What is ResearchGates' business model

Open AccessWhy Elsevier is suing the "Researcher Facebook" Researchgate

Christina Riesenweber can quickly explain the basic idea of ​​Open Access:

"Open Access means that research results, especially journal articles in scientific journals, are available to readers free of charge."

But what the Open Access Officer at Freie Universität Berlin describes is not the rule. Science would benefit from free access to articles and data. Researchers could exchange ideas more easily and quickly. But the publishers, in which many of the articles appear, are opposed to it.

When you talk to representatives of the Open Access community, one name comes up again and again: Elsevier. Elsevier is one of the largest science publishers. It has annual sales of $ 2.3 billion and a profit margin of 36 percent. This comes about, among other things, because Elsevier and other publishers earn money in two ways: Either the scientists who publish a study in a journal pay for it, and then this study is freely accessible to everyone. Or the publication is free of charge for the researcher and the readers have to pay - either for the individual article or through subscriptions that research institutions and libraries take out with publishers. [*]

Research institutions want flat-rate access to all journals

But there is resistance. Over 150 German research institutions have canceled their subscriptions to Elsevier journals and want to renegotiate. You want a deal. Specifically, it's about a flat rate that gives you access to all of the publisher's journals. But so far Elsevier has shown little willingness to compromise, explains Benedikt Fecher from the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society:

"The publishers are of course not interested in anything changing. If you look at the deal negotiations and how Elsevier is blocking, you don't see any interest in the system changing. Zero."

Elsevier defends itself against these allegations. You have nothing against open access. On the contrary, says press spokesman Hannfried von Hindenburg: "Elsevier is the second largest Open Access publisher in the world." Another trend is definitely a thorn in the side of the publishing giant. Together with other publishers, Elsevier has sued the Internet platform Researchgate. The so-called "Facebook for researchers" offers scientists the opportunity to create a profile and share their articles from specialist journals there. The problem: This is actually often not allowed, as Christina Riesenweber explains. Because publishers usually have the right to distribute.[**]

"Many scientists publish their research publications on Researchgate and think 'I can do that' when they de facto don't have the rights. That means we're in a legal gray area. And this lawsuit by Elsevier certainly has a legal basis. So that's tangible. "

But what can science do when publishers are so violently opposed to opening up research? First of all, it has to create other incentives. Instead of looking to see whether and to what extent a specialist magazine makes its articles freely available, researchers are currently paying particular attention to how often a journal is cited. So how high its impact is. Because the higher the so-called impact factor, the better for the author's reputation, says Christina Riesenweber:

"The fact that the high impact journals are all with the publishers and the scientists want to get into these high impact journals perpetuates this dependency on the publisher. And that leaves you with the situation that you have major negotiations with the publishers instead of the one builds its own infrastructure. "

"Older scientists are more willing to share data"

It is particularly problematic that it is precisely the young researchers who are less committed to Open Access and open data, as Benedikt Fecher was able to show in a large-scale survey.

"So in our study we found that older scientists in particular are more willing to share data. And I have not asked for an explanation, but my interpretation is that scientists who have a permanent position have a more secure position than younger ones Scientists who still have to fight about such positions have to fight. "

Because only those who publish in respected journals have a chance of funding and long-term permanent employment. The open access movement must therefore be supported primarily by others. In other words, by researchers with secure positions who can afford to publish in an open but less prestigious journal. Or of those scientists who work as reviewers or editors for the publishers mostly free of charge, says Benedikt Fecher:

"You could give them financial incentives to switch to a public journal. That happened, for example, in the case of Lingua and Glossa. That was a magazine that was previously at Elsevier, and where the entire editorial board became a public journal is. "

But even the greatest advocates of Open Access don't want a world without publishers. Management, layout, distribution - these are all tasks that publishers take on and are good at. And they should continue to be paid for this. The goal, however, is a new, perhaps fairer distribution of roles, as Christina Riesenweber explains:

"Up until now, the business model of publishers was to turn scientific publications into a commodity that they then sell. And we are questioning this model. The alternative to this, which more and more publishers are adopting, is that publishers see themselves as service providers who sell a service whose product is then available free of charge. And if we think of it that way, then the whole thing is actually relatively round. "

[*] Editor's note: The first version of this paragraph presented the criticism of Elsevier on one side and did not correctly describe the publisher's business models. We changed that in the text, the audio version of the article was depublished.

[**]: The contribution has been supplemented at this point by a statement from Elsevier, which was not included in the original version.