Elsevier: A Fresh Approach to Work for Hire

December 8, 2013

I do work for hire. The idea, as I implement it, requires someone to pay me; for example, a publisher like Galatea, IDC, or Pandia Press. I then submit written information for that money. The publisher can do with the information whatever the purchaser wants. Some publishers have spotty records of payment, but after working for “real” journalism and publishing outfits for years, slow pay or in some cases no pay is more common than I thought. I like to reflect on my naive understanding of the information business in 1954 when I wrote for money “Burger Boat Drive In” for the St Louis Post Dispatch. Think of it: That time span covers 60 years.

I read “Academia.edu Slammed with Takedown Notices from Journal Publisher Elsevier.” I found the write up amusing. I thought that “real” publishers had cracked down on tricky PhDs and “experts” who posted their research on their blogs or on silly academic or public-service-type Web sites a long time ago.

I was dead wrong. It seems that Elsevier, a renowned scientific and technical publisher, was asleep at the switch. Elsevier owns part of Reed Elsevier, another top flight information outfit. If anyone could locate duplicate content, it would be the experts at Elsevier. After all, at their fingertips were duplicate busting online search tools like LexisNexis text mining and search systems. A mouse click away is Google’s outstanding search system. For the more sophisticated investigator, Elsevier can use tools from Dassault or Yandex to locate improper use of content Elsevier owns.

A happy quack to Wikipedia at http://bit.ly/1d3pH7l

The write up tells me:

“In the past, Elsevier has sent out one or two DMCAs a week,” Price [Academia.edu’s top dog] wrote. “Then, a few weeks ago, Elsevier started sending Academia.edu DMCA take-down notices in batches of a thousand for papers that academics had uploaded to the site. This is what has caused the recent outcry in the blogosphere and Twitter.”

So what’s the big deal?

The article tries to answer my question:

Still, Elsevier’s ramping up of take-down requests is reminiscent of the shake-up happening as a result of the rise of massively open online courses, which have enabled millions to learn at a high level — for free. It could be that the basic premise of Academia.edu will throw things off kilter for publishers and cause them to react. And it even has a bit of the flavor of Aaron Swartz’s efforts to liberate academic papers from the premium site JSTOR.

I am not sure but I don’t think Mr. Swartz weathered the “free content” storm particularly well.

I am confused about one thing, however.

Some academic publishers—quite possibly the towering Elsevier—charge researchers to publish articles written by experts and published by Elsevier. I could be wrong, but is it possible that since the authors who pay Elsevier are purchasing what amounts to a public relations or content marketing service? If this notion is correct, then the authors are just like the clients who pay me to write something for them.

My view of work for hire is obviously predicated on my early experience with the St Louis Post Dispatch. Why would an author who pays for publicity lose the right to reuse, recycle, rework, reinvent, and republish that work?

As Google’s gravitational pull exerts itself, content marketing is the new black. Therefore, experts who pay to get an upscale outfit to publish their content seems to be quite similar to the search engine optimization experts who charge to crank out information on behalf of their clients.

Consider enterprise search engine vendors. These outfits have been recycling the very words of Fulcrum, Verity, and other lost-in-time vendors. Who owns the explanations of natural language processing or knowledge management. Numerous consulting firms, in their effort to make payroll, recycle these concepts honed by Fulcrum in the early 1980s.

I find the entire information recycling and content marketing movements fascinating. For that reason, Elsevier is trying to sink a piton into a landslide. Will academics who pay Elsevier or who take money from Elsevier stop their work until permission from Elsevier is granted.

Not even Google in its majesty forces a content marketer to ask permission to undermine relevance with their work.

Net Net:

  1. Elsevier is taking a bold stand, and perhaps some authors will resist paying for content marketing that limits their freedom of action.
  2. Content marketing as an industry may try to emulate Elsevier. Why not prevent a marketer from using the same information in another brochure? If you want information about an essentially undifferentiateable search system, the vendor has to stick with the outfit that ran the story first.
  3. Individuals who think that their shallow labors yield information that might help another will have to rethink what they do with their often tedious explanations of how Chemical Compound X minimizes a trivial health problem like cholera. Suck it up, people!

I look forward to how those who want to share information about scientific, medical, and technical research work in an Elsevierian-type environment. If I were scientific or even a tiny bit logical, I would just take down my tent and go to work at Pizza Hut.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2013


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  3. Moses on December 12th, 2013 12:12 pm

    Disclaimer: I am an Elsevier employee.

    Generally, scientific publishers do not charge authors to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals, but in return ask for copyright. The overheads of reviewing, editorial & distribution are recovered by charging for access. If the articles are made available elsewhere, this removes the reason for paying for access, and hurts the publisher. Because the readers pay, it’s easy for the journals to reject articles if they consider the content to be irrelevant or of insufficient quality. This maintains high standards of science.
    Open Access journals do charge authors, and some are excellent. An example is PLOS1. However there is a temptation to accept articles, because that increases income. In may cases, quality suffers. Do read this excellent item from the In the Pipeline blog: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2013/10/04/an_open_access_trash_heap.php

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