.

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Companies: bepress, elsevier

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Comments on “Elsevier Continues To Build Its Monopoly Solution For All Aspects Of Scholarly Communication”

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Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re:

At one time, many of the various publishers and journals were independent organisations. So it wasn’t as much an issue during the 19th and early half of the 20th century, when most of these journals got established and became the ‘key’ or go-to publisher.

But in the latter quarter of last century, and so far this century, there has been much consolidation in ownership, with Elsevier gradually buying up the journals and becoming a monopoly or near-monopoly publisher of often well-established, prestigious journals.

It has been hard for many of these tradition-bound universities and research institutions to wean themselves away from, in some cases, century-old prestigious journals.

John William Nelson (profile) says:

This is terrible; I've used both SSRN and BePress and this is depressing

I have my scholarly works on both BePress and SSRN.

Both serve similar but slightly different purposes. SSRN is more for sharing scholarly works within the Social Science community, and it plays an important role. (Or did; we’ll see if it wanes.) Tenure can literally ride on how popular a work is on SSRN.

BePress tried to do what SSRN did. However, it never quite caught on as much. This was in part because it was always more commercial, whereas SSRN was always more “academic-y” (until it sold out, much to the dismay of many academics!).

What BePress did differently, however, was allow academics to host a mini biography-style page of their work—a collected works page—which could be separate from their University or work profile.

It also allowed Universities to automate collected work pages for their professors, which was nice for the University IT team.

BePress is also one of the main ways in which law review submissions were made by aspiring or well-established legal scholars. (I’ve been out of the market practicing for a few years; things may have changed.) This led to BePress offering Journals (not just legal Journals) ways to manage and handle the submission workflow process, from submissions, review, acceptance/rejection, edits, revisions, and finally publishing (including a web publishing platform).

This was changing rapidly when I was last involved with a Journal on the editing side (yikes, almost a decade ago!), so I don’t know where it is now.

In short, both BePress and SSRN allowed Universities and Academics to showcase their academic works in different ways. BePress was a bit more polished, commercial, and outward facing. SSRN was a bit more simple and academic-facing/focused. However, both play (or played) an important role, and it sucks to see BePress sucked up.

There are open source solutions as well, but they are not as good or widely adopted, and a pain to manage for non-IT scholarly editors.

Ah well. Everything awesome is coopted by megacorporations. Even academia.

Anonymous Coward says:

You’d think that a company so plagued by piracy wouldn’t be able to afford buying over other companies. It’s almost as if the threat of piracy is almost negligible or something.

Elsevier can spend all the money they want and build all the features they want, but if it turns out to be too expensive universities will simply do without. And it’s not just the countries with developing economies and infrastructures; Taiwan and Germany have cut close to all ties with dealing with them. Elsevier can bitch about it as hard as it can, but removing Sci-Hub isn’t going to start making these governments start spending money again, not without sufficient goodwill on their part.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Uh huh. Now making one’s own work available without allowing some useless publisher to charge ridiculous amounts for it is “piracy”. Definition change noted.

In fact, even before open access, the number one pirates of any work were the authors. Because the vast majority of them would provide a copy, routing around the publisher.

Ninja (profile) says:

“it will leave Elsevier with almost total control of the sector, beyond even today’s already profitable position”

It has no control. Over 90% of their articles are available on sci-hub. I work in a public company with strong academic and research background and 100% of the output is immediately sent to sci-hub. Except for the few rare articles we can’t find in sci-hub we rely on it to get whatever we need. When we can’t we still have a partnership with a public university so we can use their service (which honestly I don’t know who provides the access because I never had to use them).

They already pushed everybody towards alternative sharing methods with their prices. They already lost the battle for control.

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