For some industry onlookers, the news that Elsevier acquired Mendeley in early April came as no surprise. But the initial rumors in late December/early January about the possible sale shook the foundations of the research community. And just as the buzz seemed to die down, the rumors became reality on April 8, 2013. Researchers were getting accustomed to Mendeley’s social science platform and in sharing resources and data amid a growing community of like-minded users, and then it all seemed to change overnight.
Though no official price tag was affixed to the acquisition, industry experts estimate the sale to be somewhere between $45 million and $106 million (TechCrunch quoted the figure at $69 million to $100 million), which is quite a span, considering that one industry observer pegged Mendeley’s estimated revenues at about $1.5 million to $2 million. That’s not bad for the company, which launched in beta in 2008, and has since been adopted by academic institutions in 180 countries and with an API that powers more than 300 third-party applications across all disciplines. And business was booming: In fact, Mendeley’s revenues from its individual and team premium accounts, and the Mendeley Institutional Edition (MIE), tripled over the past year, according to a post in the Mendeley Blog.
Industry Commentary and Analysis
In the wake of the news, researchers and industry analysts voice their insights about the acquisition, triggering waves of responses that ranged from positive to cautious to downright negative throughout the scientific community.
Industry analyst John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc., sees the acquisition “as a significant step toward major scientific publishers accepting the emerging primacy of collaborative publishing in scientific research.”
David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for internet and Society and co-director of the university’s Library Innovation Lab, wrote in his Joho the Blog on April 9, 2013:
I liked the Mendeley guys. Their product is terrific—read your scientific articles, annotate them, be guided by the reading behaviors of millions of other people. … Thus I was deeply disappointed by their acquisition by Elsevier. … In tweets back and forth with Mendeley’s William Gunn [twitter: mgunn], he assures us that Mendeley won’t become “evil” as long as he is there. I do not doubt Bill’s intentions. But there is no more perilous position than standing between Elsevier and profits.
Some of the outraged community tweeted at #mendelete, and plenty of others echoed negative tweets:
Uggh. Elsevier has officially bought Mendeley. Time to export data and move on. Saaaaad. I really liked Mendeley. —danah boyd @zephoria
And she also resurrected some demons from Elsevier’s past:
Mendeley cannot fix Elsevier’s reputation. Elsevier published fake journals, backed SOPA, uses bundles to screw scholars/libraries. Too evil
—danah boyd @zephoria
Kent Anderson in his Scholarly Kitchen post of April 9, 2013, weighed in on the deal, noting that the “darling of open access (OA)” along with “some anti-Elsevier sentiments” may be seen by some people as a business deal: Elsevier acquires Mendeley, but it “may also be interpreted as the ‘Mendeley Sold Itself to Elsevier.’”
Anderson sees Mendeley’s future with Elsevier as a curious blend of possibilities: “a standalone platform, building on what people know and like” and one that may be “integrated more deeply with Elsevier’s sales and technology strategies,” perhaps for discovery in ScienceDirect or for altmetrics in Scopus.
The reality of the future of Mendeley and its foothold in the Elsevier portfolio will undoubtedly unfold in the months ahead. But for now, the view at Mendeley is different. In a tweet, William Gunn, head of academic research at Mendeley, noted:
We at Mendeley still think openness is our sine qua non. Nothing has changed here.
—William Gunn @mrgunn
The Voice of Mendeley
For Victor Henning, one of Mendeley’s founders and CEO, the Elsevier deal was something that they had been “working on for weeks.” The first news leak at the end of December 2012/early January 2013, was a concern, but it also became part of the company’s communication strategy going forward. “I don’t know how the leak got out,” he says, “But I think more importantly, the leak made us realize that we couldn’t address the concerns people had at the time."
When the official news of the acquisition rolled out last week, Mendeley and Elsevier were prepared: There was a Q&A on the Mendeley Blog, an article by Oliver Dumon, managing director of academic and government markets for Elsevier, on Elsevier Connect, Elsevier’s blog, and an official Elsevier press release. “We were able to talk about the concerns our users had and how it is all going to happen,” says Henning.
The acquisition will ideally give Mendeley some breathing room: “We will be in a position where we’ll worry less about how we’ll make money or charging for all the features we’ve been developing,” says Henning, “and we can concentrate on how to make our users’ lives easier and deliver the most value to them.” He and the Mendeley team are paying attention to what people want and what they want Mendeley to build. “In the long run, we’ll be able to work on a lot of possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t happen,” he says.
Elsevier wasn’t Mendeley’s only suitor in recent years. “There were a lot of offers along the way, quite on and off until now,” says Henning. “But we always felt we were better off arranging for additional funding through our one mission” than settle for a less-than-desired collaboration. But with Elsevier, the collaboration made sense, he says. “Elsevier was a good match of how we saw the future develop with respect to how our companies could work together,” he says.
Elsevier’s and Mendeley’s relationship gained momentum over the past few years. When Elsevier closed its 2collab social bookmarking/collaboration platform in 2011, Elsevier endorsed Mendeley as the go-to platform for researchers who wanted to further pursue their work on 2collab libraries. Elsevier was also one of the sponsors for the Science Online London Conference, co-hosted by Mendeley, Nature Publishing Group, and The British Library. And Elsevier was also the first major publisher to use Mendeley’s open API to build the Mendeley Readership App for the Scopus and ScienceDirect platforms.
Sweetening the Deal
Both Dumon and Henning pointed to the benefits that the acquisition will generate. Mendeley will continue to address user needs, build the platform, introduce new content (not just Elsevier’s), increase platform interoperability so users get access to more tools, and improve altmetrics and real-time data on articles, which they see as a plus in helping libraries monitor their collection usage.
Henning reports that researchers will start to see immediate benefits from the acquisition, which will include the following:
- The free version will be boosted from 1GB to 2GB; the Plus and MIE accounts go from 2GB to 5GB; the Pro goes from 5GB to 10GB; and Max will continue to have unlimited space.
- The free version of Mendeley will continue to be offered.
- There are no scheduled changes to premium packages or pricing.
- Users will have interoperability with Elsevier’s SciVerse, Scopus, and ScienceDirect.
- Mendeley will work with other publishers in adding new content, not just Elsevier’s.
- The collaboration model will be “more user-friendly.”
- Expect to see an iPad app that will create multicitation capabilities for mobile.
- There will also be more of a move to an open API.
- There will be more platform agility and capabilities.
- Users will be able to export Scopus and ScienceDirect into Mendeley.
When Dumon officially welcomed the Mendeley founders (Paul Föckler, Victor Henning, and Jan Reichelt) and the Mendeley staff into the academic publisher’s fold, he expressed a special commitment to “build additional bridges between the two companies.” Dumon, who is a relative newcomer to Elsevier (February 2012), says Elsevier is committed “to let Mendeley be Mendeley” and “to scale and evolve Mendeley in ways that will benefit the entire research community,” activities that will ultimately “increase both Elsevier’s and Mendeley’s engagement with researchers.”
And in terms of long-term plans for Mendeley? That remains to be seen, but according to the Q&A on the Mendeley Blog: “Mendeley will become Elsevier’s central workflow, collaboration, and networking platform, while we continue on our mission of making science more open and collaborative.”
The Impact on MIE
Jose Luis Andrade, Swets president of the Americas, heard the news at about the same time as it was leaked on TechCrunch and on the Elsevier blog on April 8. Swets inked a deal with Mendeley in 2012 to power the Mendeley Institutional Edition (MIE) to help universities analyze research activity in real time. MIE is rumored to account for about one-third of Mendeley’s revenues.
But Andrade says it will be business as usual for Swets’ MIE customers. “The contract we signed is good to 5 years, so we’re locked in for a while,” he says. “We are still the only agent that has the product [MIE],” he says. “We helped build the product, so it’s our product too, and we have a contractual commitment for at least the next 5 years.” For Andrade, it’s still too early to know what Elsevier will do, but he calls the Mendeley staff “good people who have a genuine interest in serving the researchers around the world.” He says Mendeley has succeeded in building not only a good customer base, but also the whole social research platform and a road map for the product. “With Elsevier’s money, [Mendeley] will be able to speed up the process and develop the product, which is still relatively new.”
“The foundation of [Mendeley] is so solid,” says Andrade. “They’ve built these open APIs for many applications out there that are being used. Many developers are building on top of that.” He sees Mendeley as a great addition for a company like Elsevier, especially since university publishers and commercial publishers haven’t seen much growth in recent years.
“The average growth rate is about 5% to 6%,” says Andrade. “Then, the average increase in journals is about 5% to 6% a year, so it’s been flat.” So publishers are looking for new sources of revenue, and Mendeley stepped in and changed the way we do scientific research, he says. Like Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and other publishers will have to reinvent themselves to find new sources of revenue. “The traditional model is not going to work,” he says.
Andrade cites Elsevier’s ClinicalKey as an innovative product that shows that Elsevier “knows how to build products.” Sure, Elsevier has the content, but its products really stand out, he says, pointing to SciVerse and Scopus as other examples. Elsevier grew through acquisitions, he says, and now it will grow through its portfolio of new products. “We had the first MIE in the world, which was actually in Canada, and then we added a few big universities for Mendeley,” he says. “It’s a great tool for researchers.”
One of the biggest obstacles with statistics models in a library environment is trying to measure through COUNTER, which is a very rigid model to calculate download metrics, says Andrade. Researchers can download a full-text article, but they may not actually use it. Combining other metrics with Mendeley has the potential to bring it all together, he says.
A Boost for Elsevier
John Blossom sees Mendeley as “a dominant force in social sharing and discussion of scientific research.” Its open API provides searches of scientific literature and discussions as well as the development of a widening array of applications that use this programming interface to develop apps and integrate them with existing scientific information platforms, he says. Companies such as Google recognized that the signal generated by content use was at least as valuable as the content itself, he says.
“Elsevier is acquiring not just a content sharing tool but a trove of metadata based on user’s comments, linking, and profiles that can help to form the nucleus of more valuable scientific publishing services,” says Blossom. “Even Elsevier is adopting open access publishing as a business model for many of its scientific research journals, so Mendeley opens up a framework for new revenues based on enhanced scientific research and discovery services that can help Elsevier transition to a new era of lower-cost, higher-value revenue generation.”
Henning is hanging on to the glory of the sale and the potential of scaling Mendeley to help serve researchers in a much larger community: “It will still be Mendeley, only better.”