May 17, 2016
SSRN Acquired by Elsevier
Posted by Matt Bodie

It looks like the Social Science Research Network will be a private, independent company no longer.  "Publishing giant" Elsevier has "snapped up" the company for "an undisclosed sum."  A publishing consultant framed Elsevier's strategy as follows: "The positioning is well thought out: lock up revenues to the legacy publishing business, move into areas where piracy is not much of an issue, create deeper relationships with researchers and become more and more essential to researchers even as librarians become less so.”  The acquisition follows Elsevier's purchase of Mendeley, a sciences-oriented research sharing site, three years ago.  That purchase did stir concerns in the scientific community -- e.g., "When the Rebel Alliance Sells Out."

This is relatively big news in our neck of the woods, if only because SSRN seemed like it enjoyed its independence.  In 2006, I asked Gregg Gordon if SSRN would ever sell itself to a larger corporation. His answer:

As for a future sale, other than myself, the shareholders are academics.  They have invested their own money and time into SSRN with the goal of changing how research is distributed, value their reputations and relationships within the scholarly community, and would not risk them by selling in a manner that would jeopardize our central goal. Our intention is to never sell, but it is hard to guarantee that.

One question that leaps to mind: will the policy of free uploads and downloads continue?  In his post on the acquisition, Gordon states: "SSRN will continue to enable users to 'submit for free and download for free.' For SSRN users, you are assured that our ethos will remain intact." Chairman Michael Jensen posted these thoughts about the effects of the ownership change:

We realize that this change may create some concerns about the intentions of a legacy publisher acquiring an open-access working paper repository. I shared this concern. But after much discussion about this matter and others in determining if Mendeley and Elsevier would be a good home for SSRN, I am convinced that they would be good stewards of our mission. And our copyright policies are not in conflict -- our policy has always been to host only papers that do not infringe on copyrights. I expect we will have some conflicts as we align our interests, but I believe those will be surmountable.

One change that is plausibly on the horizon: a crackdown on published papers posted to SSRN, especially if Elsevier is the publisher!  There was noise about Elsevier cracking down on published papers in 2013.  I think SSRN has been relatively "don't ask, don't tell" on this issue.  But perhaps there will now be an effort to cleanse the repository of published papers for which the author does not hold sole copyright.  If that happens, I think you will see some norms changing in how law profs interact with SSRN.

And some real concern on Twitter:

 

 

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