Mendeley + Elsevier – A Marriage Made in Bibliographic Heaven?

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Chances are that by now you’ve heard about Mendeley‘s sale to Elsevier. There had been rumors circulating for some time about the sale, but I heard when they made it official in April – naturally, from a well-informed classmate who heard via Twitter (kudos to @emilyrnlds for the tip).

I thought about posting this in the immediate days after the announcement, but frankly I wanted to see how things would shake out – and naturally, the internet didn’t disappoint.

Twitter users rushed for a pun-filled spin on the issue with #mendelsevier and #mendelete (again, @emilyrnlds led me to those hashtags). But I was curious about some reactions more in-depth than 140 characters, so here’s a round up of what I found:

TL;DR: What does it mean for me?

  • If you’ve got an individual Mendeley account, it’ll still be free
  • You’ll get more (free) storage – 2GB for individual accounts, 5GB for premium and institutional accounts
  • Mendeley will develop an Android app soon to complement it’s iOS usage
  • The API will remain open
  • Do you care about open access/data? That’s not going to fit into a bullet point – so read on:

I anticipated some of the ire from the Mendeley user community due to the dichotomy between Mendeley’s open “hey come look at what your peer group is reading! Collaborate! Innovate!” culture and Elsevier’s rather…controversial business practices; the New Yorker writes Elsevier is:

infamous for restricting the flow of scientific information so it can sell research papers for as much as fifty dollars a piece, generating profit margins of thirty-six per cent and netting the company billions of dollars in revenue annually. The company has fought legislation designed to open up academic research, offered scholars money to file positive reviews, sued libraries for oversharing, and allegedly published fake journals on behalf of the pharmaceuticals industry.

And indeed this seems to fuel the bulk of the user complaints. As part of his response (linked above), David Weinberger writes:

The idea of my reading behaviors adding economic value to a company making huge profits by locking scholarship behind increasingly expensive paywalls is, in a word, repugnant.

And here is where the Scholarly Kitchen blog shines as a beacon of well-balanced online authorship by pointing out the concerns and how, despite the press releases and blog posts and social media chats from Mendelsevier, they avoid

“the question about whether users have the right to openly share copyrighted or licensed content via Mendeley even if they or their institution subscribe (or if there is a CC-BY-NC license associated with the work)…one that ties into the legal risks around this deal and the longevity of Mendeley’s central premise of PDF sharing now that it’s owned by Elsevier.”

Yet, as Kent Anderson (contributing author to Scholarly Kitchen and CEO/publisher of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery) points out,

“in the long run, it’s likely better for publishers to see [article usage statistics] under the roof of a company with incentive for respecting copyright, rather than an independent wildcard with no such ties…[since] it’s worth noting that publishers tend to take services at face value, as Connotea and CiteULike were used by many platforms across journals, despite being owned by Nature Publishing Group and supported by Springer, respectively.”

Recognizing that this may not be the most popular opinion, I would like to be cautiously optimistic. I think there could possibly be benefits by having a dedicated system backed by a well-funded company to measure the article-level metrics – which is really where I think the next impact factor is going to come from (Jason Priem, a PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill will convince you of this in one presentation or less). I had the pleasure of hearing Jason speak at the Medical Library Association conference earlier this month, and naturally in the question portion someone asked about Mendelsevier. For now, I’m sticking with his response (which I won’t quote as I’m paraphrasing and can’t recall the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of): Both companies have said they will preserve Mendeley’s commitment to openness, and that’s what I’ll stick to until I see otherwise.

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