Elsevier and Mendeley – an interview with Victor Henning

Andy Tattersall has championed Mendeley since 2009. He responds to the buy-out news and speaks directly to co-founder Victor Henning.

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[This is an edited post which first appeared on the ScHARR Library Blog.]

Anyone with an interest in technology, open access, altmetrics and education cannot have missed the recent news of publishing giant Elsevier acquiring the social reference management tool Mendeley for something in the region of $69 - $100 million according to TechCrunch.

I first came across Mendeley in early 2009 and was instantly struck by its genius.  In my department we'd been teaching our postgraduate students Reference Manager for the last decade and it was a no-brainer to move them over to the free, flexible tool that allowed them to work anywhere, create networks and find interesting research all in one place for no cost.  I was so taken by Mendeley that I enrolled to be one of their first advisors and have taught hundreds of students, colleagues and external parties on the software.

Mendeley was created by three academics, Dr. Victor Henning, Jan Reichelt and Paul Föckler, all of whom had seen how academic knowledge was locked down in a Web 1.0 world and information sharing was often at the behest of large publishing companies. Other notable social reference tools, including Zotero and CiteUlike, emerged at the same time. Mendeley came with a downloadable interface, which allowed the user to access their papers and annotate them anywhere. This was one of the most popular functions and also the one which most irked the academic publishing community and the copyright officers.  Nevertheless the company grew and grew.  For advisors like me it felt only a matter of time before a big fish would buy the company. The rumblings on the Web started a few months ago and were finally confirmed a week ago as Elsevier announced the purchase.

Since there has been an awful lot of chatter on the Web, with many articles trying to predict what this means for both companies and academic publishing as a whole. The news led the New Yorker to publish the article'When the Rebel Alliance Sells Out', a piece documenting the major differences between the two companies in terms of their business models and ethos.

The truth is that no one really knows what impact this will have on the open access and altmetrics movements or how it will impact digital copyright.  Whatever happens, Elsevier is in the business of making money and will already have ideas on how they can utilise their new purchase.

The debate is finally opening up to a wider audience (a recent edition of BBC Radio 4's Material World featured interviews with Henning and ImpactStory's Jason Priem). Although it is too early to assess how Elsevier will proceed, this feels like the end of one chapter and the start of another. Whether this chapter will be behind a paywall, only time will tell.

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