Elsevier Acquires SSRN

When news first broke that Elsevier acquired SSRN, my initial thoughts, given Elsevier's reputation, were:
  • This is a way for Elsevier to shed its bad reputation for sharing
  • Elsevier could use SSRN to make money through advertisements
  • Elsevier could use SSRN’s scholarship network to distribute announcements about all of its articles (paid or otherwise)
  • Elsevier could use SSRN to keep a better eye on authors who might be breaking publication agreements 
  • Elsevier could start charging for access to otherwise open articles
According to Gregg Gordon, president of SSRN, Jan Reichelt, co-founder of Mendeley, and Tom Reller, a senior Elsevier executive, Elsevier has been pursuing a strategy of reducing the share of its revenues coming from content and increasing the share coming from analytics and other services. Among other things, the SSRN acquisition is another step in Elsevier’s path towards data and analytics.

Elsevier has committed that the use of SSRN as a hub for content discovery and distribution will not change - free of charge for authors to upload and readers to download. 

In a number of ways, Mendeley is the linchpin for this acquisition. When Mendeley itself was acquired by Elsevier in April 2013, there was much discussion and debate about whether Mendeley should continue to be trusted by scientists under Elsevier’s umbrella.

Although Mendeley has been to all users, it clearly has strengths in the STM fields, so SSRN will now provide it with an opportunity to acquire a new user population as a result of a variety of integrations between the two services. We should expect these to include connections between SSRN author pages and Mendeley professional profiles, and workflow connections that allow Mendeley collaborative groups to submit papers for distribution and perhaps eventually review and publication.  There will also be other opportunities to strengthen SSRN for its authors, with plans to link preprints on SSRN with Scopus, bringing analytics about article “performance” to SSRN authors, and to bring improved links between working papers and preprints with their eventual published versions.

By acquiring an open access service with its focus in the social sciences, Elsevier is further building out its capacity to provide workflow services, data, and analytics to the scholarly community. Some might see this development as good for open access, given the nature of the investment that Elsevier is planning to make in the SSRN, while others may be concerned to that over time an open repository is somehow co-opted. Smart observers will be trying to puzzle together what it means that Elsevier is growing in its ability to shape its own future as a workflow, data, and analytics enterprise, well beyond its roots in publishing. Finally, universities, their libraries, and other publishers, should have on their minds some of the policy and governance issues around the data that Elsevier is accumulating and the uses to which they may be put.

It does ease my mind to know that Mendeley is still trusted and thriving under Elsevier's umbrella. Hopefully we'll see SSRN continue to thrive, as well. So long as Elsevier is truly looking for ways to expand its reach with data and analytics, everything may just be okay. As noted, however, libraries and others need to be aware of the data accumulation and ways in which the data is used. 

More to come...

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