Anyone interested in Open Access or scientific publishing has already heard the news: Elsevier has just officially taken over Mendeley, the platform dedicated to bibliographic reference management. Since Tuesday morning, this news has been causing quite a fuss on scientific networks and in the media interested in this issue. The reactions are mostly negative. The very name “Elsevier” sounds like scary music in a horror movie. Your heart starts racing just hearing it. You know something bad is about to happen. Is this hostility totally justified? Let’s take a look at the facts.
This article is a translation of “Elsevier rachète Mendeley : et vous, que ferez-vous ?” by Timothée Froelich.
The big, bad publisher
In January 2013, there were rumors circulating about Elsevier taking over Mendeley. Elsevier is one of the three giants of scientific publishing. It is also the most violently and frequently criticized for various reasons: its constantly increasing prices, its commercial policies, the sometimes-unethical use of its profits, and many other tricks (ghostwriting/ghost authoring, articles presenting an obvious conflict of interest, etc.).
For a few years, and with the growing importance of Open Access, Elsevier, just like most of the other big scientific publishers, has deployed significant resources to improve its image. So, what is this takeover all about?
The announcement of the takeover
On April 9th, Mendeley and Elsevier officially announced the operation, estimated at between $69 and $100 million according to TechCrunch. This sum is equivalent to 70-100 times the turnover of the small company. The same day, Mendeley published on its blog a joyful post announcing the happy event. The title is pretty clear: “Team Mendeley is joining Elsevier. Good things are about to happen!” Along with the message, a family photo with the 50 members of the company:
The Mendeley team (Source: Flickr)
Mendeley is a startup created in 2008. Its bibliographic reference management software has over 2 million users, who also interact thanks to the social functionalities this exchange platform provides. Mendeley is one of the tools for research that we listed in our article The new digital tools for scientific research. Although not the most open tool ever, Mendeley’s goal is obviously to promote exchanges between researchers. It is a sharing tool that always supported Open Access and Open Science.
Some feel offended, even betrayed
Personally, I heard the news on a mailing list dedicated to Open Science. On the very day, articles were published on TechCrunch for example, but also on Financial Times, The Guardian, and on the Herald Online. The reactions did not take long to come: “I quit Mendeley because I don’t want to give my data to Elsevier”, “I use Mendeley, and I fear the upcoming changes.”
In a previous article on MyScienceNews (Social Networks for Scientists), we told you about Elsevier’s own scientific social network, SciVal, and its free version BioMedExpert. The publishing company also possesses its own bibliographic research sites: Scopus and ScienceDirect. So why did the publisher invest so much money? What interest does it see? Is it, as the website says, to enhance its offer of source exchanges and bibliometrics? To improve its image? Or maybe to eliminate competitors who are too “Open”, as some suggest?
Mendeley cannot fix Elsevier's reputation. Elsevier published fake journals, backed SOPA, uses bundles to screw scholars/libraries. Too evil— danah boyd (@zephoria) April 9, 2013
Enthusiastic explanations from the founders
Users of Mendeley can share references, but also files. It has sometimes been considered a counterforce, short circuiting traditional scientific publishing. Why, then, join the most hated scientific publisher in academia?
In response to this question, rather than keeping quiet, the members of Mendeley gave interviews. The long and very comprehensive post published on their blog explains that Elsevier is a large company of 7,000 employees, including, like everywhere, some good and some less good. The post goes on to assure its users that Elsevier has often collaborated successfully with Mendeley and that the publisher often promoted them. It cites the time when the publisher, terminating its own bibliography management service, made its user data compatible with Mendeley, suggesting that its members join the free platform.
On several occasions after the embargo was lifted, the founder of Mendeley, Victor Henning, spoke up in order to reassure his users. In all his speeches, he insisted that he trusts Elsevier completely and that their partnership will not degrade the quality of Mendeley’s offer. For him, this new situation will give the startup the means to focus on its objectives in a very independent way and without being forced to monetize its services.
These communication efforts were apparently fruitful, as much more mixed or positive reactions have since flourished on the web.
And what do you think?
We would be very interested to know your opinions on the matter. Is Elsevier trying to assuage its conscience or to adapt its approach to the needs and the demands of the academic world? Will the fact that Elsevier owns Mendeley change your opinion of this actually very useful software?
Place your bets, all comments are welcome!
To find out more:
On The Scholarly Kitchen, "A Matter of Perspective -- Elsevier Acquires Mendeley...or, Mendeley Sells Itself to Elsevier"