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The Scholarly Fingerprinting Industry

Jefferson Pooley. The Scholarly Fingerprinting Industry Amerikastudien/American Studies 68, no. 1 (2023): 18–21. 18 Amst 68.1 (2023): 5-26

“Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature, Wiley, and SAGE: Many researchers know that the five giant firms publish most of the world’s scholarship. Fifty years of acquisitions and journal launches have yielded a stunningly profitable oligopoly, built up from academics’ un- paid writing-and-editing labor. Their business is a form of IP rentiership—collections of title-by-title prestige monopolies that, in the case of Nature or The Lancet, underwrite a stable of spinoff journals on the logic of the Hollywood franchise. Less well-known is that Elsevier and its peers are layering a second business on top of their legacy publishing operations, fueled by data extraction. They are packaging researcher behavior, gleaned from their digital platforms, into prediction products, which they sell back to universities and other clients. Their raw material is scholars’ citations, abstracts, downloads, and reading habits, repurposed into dashboard services that, for example, track researcher productivity. Elsevier and the other oligopolist firms are fast becoming, in other words, surveillance publishers (Pooley). And they are using the windfall profits from their existing APC-and-subscription business to finance their moves into predictive analytics. Elsevier is the farthest along. In 2015, its parent company RELX Group announced its “transformation” from publisher to a “technology, content and analytics-driven business,” adding that the firm is “system- atically migrating all of our businesses towards electronic decision tools” (RELX Group, Annual Report 2014 5, 4). By then, Elsevier’s decade long acquisition binge, up and down the research lifecycle, was already underway. In the past decade, it acquired Pure (2012), Mendeley (2013), Newsflo (2015), SSRN (2016), bepress (2017), Parity Computing (2019), and, in spring 2022, Interfolio, the “Faculty Information System” provider. Together with ScienceDirect, the firm’s web-based journal delivery platform, and Scopus, its citation index, Elsevier has assembled a portfolio of knowledge products that spans lab software to research assessment. These are, in a sense, services with benefits: reference management from Mendeley and journal access from ScienceDirect both furnish scholars’ behavioral data back to Elsevier. The company then sells the processed data back to universities and other clients in the form of “research intelligence,” i. e., prediction products like SciVal and Pure that score researcher impact and productivity. Elsevier, to borrow a computing phrase, has become a full-stack publisher. Its thousands of journals might be seen as data-delivery vehicles—in themselves and by way of trackable engagement…”

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