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Open Access Affects Business Models of Large Publishers as Elsevier Acquires a Digital Commons Platform

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New York Public Library Main Building, Public Catalog Room, New York, NY, November 24, 2007 | © Courtesy of Wally Gobetz.

As resistance to subscription deals grows, Elsevier takes over Bepress providing Open Access storage to faculty- and student-generated materials.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


The recent acquisition by Elsevier of Bepress announced in early August 2017 can signify a growing accommodation by large publishers, such as Springer/Nature, Wiley, SAGE and Taylor & Francis, of Open Access as a publication model. At the same time, while this move can signify a growing corporate presence in Open Access as a university- and library-oriented solution, it is worth noting that Bepress has facilitated the outsourcing of content digitization by academic institutions, such as research result, data set, electronic journal, open textbook and archival material storage. In this respect, Bepress combines the features of institutional repositories with those of book and journal publishers, as it has an extensive list of both peer-reviewed and non-reviewed, student and narrowly focused journals in Open Access and behind pay-walls.

Thus, as a hybrid-model platform, Bepress has already developed fee-based services and offerings that capitalize on Open Access content that it hosts, which indicates that prior to its acquisition it already sported a sustainable business model. For Elsevier that continues to face multiplying demands that it accommodate Open Access as part of large-scale subscription deals it closes with universities and libraries, such as in Germany, broadening the scope of its operations to include this institutional repository makes business sense. Moreover, this take-over also indicates a wider-ranging change in Elsevier’s strategy after it has acquired SSRN, Social Science Research Network representing one of the world’s largest repositories for conference papers, pre-prints and unpublished research in both Open Access and fee-based formats especially in the fields of economics and law, in May 2016. Consequently, through these take-overs Elsevier has become one of the major global players in the field of Open Access journal publishing and institutional repositories.

While alternative institutional repository initiatives, such as SocArXiv for pre-prints in Social Sciences, have been launched in the wake of these developments, their dependence on support from non-profit organizations, such as the Center for Open Science, may hamper the development of viable business models, while making them vulnerable to mergers and acquisitions. By contrast, large publishers increasingly understand that content licensing has limitations as a business model, especially since Open Access repository and publication businesses, such as Bepress, have been developing additional services targeted at universities and libraries as revenue sources.

In other words, as this Elsevier’s acquisition demonstrates, Open Access content, similar to open sources software, provides avenues for business model diversification in the direction of digital content repository platforms, data analytics and visibility promotion tools and hybrid publishing models.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: New York Public Library Main Building, Public Catalog Room, New York, NY, November 24, 2007 | © Courtesy of Wally Gobetz.

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