Dear publishers: please get out of the way
September 30, 2013
A few years ago, in my programming day-job, we had a customer who we were providing with software components and a bit of custom development. While this was going on, we had a sequence of meetings with them in which we pitched several possible system designs, explaining how we could help them use our components in various ways.
After this had been going on for a while, our contact at the customer had to take us to one side. He was gentle with us: “Look, you seem to have the idea that we’re looking for some kind of ongoing consultancy from you”, he said. “We’re really not. We like your tools, and we’re happy to pay for them, but that’s all we need from you. We’ll take it from there”.
And that’s what I think about whenever I read anything like this:
Elsevier is receiving an increasing number of content mining requests and we are developing solutions to meet customer needs. […] We wish to understand our customers’ text mining requirements and as practically every content mining request has a different goal and there is not a common solution to provide this. Consequently we request that customers looking to mine our content should speak to their Elsevier Account Manager.
Even if we assume generously that this is a genuine attempt to be helpful and not just a land-grab, it’s WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.
No, Elsevier. Your customers’ text mining requirements are very, very simple. Every content mining request has exactly the same goal and there is a common solution to provide this. That solution is: get out of the way.
No-one needs Elsevier’s (or Wiley’s or Springer’s) help with text-mining. No-one wants them as partners. No-one needs their APIs. All anyone wants is to get hold of the papers. That’s all. The only role of the publisher in this process is not to impede it.
Publishers: your job is to publish (“make public”), then step aside and let the world make use of what you’ve published.