Buying Up the “Research Showcase”? Schonfeld on Elsevier+bepress

Yesterday, Roger Schonfeld’s article in The Scholarly Kitchen about Elsevier’s acquisition of bepress quickly made the rounds, appearing almost immediately on STS-L with a listserv participants’ comment: “Breaking news … I’m not sure how I feel about this.”

After reading Schonfeld’s comprehensive, detailed description of the acquisition, I myself admit having mixed feelings about what is admittedly a savvy strategic move by the Big E. Why?

To me, this acquisition provides one more example of the failure of academic libraries (i.e., non-profit entities) to cooperate more closely on cross-institutional non-profit solutions for the researchers they support. Yes, libraries did succeed at rolling out institutional repositories in many cases. But in the process of doing so, they often neglected to consider the bigger picture of the research lifecycle stretching from the lab to the final showcase – as well as intellectual property protection issues for their own solutions.

In the case of recent Elsevier acquisitions (Schonfeld describes these in detail), lack of systematic cross-institutional coordination across the “research showcasing lifecycle” by academic non-profits left the door wide open to commercial entities to swoop in and fill the gap by buying up bits of the lab-to-showcase puzzle, piece-by-piece.

As Dan Tonkery notes in a commentary to the Schonfeld article:

It is not the first time that CDL [California Digital Library] and other academic libraries have designed a product or service to only find out that their non for profit work ended up in the hands of a commercial company that was later sold off. Of course the original developers often go without compensation or recognition. The control of intellectual property at the university level is much better controlled in the sciences where new drugs are developed or medical devices, but unfortunately library tools are not so valued.

What’s to regret here? Sure, a trusted commercial partner has stepped in to, as Schonfeld says, “support academic science.” But better cooperation across institutional borders on support strategies for issues all libraries face might have led to global non-profit solutions.

Does the non-profit aspect matter? Everyone has their own answer to this, but what if bepress had gone to a non-academic financial conglomerate, as in the case of Web of Science? In the case of bepress, Schonfeld states:

When the bepress board decided to sell, the bidding for it this summer included interest from both private equity firms and a variety of purchasers with strategic interests.

Monday I got an email from Clarivate:

As a publishing author represented within Web of Science from Clarivate Analytics, you require the latest news and resources to stay current in your area of research. That’s why we think you’ll benefit from getting valuable research information.

From time to time, Web of Science Author Connect® works with other companies to provide you with information about relevant product and service offerings that may be of interest to you.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.

Additional Reading

Schonfeld, R. (2017). Elsevier Acquires bepress. The Scholarly Kitchen.


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