Academic capture

“The 21st century has brought with it some new terms that have not been welcomed. One of these was ‘state capture’: when the government and its institutions’ policies and laws are significantly influenced by private individuals and their companies for profit. This became a hallmark of governments in Europe (Hungary, Bulgaria, western Balkans), several Latin American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia and Mexico) and South Africa. Some have also suggested that the USA under Donald Trump was undergoing ‘state capture’. 

The lament of academics that publishers are profiteering from their labours through charging ever increasing sums to access their work are familiar to most of us. We are caught in a system whereby our employers judge us by the prestige of what we output, and typically these outputs are publications published by the same profiteering publishing companies. Choosing to opt out would result in academic suicide for any Early Career Researcher who cannot show that they are capable of publishing in upper quartile journals. Similarly, publishing in the highest ranked journals can facilitate and define a career – so much so that some academics are prepared tocommit fraudin order to publish there. Moreover, pushing for increasingly high metrics perpetuates dynasties ofbad sciencethat jeopardise the centralscientific tenets of rigour, reproducibility, and transparency. 

Björn Brembs and colleagues have just revealed a much darker side to this story in a preprint on Zenodo. In it, they describe what we could describe as the incipient capture of all academia by the same four publishing giants that are dominating the publishing conundrum described above. In it, they describe the shift of profits by these companies from publishing towards data. We know that Elsevier owns Scopus and so are able to drive the listing of all of their own journals therein, and ensure that they attain maximum benefit from inflation of metrics. But did you know that the new academic database on the block, Dimensions, is owned by publishing supergroup SpringerNature? …”

Top Publishers Aim To Own The Entire Academic Research Publishing Stack; Here’s How To Stop That Happening | Techdirt

“echdirt’s coverage of open access — the idea that the fruits of publicly-funded scholarship should be freely available to all — shows that the results so far have been mixed. On the one hand, many journals have moved to an open access model. On the other, the overall subscription costs for academic institutions have not gone down, and neither have the excessive profit margins of academic publishers. Despite that success in fending off this attempt to re-invent the way academic work is disseminated, publishers want more. In particular, they want more money and more power. In an important new paper, a group of researchers warn that companies now aim to own the entire academic publishing stack …

To prevent commercial monopolization, to ensure cybersecurity, user/patient privacy, and future development, these standards need to be open, under the governance of the scholarly community. Open standards enable switching from one provider to another, allowing public institutions to develop tender or bidding processes, in which service providers can compete with each other with their services for the scientific workflow.

Techdirt readers will recognize this as exactly the idea that lies at the heart of Mike’s influential essay “Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech”. Activist and writer Cory Doctorow has also been pushing for the same thing — what he calls “adversarial interoperability”. It seems like an idea whose time has come, not just for academic publishing, but every aspect of today’s digital world.”

When Consolidation Provides Benefits as well as Market Power – The Scholarly Kitchen

“The past twenty years have brought substantial consolidation to our sector. Each of today’s major scholarly publishers is the product of progressive acquisitions. And, the past decade has seen a drumbeat of acquisitions in the platforms that support scholarship and scholarly communication — from Elsevier’s acquisitions of SSRN, bepress, Mendeley, Pure, and Aries to the announcement this year that Clarivate will acquire ProQuest. Not surprisingly, there has been frequent, at times reflexive, customer opposition to acquisitions in these sectors, motivated by concerns about pricing. Here are a few powerful examples. Despite these objections, we expect there to be further announcements of mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances, and other forms of consolidation in the days and years ahead. Which raises an important question: While consolidation is certainly in the interest of the consolidators, are there times when consolidation also works to the benefit of customers and users?…”

Now is the Time to Fund Open Infrastructures · Business of Knowing, summer 2021

“Recently, open infrastructures have gotten a lot of attention. This primarily comes down to two reasons: current events and economics.

Firstly, open infrastructures have proven to be essential for COVID-19 research. Open data portals and open source software power research efforts in data collection, analysis, and modeling efforts. Preprint servers and open discovery platforms have been at the heart of a rapid exchange of the knowledge benefitted in the process. The impact of openness on coronavirus research was widely recognized, prompting organisations such as the OECD to include open science in their key policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic [undefined]. 

The second reason that open infrastructures are in the spotlight is that they are seen as an antidote to the increased market concentration observed in the scholarly communication space. In recent years, large commercial companies such as RELX (Elsevier), SpringerNature, and Clarivate have formed through mergers and acquisitions. They bring together proprietary software spanning the whole research life-cycle. They are looking to control content, software, and research metrics, thus locking research organizations and funders into their software. In the process, they are using tried and tested methods from the giants of the tech world such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, including the surveillance capitalism that comes with it (see [undefined] [undefined] for more context).

Open infrastructures, on the other hand, are often scholar-led and run by non-profit organisations, making them mission-driven instead of profit-driven. Data and content created by and in the systems are published under an open license and made available following open standards. Ideally, they are based on open source software. This makes migration from one system to another much easier and avoids lock-in effects. Another important  distinction is that open infrastructures provide appropriate opportunities for community input and involvement in decision-making and governance processes. These qualities make open infrastructures hard to buy out. It is no coincidence that the draft for the forthcoming UNESCO Open Science declaration [undefined] calls for open science infrastructure to be not-for-profit and to be as open as possible….”

Collective Funding to Reclaim Scholarly Publishing · Business of Knowing, summer 2021

“The open access movement has dropped barriers to readers only to erect them for authors. The reason is the article processing charge (APC), which typically runs $3,000 to $5,000. The APC model, with its tolled access to authorship, is the subscription model seen through a camera obscura: author paywalls in place of reading paywalls.

Most scholars cannot afford the steep fees, a fact masked by the privileged segment who can: scientists in the rich industrialized world, and scholars in a handful of wealthy European countries and North American universities. The fees are often paid via so-called “read-and-publish” deals, which fold APCs into the subscription contracts that libraries negotiate with publishers.

The emerging APC regime is also re-anointing the commercial oligopolists—the same five firms that fleece universities through usurious subscription charges. Springer Nature, Elsevier, and their peers are, with every read-and-publish deal, transitioning their enormous profit margins from tolled to open—and capturing the lion’s share of library spending in the process. Librarians continue to fund the tolled system, while also—at the richer institutions—picking up the tab for their faculty’s author fees. The result is an incumbent-publisher spending lockdown, one that ratifies the APC regime….

Collective funding is an appealing idea, versions of which have been circulating since at least 2006, with important variations on the theme published since. The challenge is getting the model to work beyond a handful of successful, single-resource experiments (including the ArXiv preprint server, the Open Library of Humanities, and the SCOAP3 particle physics journals, among others). The two main hurdles are coordination and funder participation. The academic communication system involves thousands of funders and hundreds of publishers, which makes for a nightmarish coordination challenge. A related obstacle, one made much worse with lots of actors, is the free rider problem. Fee-free open access is a public good that benefits everyone, even non-payers; if enough libraries opt out, the collective funding scheme is likely to collapse….”

Guest Post – One Publisher to Rule Them All? Consolidation Trends in the Scholarly Communications and Research Sectors – The Scholarly Kitchen

“The story of mergers and acquisitions in scholarly communications is one dominated in the last 10 to 15 years by a series of eye-catching vertical acquisitions by publishers, content aggregators, and database providers which have expanded their services. These mergers have blurred traditional roles and reflect a strategy of traditional players moving to become broader providers of analytics and workflow.

The successful integration of early stage companies and managed transition by established commercial entities is one of the major reasons scholarly communications has not seen the level of disruption anticipated and desired by many who seek to change the status quo….

Access to bigger archives will become a key determinant in preserving subscription pricing models as the volume of new publications available via open access increases. As such, we can expect this to drive further mergers and monetization of valuable backlists….

Publishing open access now offers a less plausible ‘Exit’ strategy for researchers wishing to express dissatisfaction with the market status quo. It is harder to move away from larger, commercial publishers when they are also the largest open access publishers….

Overall, the industry remains very much in a growth phase with high potential for further acquisitions and mergers, played out against a backdrop of Plan S and COVID-19 with an ongoing battle for researchers’ loyalty. There is a widespread belief that eventually researchers’ desire for robust, fast, rigorous publishing with rapid dissemination and access for all will become more important than prestige of the publishing vehicle. When and if this happens, it remains to be seen whether this race will be won by organic growth, mergers, acquisitions or large scale disruption from outside the industry.”


Wikimedia Movement and the Paradox of Open | 14 August 2021 | Wikimania

“Wikimedia Movement and the Paradox of Open

Saturday August 14, 17:00 UTC

Speakers: Anna Mazgal, Senior EU Policy Advisor at Wikimedia Deutschland

Tanveer Hassan, Senior Program Officer, Community Resources at Wikimedia Foundation

Alek Tarkowski, Strategy Director at Open Future Foundation, member of the Wikimedia Poland Association

Abstract: Open sharing of free knowledge, commons based peer production is increasingly seen as not only a challenge but also an enabler of concentrations of power online – this is the “Paradox of Open”. In early 2021, Alek Tarkowski co-authored (with Paul Keller) an essay describing this paradox. During the session we will conduct a conversation on this paradox and see how it applies to the Wikimedia Movement, often seen as one of the most significant achievements of the free knowledge / openness movement. In particular, we will reflect how we can solve this Paradox and combat unjust concentrations of power, as we implement the new Movement Strategy. The discussion will be led by movement members and partners who have been engaged in both current and past stages of the Movement Strategy 2030 process….”

?Clarivate?Acquires?Bioinfogate, Reinforcing Position as Premier Provider of End-to-End Research Intelligence Solutions for Life Sciences – Clarivate

“?Clarivate Plc?(NYSE:CLVT), a global leader in providing trusted information and insights to accelerate the pace of innovation, today announced that it has acquired Bioinfogate, a leading provider of analytics solutions in the life sciences and producer of the OFF-X™?portal.?Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

The?Bioinfogate?OFF-X™?portal is a cutting-edge safety intelligence solution aimed at empowering pharmaceutical organizations to identify toxicology and safety signals, mitigate safety liabilities and de-risk early-stage assets. It is one of the largest?translational safety and toxicity?portals, featuring over 1,200,000 safety alerts corresponding to over 23,000 drugs and biologics and more than 15,000 targets of pharmacological interest….”

The Paradox of Open

“Numerous organisations and initiatives have been launched with a belief in openness and free knowledge. Their proponents placed their bets on the combined power of networked information services and new governance models for the production and sharing of content and data. We – as members of this broad movement – were among those who believed it possible to leverage this combination of power and opportunity to build a more democratic society, unleashing the power of the internet to create universal access to knowledge and culture. For us, such openness meant not only freedom, but also presented a path to justice and equality….

We learned that open approaches flourish under two types of conditions:

[1] Projects where many people contribute to the creation of a common resource – this is the story of Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap,, and the countless free software projects that provide much of the internet’s infrastructure.

[2] Circumstances where opening up is the result of external incentives or requirements, rather than voluntary actions – this is the story of publicly-funded knowledge production like Open Access academic publications, cultural heritage collections in the Public Domain, Open Educational Resources (OER), and Open Government data.

Over the last decade, we have witnessed a wholesale transformation of the networked information ecosystem. The web moved away from the ideals and the open design of the early internet and turned into an environment that is dominated by a small number of platforms….

In almost all fields of application, Open has been used to challenge the power of publishers and entertainment industry gatekeepers. At the point where the power of these old information intermediaries is supplanted by a new generation of platform-based information intermediaries, the value of the Open approach reaches its limits.


As long as Open is being defined mainly as a response to the former, exclusivity-based strategies for managing access to information, Open does not account for the power structures that have emerged in the massively intermediated information economy….


The ideas of open access and free reuse of information goods continue to be some of the most powerful challenges to the exclusive control by corporations and states over information goods. 


Yet making such resources open also exposes them to the imbalances of power that shape these societies – and in the worst cases serves to strengthen these imbalances….”


All publishers great and small – Samuel Moore

It is common knowledge that the academic publishing industry is oligopolistic: a handful of large corporate publishers control the vast majority of the industry. Because it dominates so much of the industry, the oligopoly maintains market power through tentacular economies of scale and control of the publications which libraries must access. This is bad not only for negotiating over price, but also means that the values and practices of the larger publishers are hegemonic in their influence over what publishing should look like. I have written previously about how this shapes debate around the costs of publishing.

Delhi HC Might Have Killed Intellectual Liberty

“In what may be a landmark case related to copyright law, Delhi HC ordered online article and book repositories Sci-Hub and Libgen to stop uploading material from thousands of journals controlled by Elsevier, Wiley India and American Chemical Society….”

Plan S Archives – – Kreativität und Urheberrecht in der digitalen Welt (Open skimming: How scientific publishing changes in the transition to open access)

From Google’s English:

“Access to scientific texts free of charge and freely – this should soon become the standard. Scientific publishers are also trying to take advantage of the transition to Open Access, for example with fees for authors and data tracking. Tilman Reitz analyzes what the open access transformation means for science and what design options there are.”

Open Future

“Numerous organisations and initiatives have been launched with a belief in openness and free knowledge. Their proponents placed their bets on the combined power of networked information services and new governance models for the production and sharing of content and data. We – as members of this broad movement – were among those who believed it possible to leverage this combination of power and opportunity to build a more democratic society, unleashing the power of the internet to create universal access to knowledge and culture. For us, such openness meant not only freedom, but also presented a path to justice and equality….

The open revolution that we imagined did not, however, happen. At least not on the scale that we and many other proponents of free culture expected.

Nevertheless, the growing Open movement demonstrated the viability of our ideas. As proof we have Wikipedia, Open Government data initiatives, the ascent of Open Access publishing, the role of free software in powering the infrastructure of the internet and the gradual opening of the collections of many cultural heritage institutions….

Over time, we have observed the significant evolution of our movement’s normative basis – away from a justification based on the voluntary exercise of rights by individual creators and towards a justification based on the production of social goods….

Over the last decade, we have witnessed a wholesale transformation of the networked information ecosystem. The web moved away from the ideals and the open design of the early internet and turned into an environment that is dominated by a small number of platforms….

The concentration of power in the hands of a small number of information intermediaries negates one of the core assumptions of the Open movement….”

Gelenkte Wissenschaft: Die DFG warnt vor Einfluss des Plattformkapitalismus (“Guiding” science: DFG warns against influence of platform capitalism) | Frankfurter Allgemeine

German Research Foundation warns against the growing influence of major publishers on research. Scientific freedom is under threat from two sides.



Die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft warnt vor dem wachsenden Einfluss der Großverlage auf die Forschung. Die Wissenschaftsfreiheit ist hier von zwei Seiten bedroht.

With Textbook Lawsuit Dismissed, Platinum Equity Inks $4.5B Deal to Buy McGraw Hill | EdSurge News

“Publisher McGraw Hill will soon pass from one private-equity firm to another.

Platinum Equity announced an agreement this week to buy the company from Apollo Global Management, in a deal valued at about $4.5 billion, including debt, reports the Wall Street Journal.

McGraw Hill CEO Simon Allen will continue to lead the business, according to a statement released by the company.

The acquisition comes about a year after McGraw Hill terminated its efforts to merge with fellow publisher Cengage. That deal, which would have created the second largest U.S. textbook publisher, fell through after being subjected to a regulatory review process with the U.S. Department of Justice….”