The search for financially stable Open Access Platforms.
Social Media play a crucial role in connecting people. Those tenaciously tailored for academicians, like Academia and ResearchGate, are doing more than that. They provide a platform where researchers share their research results for free; no strings attached to it. That means they are Open Access platforms erected to challenge the status quo. They are providing an alternative route to the world of scholarly materials.
So far, platforms like Academia.edu and ResearchGate have been effective in two major fronts: research output sharing and enhancing visibility. The last one increases the chances of article citation and impacts the author’s recognition and reputation. So far researchers enjoy all these benefits for free. But this free lunch seems coming to an end.
Social media for academicians, just like other social media platforms, have been delivering great services for free. Yet these efficient and seamless services come with a substantial service delivery cost. Though Academia is a for profit organization, it does not have a viable revenue model. So far profit making, for the company, remained elusive.
Lack of revenue stream is forcing Academia.edu to consider a new model or approach. One of the options discussed is a model that requires users to subscribe to premium services. If this new model is implemented, the analytics dashboard might be a thing of the past for non-premium subscribers. Non-premium subscribers’ exclusion from accessing the analytics dashboard tilts the field in favor of those who can afford and are willing to pay. This effectively leads, many fear, to an undemocratic playground which is actually incompatible with the Open Access movement’s goals and objectives.
The Open Access movement advocates free and unrestricted access, usually through creative common attrition, to scholarly materials. Academia’s new revenue model, if implemented, will undeniably exclude some users from accessing some of the features as they exist today. For the company the new model will provide a lifeline- because Academia struggles financially.
Academia’s alleged plan to launch premium services coupled with lingering questions about how the company handles personal data (researchers’ data) have been proven, for some, to be an issue of great concern. University of Amsterdam professor Guy Geltner aired his concerns posting quite a critical article online. This triggered a heated conversation. The post, published at the end of November, stimulated a discussion among researchers that highlights the concerns some researchers have had for a long time; about Academia and similar platforms.
The Academia’s impending revenue model, dubbed as ‘pay-to-play’ by Guy Geltner, is the one stirring the most debate. Here, the concern is loss of privilege to the analytics dashboard which displays statistical data; perhaps the most widely used Academia feature. Implementing premium service, critics including Mr. Geltner strongly believe, steers Academia away from fundamental Open Access principles. He further argued that Academia’s move would hurt efforts to move towards a fully Open Access world. The professor, besides strongly criticizing the measure, decided to quit Academia.edu.
There is also unease about Academia’s perceived lack of transparency. Researchers appear to understand little of how and for what purpose Academia uses their personal data. Academia perhaps uses mined data – although never explicitly acknowledged – for marketing and revenue generation purposes.
Costs and benefits
The concern brought by Guy Geltner to researchers’ attention is not shared across the board. Some researchers, despite acknowledging Academia’s shortcomings, are happy with the status quo. They argue that Academia’s service dwarfs the privacy and exclusion concerns some researchers raised.
The very existence of Open Access platforms is threatened time and again by financial constraints. Many of them struggle to generate sustainable revenue, nothing unique to Academia, to secure seamless services. Challenges like this, however tough they are, should not put Open Access ultimate goals – free access to content and services – in jeopardy. Hopefully other platforms and repositories soon find cures for these scientific sharing problems. With its ‘connect science and society’ motto, United Academics is one of those organizations.