Elsevier is a massive, for-profit publisher headquartered in Amsterdam. They make a lot of money aggregating faculty work product for cheap and selling it back to universities at a huge markup. Their mission is to maximize shareholder value and profit.
Elsevier just bought SSRN, a widely used repository of social science research articles, especially preprints. A lot of smart people, including Kevin Smith on this blog, have weighed in on this development. SSRN users aware of Elsevier’s profits-first practices are nervous. The excellent Authors Alliance has put together a list of principles they believe SSRN must adhere to in order to maintain the trust of the authors who post work there. One of our favorite takes, Christopher Kelty’s blog post here, explains why Elsevier probably bought SSRN, and why we should be nervous. The acquisition is probably not so much about the individual papers as it is about possession of a trove of research for data mining about scholarship. Possession may be 9/10ths of the law, but it’s 10/10ths of data mining. If you don’t have the data, you can’t do the mining. Now Elsevier’s got the data, and the academy will get to use it only on Elsevier’s terms.