“Like many others in the scholarly community, we were very disappointed to learn about the recent acquisition by Elsevier of bepress, the provider of the popular Digital Commons repository platform.1The acquisition is especially troubling for the hundreds of institutions that use Digital Commons to support their open access repositories. These institutions now find their repository services owned and managed by Elsevier, a company well known for its obstruction of open access and repositories.2
While we were disappointed, we were not surprised. Elsevier’s interest in bepress and Digital Commons is reflective of the company’s long term strategy to stake an ownership claim in all the functions vital to the research cycle—from data gathering and annotation, to sharing and publication, to analytics and evaluation. Prior high-profile acquisitions (including SSRN and Mendeley) have made this strategy crystal clear. While this might be a smart business move on the part of a commercial company, it presents significant challenges and risks to the academic and research community.
The dangers inherent in the increasing control of crucial research communication functions in the hands of a small number of commercial players are well-known and well-documented.3 The dysfunction in the academic journal market serves as a case in point. This consolidated control has led to unaffordable costs, limited utility of research articles, the proliferation of western publishing biases, and a system in which publisher lock-in through big deal licenses is the norm. This situation is damaging for the research enterprise, individual researchers, and for society. Further consolidation of the market across functions and platforms—including key elements like research information systems and open access repositories—will exacerbate this already unhealthy situation.”
“Elsevier, the global information analytics business specializing in science and health, today acquired bepress, a Berkeley, California-based business that helps academic libraries showcase and share their institutions’ research for maximum impact. Founded by three University of California, Berkeley professors in 1999, bepress allows institutions to collect, organize, preserve and disseminate their intellectual output, including preprints, working papers, journals or specific articles, dissertations, theses, conference proceedings and a wide variety of other data.”
“Today, 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….”
“Scientists are well aware that they seem to be getting a bad deal. The publishing business is ‘perverse and needless’, the Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen wrote in a 2003 article for the Guardian, declaring that it ‘should be a public scandal’. Adrian Sutton, a physicist at Imperial College, told me that scientists ‘are all slaves to publishers. What other industry receives its raw materials from its customers, gets those same customers to carry out the quality control of those materials, and then sells the same materials back to the customers at a vastly inflated price?’ (A representative of RELX Group, the official name of Elsevier since 2015, told me that it and other publishers ‘serve the research community by doing things that they need that they either cannot, or do not do on their own, and charge a fair price for that service’.)”
“Recently, along with my partner David Lamb at STM Advisers, I participated in a Webinar sponsored by NISO. The topic was consolidation in the world of academic and library publishing. We covered some of the basic elements of consolidation (why it happens, trends, and who drives it) and provided a primer on mergers and acquisitions. It is our view that the pace of new deals is picking up for a number of reasons, some having to do with the macroeconomic environment (the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue antitrust cases), the sheer amount of cash in investors’ hands waiting to be put to work, and the maturity of academic publishing, which makes established companies seek to combine in order to enlarge their market share and increase their clout in the marketplace….”
“A year ago, we wrote about how TPP’s requirement for “data exclusivity” risked undermining one of science’s fundamental principles: that facts cannot be owned. Data exclusivity is just the latest attempt by Big Pharma to extend its monopoly over drugs, whether using patents or other means. To a certain extent, you might expect that: after all, companies are designed to maximize profits, and if it means more people suffer or die along the way, well, that’s regrettable but sort of beside the point. However, it’s surprising to see a group of medical researchers writing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) calling for just the same kind of data exclusivity. The post is in response to an earlier NEJM article by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), entitled “Sharing Clinical Trial Data”….”
“From Elsevier and Springer to EBSCO and ProQuest, these publishers and content providers are reducing their reliance on their content businesses as engines of growth. While these businesses remain strong, they are pursuing one of two newer directions for greater growth….The “big deal” model of licensed content products has proved enormously profitable for the commercial scientific publishers and deeply problematic for academic libraries. The open access movement has sought to rebalance these dynamics, and political and organizational developments could yet unleash changes that would profoundly and negatively impact their business. Certainly, looking at other information businesses, such as journalism, there is reason for caution. To date, however, if publishers have not actually co-opted open access they have certainly found ways to coexist with “gold” or hybrid models in conjunction with their licensed content products. Overall, the academic content product businesses have continued to thrive in recent years.
Nevertheless, in assessing the risks, major academic publishers and content platforms have recognized that their businesses are mature and have taken a number of steps to diversify…”
“With regards to policies on knowledge management, the EU puts great emphasis on what one could call the ‘enclosure of knowledge’. This enclosure happens through the expansion of intellectual property protection, both within and outside of Europe by means of trade policies. Aside from potentially spurring innovation and helping European industries, this also results in, for instance, long patent monopolies on medicines and long copyright terms. The copyright reform discussed in 2016 is of crucial importance to the online information commons. It will determine the boundaries of innovative social value-creation through sharing and collaboration online. Sufficient exceptions and limitations to copyright are essential. For example, allowing for text and data mining would support scientific and academic research. Moreover, assuring the right to link information from one web to another is one of the key characteristics of sharing online. On the global level, through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the EU tends to defend the enclosure of knowledge, promoting further expansion of intellectual property rights of all kinds, from medicines and broadcast signals, to education materials and climate technologies. To allow for a collaborative knowledge sharing economy, the EU will have to be more open to socially inclusive and flexible business models that are more compatible with both the digital era and the urgent needs of people, in both the North and South. The EU continues to allow the centralised infrastructures of giant telecom operators and monopolistic internet companies to control and commodify people’s online lives. The European Commission has made some efforts that recognise the need to share knowledge and embrace the possibilities of the digital age. This is for example reflected in commitments on open access publishing mandate in the context of Research and Development funding, open data in some of its policies, and the exploration of open science. Recently, Members States called for a review of monopoly-extending rules on biomedical knowledge in the area of pharmaceuticals due to concerns over increasingly high medicines prices. However, these moves towards knowledge sharing remain timid and are not at the centre of EU policy strategies as it remains mostly conformist to the interests of the cultural industries, the pharmaceutical industry, or agribusiness….”
“Increasingly, scholars embrace a theory of technological disruption to indicate fundamental changes in the system of the digital text with the rise of open access. This theory needs closer scrutiny for its technological determinism….However one views it, the rise of open access (OA) has created a host of opportunities to challenge traditional publishing models….The open access movement aims to recover control—to assert our rights and ownership as cre- ators—over the material products of our academic labour, and in that sense is politically radical….Open access (OA), as noted earlier, has caused ripples through the publishing system, affecting the distribution of academic knowledge. The OA movement has widened the gap, in some sense, increasing visibility for some scholarship while creating difficulties in covering the costs of disseminating other scholarship. The geographical distribution of journal knowledge has become directly linked to a privileged world and sidelined those who struggle….OA raises issues around scholarly effort, academic quality and who profits by academic labour. Yet, we suggest, OA creates several opportunities for innovation. One of these is to encourage collective projects, thus to minimise the cost to individuals of Gold OA. Yet, this may fly in the face of the individualistic performativity underpinning many national research performance assessment audit tools….OA, despite its appropriation by the publishing houses to further enrich themselves at the expense of scholarly labour, does represent a valiant effort to regain the IP rights of scholars to their own work….”
“So it seems that Elsevier is once again trying to avoid revealing the prices that they charge university libraries for journal subscriptions. A few years ago they tried the same thing with us. Making prices public would harm the customer, they claimed. If prices were disclosed, they argued in one legal brief, “actual and substantial harm would result…to customers (particularly large customers such as [defendant] WSU) because— such information being known to competitors—Elsevier would be pressured into a onesize fits all pricing policy that would undermine its ability to advantageously tailor terms and conditions to a customer’s individual requirements.” I find this insufferable. Partly, it sounds like a threat: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” But the bigger issue is that as an economic argument it’s utter bullshit….”