Elsevier Acquires bepress, Open-Access Repository of Law Reviews, Other Scholarly Articles

Just two days ago, I wrote here about the launch of LawArXiv, a website devoted to preserving open access to legal scholarship. The launch was prompted by concern among academics and librarians over the acquisition last year by academic journal publisher Elsevier, a sibling company of LexisNexis, of the Social Science Research Network, or SSRN, the leading U.S. repository for scholarly research papers across a range of disciplines, including law.

Now Elsevier has scooped up another open-access repository of law reviews and other scholarly materials, bepress, which publishes law reviews from a number law schools including Yale, Georgetown, Duke, Pennsylvania, and Boston College. (According to a survey last year, 59 of the 80 law libraries that have a digital repository use bepress. I saw only 34 law schools listed on the bepress site.)

“Academic institutions want to help researchers share their work, showcase their capabilities and measure how well they’re performing,” said Jean-Gabriel Bankier, bepress CEO, in a press release announcing the acquisition. “Now with Elsevier we’ll be stronger and better by applying more technologies and data and analytics capabilities to help more institutions achieve their research goals.”

bepress, originally called the Berkeley Electronic Press, was founded in 1999 by three professors at the University of California, Berkeley. Its platform is used by educational institutions to collect, organize, preserve and disseminate their intellectual output, including preprints, working papers, journals and other papers.

Law review articles published through bepress are available for free to the public through the bepress Law Commons, part of a broader Digital Commons Network that encompasses many academic fields. Law-related articles make up the largest share of bepress publishing, with a collection that currently numbers nearly 352,000 articles by 143,867 authors.

Overall, bepress has more than 500 academic institutions as customers and annual revenues estimated to be $20 million.

So what does this mean for open access? In an analysis by Roger C. Schonfeld at The Scholarly Kitchen, he wrote:

If successful, and there are some risks, this acquisition will position Elsevier as an increasingly dominant player in preprints, continuing its march to adopt and coopt open access.

With regard to the legal sector, in particular, he noted:

Interestingly, Elsevier’s peer organization within RELX, Lexis-Nexis, is first of all a major legal information service. Its flagship products aggregate legal codes, case law, and legal scholarship, among other legal sources, alongside extensive indexing. It is not, however, a major primary publisher of legal scholarship.

It is notable, then, that Elsevier is bulking up on assets that are strong in legal scholarship. Whether this makes any meaningful impact for competitor services like Westlaw and especially for Heinonline as a smaller independent operation will be interesting to follow.

The announcement of the acquisition said nothing about the future of the Digital Commons. For now, we’ll have to wait and see what impact this has on scholarly publishing in law.