With the democratization of publishing brought about by the Internet, and now WordPress, there’s a legitimate question as to how long publishers of academic and research information can retain their business model.
A business model that enables such publishers to obtain research and scholarship at little cost and then sell subscription access to the research to the very institutions whose scholars performed the research and authored the resulting papers.
The recent acquisitions of SSRN by LexisNexis in May and bpress by Elsevier last week are disconcerting to U.S. law librarians because of just that — open access. I shared librarians response to the bpress acquisition.
Both SSRN and bpress have served as repositories, generally open access, of legal papers and scholarship. However, LLRX Group, the parent of both acquiring companies, as opposed to open access, sells subscriptions to legal, scientific, medical and other scholarship. Add to that, Law Librarians don’t seem to trust either LexisNexis or Elsevier.
Open access is particularly coming to a head in Germany where a consortium of German universities, research institutes and public libraries are demanding from Elsevier fair pricing and open access to all papers authored by researchers at German institutions. After eight months, the two sides remain at an impasse.
Chemistry World’s Ned Stafford reports that more than 70 universities and institutions have cancelled contracts with Elsevier to ‘improve their negotiating power.’
Tim Gowers, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge and an open access supporter who led a boycott against Elsevier in 2012, tells Stafford:
I am very impressed that the German negotiators have had the courage and vision to stand up to the bullying tactics of Elsevier, and that they have had the necessary support from researchers who use the journals.
Lead negotiator Horst Hippler tells Stafford that the negotiation team is in close contact with the U.S. and other European countries.
We are receiving a lot of positive feedback and recognition, especially regarding our negotiating goals for transformation to open access and for a fair and sustainable price model.
David Matthews, for Times Higher Education, reports that some in the German negotiating group are willing to “pull the plug” on Elsevier and get access to articles from other sources, like university repositories and academic social networks.
Elsevier takes an old school bullying approach to ‘no deal.’ Without access, Elsevier tells Matthews that “German university rankings and their ability to attract talented academics could suffer.”
Elsevier may also be feeling pretty good, with Matthews reporting that their profits were up 3 per cent last year as the company released another 64 journals. Matthews also added that the publisher’s profit margin at 37 per cent “remains high enough to make many academics wince.”
Things can change fast though. Just ask the folks who were at Martindale-Hubbell, also a LLRX Group company, when its profit margins exceeded those of Elsevier’s. A failure to adapt effectively to the Internet resulted in a company worth a billion dollars being sold in close to an asset sale a few years later.
I am not suggesting that Elsevier is going to be sold for assets, but I am suggesting that universities and institutions should be publishing open access on open source technology so that they control their intellectual capital. This intellectual capital can then be reviewed and shared freely across the Internet.
Advances in the sciences, law, medicine and the like will move faster as will the ability to build a name for yourself in these fields.
Rather than hold on to the past, Elsevier could look to enable the inevitable, open access, and build business models around it.