After Taming Open Access, Academic Publishing Giants Now Seek To Assimilate The World Of Preprints

from the no-place-to-run dept

As Techdirt has reported, the open access movement seeks to obtain free access to research, particularly when it is funded by taxpayers’ money. Naturally, traditional academic publishers enjoying profit margins of 30 to 40% are fighting to hold on to their control. Initially, they tried to stop open access gaining a foothold among researchers; now they have moved on to the more subtle strategy of adopting it and assimilating it — rather as Microsoft has done with open source. Some advocates of open access are disappointed that open access has not led to any significant savings in the overall cost of publishing research. That, in its turn, has led many to urge the increased use of preprints as a way of saving money, liberating knowledge, and speeding up its dissemination. One reason for this is a realization that published versions in costly academic titles add almost nothing to the freely-available preprints they are based on.

An excellent new survey of the field, “Preprints in the Spotlight“, rightly notes that preprints have attained a new prominence recently thanks to COVID-19. The urgent global need for information about this novel disease has meant that traditional publishing timescales of months or more are simply too slow. Preprints allow important data and analysis to be released worldwide almost as soon as they are available. The result has been a flood of preprints dealing with coronavirus: two leading preprint servers, medRxiv and bioRxiv, have published over 4,500 preprints on COVID-19 at the time of writing.

The publishing giant Elsevier was one of the first to notice the growing popularity of preprints. Back in 2016, Elsevier acquired the leading preprint server for the social sciences, SSRN. Today, Elsevier is no longer alone in seeing preprints as a key sector. A post on The Scholarly Kitchen blog describes how all the major publishers are active in preprints:

Today, we observe that beyond preprint communities that are typically organized around a field or set of fields, in recent years all the major publishers have made their own investments in preprint platforms. Publishers are integrating preprint deposit into their manuscript submission workflows, and adopting a common strategy designed to take back control of preprints.

That emphasis on “taking back control” is key. Preprints have become an alternative not just to academic publishing as practised by giant companies like Elsevier, but also to open access publishing, which is now not so different from the traditional kind. Companies clearly want to nip that development in the bud. Here’s how publishers are likely to develop their preprint divisions:

they are bringing preprints inside their publishing workflows. This will afford them an opportunity to emphasize the importance of the version of record and its integrity. And, it will allow them to maximize their control over the research workflow as a whole, including datasets, protocols, and other artifacts of the research and publishing process. If successful, over time publishers will see fewer of the preprints of their eventual publications living “in the wild” and more of them on services and in workflows that they control.

That is, as well as taming the unruly world of preprints by bringing them in-house, publishers can also use them to bolster their mainstream businesses, and further their plans to offer academics a complete, “one-stop” service that includes preprints, journals, data management and more. Turning independent preprint servers into just another cog in the mighty publishing machine would be a further loss of control and autonomy for the academic community as a whole. It should be resisted by researchers, the institutions where they work, and by the bodies that fund them.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Companies: elsevier, ssrn

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Comments on “After Taming Open Access, Academic Publishing Giants Now Seek To Assimilate The World Of Preprints”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Fuck Elsevier

What’s to stop someone from starting a scientific publishing site that does preprints, regular publishing and all that other stuff totally for free to both authors and readers, offering everything for download as well as physical copies (the latter for a cost fee)?

Is there any law or copyright concern involving the publishing of new papers, i.e. those not already published via Elsevier and others? Copyright could be retained by the author with rights granted to this new site to publish and disseminate the material without restriction.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fuck Elsevier

You want to talk about Published Papers? How about talking about Black Lives Matter! Published Papers?! Try to raise 7 black children from 7 different fathers on the measly money provided by a corrupt government! MORE MONEY FOR MOTHERS! LESS MONEY FOR ELITISTS WITH PUBLISHED PAPERS! REDISTRIBUTE THE WEALTH! NOW! OR ELSE! GET ON YOUR KNEES AND APOLOGIZE!

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I heard that Durham has written an indictment for treason in Obama’s name. I imagine that’s pretty strong motivation to try and mount an insurrection. Not a big surprise that he is pulling out all the stops, including murdering cops and burning down mom and pop businesses. I’ll bet Michelle is REALLY proud of America as innocent white people get down on their knees in front of their new black masters, begging for mercy. I’ve seen picture after picture of that on twitter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If nobody likes Elsevier why are they publishing their papers there?

Because academic career progress is dependent on publishing papers in ‘high impact’ journals, and those are owned by the likes of Elsevier. That is to administrators of academic institutes, the name of the journal in which a paper is published is more important to their decision making process that the contents of the paper.

In effect the name of the journal that it is published in has become a measure of the quality of academic work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Had I continued in my original, educational track (instead of diverting into a career as a corporate, applied mathematician, ‘cuz the money was very good), I’d have faced the financial need to publish-or-perish. This alternative drives the herd of professionals in most subject areas to relegate their research to the journalistic silos for: 1) money; 2) peer-reviews; 3) prestige; 4) institutional survival.

Journals and their corporate overlords have maintained their strangleholds reasonably effectively until the relatively new pirate model of Sci-Hub and the idea of pre-publication to sites outside the ballfield of "the majors." If the big, corporate publishers manage to gain control of the pre-publish channels, let’s admit failure and pirate. We keep our money (usually, we’ve already paid) and get extra peer-reviews (for what they’re worth). The researchers get publication-prestige and survive institutionally. Nobody pays for access…Die, Elsevier, die – Sci-Hub for all!

An alternative, interim model for poor, starving, scholastic researchers who hope clearly to maintain their reputation is to employ piracy to review all potentially relevant research and then cite (and pay for) only the many fewer specific journal entries that prove specifically and actually relevant to their own work.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:



You went off the rails a bit there. Let me tell you a little story…

I am white, live in a nice house full of nice things in a nice suburb and drive a nice car. But I was born into poverty. When you are white and poor you are, to use a technical term, fucked. There are no handouts, no help, no scholarships (unless you excel in school) and no give-a-shits from anyone. You’re on your own. And yet, years later through scraping my way through community college after dropping out of high school and getting my GED, here I am making a 6-figure salary and living comfortably. My education is still a hurdle for me and it’s hard to even get an interview because of it but not every employer is fixated on that over experience. I won’t retire rich but I’ll be ok.

The moral of this story? If I can succeed so can absolutely anyone else that isn’t suffering from a mental deficiency or handicap. I have absolutely nothing to apologize for and nobody matters more or less than I do — with a handful of exceptions I’m willing to concede. I’m not an elitist; I’ve worked very hard for where my life stands today and I’m convinced that you can, too, if you want it enough.

Just avoid police at all costs. I’ve had my share of run-ins with them, too, though I lived through the experiences. I’ve been pulled over for driving a crappy car, stopped while walking down the sidewalk "just to get to know me" in the city I grew up in and harassed & arrested for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And those incidents happened over 30 years ago. Cops are assholes and being non-white ramps up the danger significantly. They need to be stripped of their weapons and special rights.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Just to be clear about some things: You’re replying to a troll, and one who is probably trying to discredit the "Black Lives Matter" movement and phrase by presenting it as something it’s not.

Remember, for everyone reading, whenever you see "Black Lives Matter," read it as a "Black Lives Matter Too."

And yes, it needs saying, because for far too damn long, society, government, and law enforcement have tacitly operated as if black lives didn’t matter.



Does EVERYTHING that humans do have to end up as a price gouging endeavor….most good ideas start out with enthusiasm, great support….and then who is it that gets involved? The ‘ENTREPRENEURS’ – those who see what they think is a whoopee way to make billions & boom! you have another destroyed human endeavor ! Good example – police charities…do you know how many of those guys calling you to ‘support your local police’ are actually from a huge money-making consortium, of which there are many, working across the US to take advantage of our caring hearts ? I am sick & tired of all of it !!! All they have done is make me VERY suspicious of anyone asking for sash & VERY ulikely to support any of them !

bobob says:

I think this problem mostly affects preprints in fields where big money is already involved. I find it difficult to see how publishers could gain any traction in controlling the preprints for physics, math, computer science, quantitative biology and several other fields on It has been running now for something like 25 years and seems to coexist with existing journals like Phys Rev, etc. There were 14,719 articles published on arxiv in May 2020, so I think that journals can still offer value without trying to control the flow of preprints.

On the other hand, fields like medicine were infected with money when journals like NEJM and JAMA started accepting advertising. Had the flow of information been a priority of the medical and pharmaceutical world, they could have long ago done much the same as arxiv has done for the hard sciences. In fact, researchers could probaby have just asked arxiv to create categories for them and host preprints. But there is big money involved in medicine and pharmaceuticals, so it’s unsurprising that nothing like that happened until publishers realized they could pervert the preprint concept to control and monetize it.

Despite advertising and potential conflicts of interest researchers are supposed to disclose, I think the medical field still (perhaps wishfully) expects articles to have some merit. In the case of preprint servers managed by publishers, the publishers have just found a way to profit from crap they couldn’t otherwise publish in journals already tainted with money. In reality, I’m not sure that what they are doing amounts to trying to control useful research as it does to profit from the stuff they couldn’t otherwise use.

Publishers like Elsevier are predators, pure and simple.

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