A few words on Elsevier’s acquisition of Mendeley

April 9, 2013

As many of you will know, it’s now official that Elsevier has bought Mendeley, previously a force for openness in the world of reference management. There’s some good commentary at The Scholarly Kitchen. Lots of open advocates — Ross Mounce, for example — are shutting down their accounts and moving to free alternatives such as Zotero.

Unequivocal good guys at Mendeley, such as William Gunn, are painting this as optimistically as they can. Good luck to them, and I hope their optimism proves well-founded.

But here’s the problem. Although both Elsevier and Mendeley are making all the right noises about this acquisition, the bottom line is that Elsevier has all the power in the relationship. So Mendeley say things like “very little will change for you as a Mendeley user” and “we will continue to support standard and open data formats”, and I’m sure they believe them. But it’s dependent on the whim of Elsevier. The moment it becomes inconvenient or financially disadvantageous for them to do these things, they’ll stop.

That’s not a criticism of any of the individuals at Elsevier. Every single Elsevier person I’ve had dealings with has been pleasant, sane and helpful; often funny, too. But a lot of good, smart people smashed together can and do make a big, dumb, evil company. So Elsevier continually does things that (I suspect) none of the individuals I know there would chose. But it does them anyway. Sadly all the evidence from the past says that nothing good is going to happen to Mendeley now.

I truly hope I’m wrong.

But I’m not.

What it comes down to is this: Mendeley’s ability to be a force for openness is dependent on a company that is implacably opposed to openness. That’s all there is to it.

Update (14 minutes later): read the much more informed thoughts of Jason Hoyt, who was one of Mendeley’s co-founders before leaving to co-found PeerJ. Very gentle, but also I think a strong confirmation of my reading.

10 Responses to “A few words on Elsevier’s acquisition of Mendeley”

  1. SimonD Says:

    Well, it appears publishers are quickly stocking up on reference manager software lately…
    Papers (the excellent pdf-based reference manager) for OSX (the Windows 7 version is still miles behind, unfortunately) has been bought by Springer a few months ago as well. Mekentosj (the original creators of Papers) are happy, as it heralds a new time where they get more means and manpower to incorporate much-needed features and expand to other media (say, iPad etc…). I’m looking forward to the development, but not exactly with much confidence. For now, I’m still using Papers (as it’s bloody awesome that’s why), but I might have to migrate my library elsewhere if things get to dicey…
    To be continued, for sure…

  2. Is it a good thing that Elsevier bought Mendeley? — paidContent Says:

    […] open access blogger Mike Taylor noted that “Elsevier has all the power in the relationship” with […]

  3. Mr. Gunn Says:

    The main value of Mendeley comes from its community. If we lose that, we’re worthless & Elsevier knows this. I explained this to everyone from the CEO on down and they get it. It would be a waste of their investment to drop their committments to us, so we and the Mendeley community, has much more say in this than you think.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Let’s hope you’re right.

    I can think of a few other aspects of this acquisition that have value for Elsevier.

  5. in summary, use zotero!

  6. […] in no way contribute to Elsevier’s business and benefits”. These are a few of the reactions that quickly followed the announcement. What should I do ? Should I care […]

  7. […] Sauropod Vertebrae of the Week, a blog that covers both its titular subject and OA development concurs: […]

  8. […] heading for the rocks, but said that Elsevier have been engineering tugs to change its direction. (Is Mendeley meant to be one of those tugs?) Well, I wasn’t persuaded — but then I am increasingly of the opinion that the […]

  9. […] think the most painful part of the Elsevier-eats-Mendeley deal has been watching good people acting as apologists for Elsevier and then feeling hurt when people […]

  10. […] open access blogger Mike Taylor noted that “Elsevier has all the power in the relationship” with […]

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