Elsevier & SSRN Making My Ideal Pub Ecosystem a Reality?

For years I have been banging on to anyone who would listen about how I think journals (i.e. collections of articles that are subjected to pre-publication peer review) are useless. Much better I (and many others) said would be to have disciplinary repositories like arXiv where researchers can deposit all their papers and then have overlay journals that trawl the repositories, picking out the best content and subjecting that content to peer review. The selected papers would then be given a badge – or a series of badges (e.g. selected for peer review in _____; peer reviewed by ______, etc.) to show that they had been selected and the journal would just be links to revised version in the repository. There are many advantages to this arrangement:

  • All results – positive, negative, confirmations, etc. – could be “published” (i.e. put in the repository) and would be discoverable on the open web
  • The peer review load would be dramatically reduced since only those papers thought worthy of inclusion in journals would be peer reviewed
  • There would in theory be cost savings since the repositories would like arXiv be community supported.

The downside to this arrangement is that it would put much more emphasis/strain on journal editors. Though even here there is an upside in that successful editors/editorial boards would likely gain much more prestige than they do today.

News came today that Elsevier had acquired SSRN. Roger Schonfeld writing at the Scholarly Kitchen points out the myriad ways this deal makes sense, for example:

There is a wealth of information in the usage logs of services like SSRN that could help guide editors trying to acquire manuscripts for publication or that could assist business development efforts for journal acquisitions. Also important to watch are SciVal, Pure, and some of Elsevier’s other “research intelligence” offerings. SSRN has extracted and made use of the references in its papers, and its usage data are already used to calculate top papers, top authors, and top organizations. SSRN data will have value for generating “performance” data for papers, authors, and organizations.

Certainly all those things are sensible reasons why Elsevier would be interested in SSRN (or arXiv for that matter). Since I mostly only deal with Elsevier’s legacy publishing business the first sentence really stands out to me. Elsevier is now going to know before anyone else what exciting things are happening in the social sciences and will in theory have first crack at trying to get that content into their journals – raising their prestige and attracting more submissions of quality, virtuous circle, etc. My thought was what if this is actually the first move towards a for-profit/paywalled version of the vision presented above. That is to say, journals as we know them would continue to be paywalled but instead of having authors submit to the journal, the journal staff/algorithms would simply crawl SSRN and pick out the promising working papers and invite those authors to submit their papers the appropriate journal. That smaller and more manageable group of papers would then be peer reviewed. There’s lots of details that would have to be worked out but if you had decided the current way things are done were insufficiently profitable (or were going to be insufficiently profitable in the near to medium future) this is the kind of move you would make.

I’ll close by saying I think Schonfeld is probably closer to the mark than my wild speculations but this acquisition does raise some very interesting possibilities.

Leveraging the Big ebook Deals of Others

Summary: I want to be able to DDA the titles on Scholars Portal that are part of the big ebook deals my school is too poor to take part in. I haven’t fully fleshed out what would be involved but here is the rough sketch.

DDA on the Scholars Portal E-Book Platform
Preamble: At present some OCUL schools are able to participate in a variety of big ebook deals and load that content on Scholars Portal. For those OCUL schools that cannot afford to participate in the big deals but who may still want to have access to some of the titles in the deal access options are tricky. The title might not be available for individual purchase or if it is it might only be available through an undesirable platform. It would be better if those schools could leverage, using DDA, the content that is already being loaded on Scholars Portal as part of these big deals. In this way the schools that couldn’t afford the big deal could access the titles their patrons need, the publishers would get paid for the content that was used and Scholars Portal ebooks would become the preferred ebook platform in Ontario.

Proposal: Working with YBP the following steps would have to be taken:

  1. SP would have to develop a trigger system on the ebook platform. Mimicking the triggers used by other vendors would make it more likely that publishers would play ball.
  2. SP would have to develop a means of notifying YBP of holdings info on the platform so that it could be listed in GOBI.
  3. SP would have to develop software to notify YBP when a title has been triggered.
  4. YBP would have to modify GOBI in such a way that SP could be integrated into DDA plans like any other aggregator.
  5. YBP would handle all the billing – it is possible that their current processes for handling DDA plans would be adequate for this to work.


    • Leverages existing partnerships with YBP.
    • Integrates into existing workflows.
    • Gives new purchasing options to schools that don’t for whatever reason participate in some of the ebook big deals.


    • Convincing publishers to allow their content to be used in this way.
    • Modifying the existing ebook platform to create DDA triggers.
    • Entitlement monitoring.

Open Access: That other thing you should be spending your money on

Update Dig this article from C&RL News: Funding Open Access (h/t @newtonmiller)

Here are the links that I mention
Examples of Open Access Author Fund Criteria

Data for APCs
Figshare search

Examples of membership agreements
Biomed Central
Sage Open

Examples of Infrastructure agreements
Open Library of Humanities

Open Monographs
Knowledge Unlatched
Palgrave’s APC model

Patron Driven Acquisition and its Discontents

Yesterday I got kind of rage-y after reading A Skeptic’s View of Patron-Driven Acquisitions: Is it Time to ask the Tough Questions? [paywall] from the most recent issue of Technical Services Quarterly. The authors spend most of the article flogging the straw-man of unfettered patron-driven acquisition (PDA) and the possible nefarious consequences of that.  In the real world unfettered PDA is not really an issue – it hasn’t been my experience and I have yet to hear of another library that doesn’t in some way limit access to the potential pool of titles (even if it’s something simple like forcing students to click an extra link to get to the PDA platform). This is not to say that all is sunshine and roses in PDA land. There are, in my opinion, some very serious problems that I think need to be highlighted, discussed and conquered. Here’s 3:

1. Content

There is a significant amount of content from reputable publishers like Oxford, Cambridge et al. that is not available through any of the PDA platforms (in some cases there isn’t even an e-version you can buy). I can only speculate that publishers are doing this to give us some incentive to buy their big deals or little deals or packages that live on their websites. I’ll just state publicly here that there is no more money for new big deals at my school and there is a very good chance that we are going to be breaking up 1 or more big deals in the next few years.

Request #1: Publishers please make all your content available through PDA.

2. Integration with Existing Workflows

Because I currently use someone other than YBP as my principle monograph vendor I’m not able to offer multi-vendor PDA to my users in a targeted and easily controlled way. This has a few consequences: our program is limited to the content of a single vendor; and it is more difficult for staff to control the content that is being included in our PDA program. Luckily, our users have mostly confined themselves to using suitable academic content but it has created a problem with duplicate purchases. In my opinion our program would be much more effective if we could just use our monograph vendor to run a PDA program across a number of vendors using our existing monograph profiles.
Request #2: Monograph vendors and PDA vendors please make greater efforts to work together to allow all libraries to run cross platform PDA schemes

3. Platforms

Without getting into the problems with books in browsers / serious reading on your screen/tablet/phone / &c. I’d like to talk about preservation and alternative hosting arrangements. Here in Ontario we have a pretty robust infrastructure for local hosting of ebooks and journals. However, my current PDA vendor does not allow me to locally host content or even dark archive it on our existing infrastructure. They say that this licensing point comes from their agreements with publishers. Quite frankly, this is a ridiculous restriction on content that we have paid for. Especially since in most cases our platform already hosts some content from the publisher in question (i.e. mostly consortial big deals)
Request #3: Publishers please allow my PDA vendor to give me the files necessary to locally load the content that I’ve purchased.

There’s lots more to deal with – the reading issue for instance, but these three are a good place to start.