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Connecting the Knowledge Commons — From Projects to Sustainable Infrastructure

Leslie Chan
Pierre Mounier

Vertical Integration in Academic Publishing

Implications for Knowledge Inequality

George Chen, Alejandro Posada et Leslie Chan


This paper attempts to illustrate the implications of a simultaneous redirection of the big publishers’ business strategy towards open access business models and the acquisition of scholarly infrastructure utilizing the conceptual framework of rent-seeking theory. To document such a transformation, we utilized financial databases to analyze the mergers and acquisitions of the top publicly traded academic publishers. We then performed a service analysis to situate the acquisitions of publishers within the knowledge and education life-cycles, illustrating what we term to be their vertical integration within their respective expansion target life-cycles. The vertical integration is analyzed via a rent theory framework and described to be a form of rent-seeking complementary to the redirection of business strategies to open access. Finally, the vertical integration is noted to generate exclusionary effects upon researchers/institutions in the global south.

Texte intégral


1As major commercial academic publishers’ have redirected their business strategies to open access and alternative paying structures, it could be argued that this represents a move towards more democratic access to knowledge. However, this paper problematizes this claim by documenting and examining the simultaneous redirection of multinational academic publishers’ business strategy towards the acquisition and integration of scholarly infrastructure, the tools and services that underpin the scholarly research life cycle, many of which are also geared towards data analytics for the purpose of creating new income streams. We argue that moves toward openness and increased control of scholarly infrastructure are simultaneous processes of rent-seeking which could further entrench publishers’ power and exacerbate the vulnerability of already marginalized researchers and institutions.

2This paper’s primary objective is to systematically document the economic concentration in the academic publishing industry in order to situate recent shifts towards the acquisition of scholarly infrastructures and evaluate its implications for inequality in knowledge production. We hypothesize that recent shifts have been facilitated by an already disproportionate publisher ownership of academic content (and data) and that the implications include increased dependence by individual researchers and institutions, as well as the consolidation of an already unequal scholarly communications landscape, making it harder for alternative services and products to succeed in the industry. This paper examines this claim by undertaking an empirical case study of the mergers and acquisitions of three of the five major academic publishing companies (RELX-Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons-Wiley Blackwell, Informa-Taylor Francis).

3In particular, the study focuses primarily on the case of Elsevier and Wiley as the companies present a longer history of transitioning towards infrastructure and data analytics. We recognize that the inclusion of Digital Science - Springer-Nature would be particularly timely given recent moves by the company. However, the methodology we employ requires publicly listed data which Springer-Nature does not provide as a private company. We encourage future research which employs a methodology that permits the analysis of merger and acquisitions by Springer-Nature.

Conceptual Framework

4This paper builds upon previous work which has empirically documented and questioned the oligopolistic tendencies within the academic publishing industry following the digital turn (Larivière et al.). The work of Larivière et al. demonstrates an increasingly disproportionate ownership of academic journals and papers in the natural and the social sciences by the top 5 academic publishers (Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Taylor Francis and Sage). Their findings suggest that the top five publishers accounted for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013 (Larivière et al.). We build upon their findings by documenting a simultaneous process of concentration of scholarly infrastructure within academic publishing and higher education and analyzing its contribution to the oligopolistic tendencies in the industry.

5We propose that the process of concentration of content and infrastructure by academic publishers are inherently interconnected so that they should be analyzed together when looking at consolidations of big publishers’ control and their movement towards open access. The analysis follows a political economy theoretical framework, and draws on the conceptual frameworks of rent-seeking and value grabbing in its analysis of the evolving business strategy of big academic publishers.

6These analytical tools facilitate a deeper understanding of how rent relations are asserted and maintained and their implications for inequality in scholarly communications. The relevance of rentiership theory to the political economy study of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) field has been outlined by Birch. Originally conceived as relating to the ownership of and value extraction from land (Ricardo; Marx), the analysis of rent relations has expanded to include natural resources such as oil and also patents, culture and STS (Bina; Harvey, “The Art of Rent”; Birch). Such expansions are particularly relevant to studying the information economy and the role of academic publishers within it (Schwartz).

7We focus on two particular transitions within the publishing industry to elucidate the way in which rent-seeking theory can shed light on the rationale guiding publishers behaviour as well as on the potential implications of such behaviours. The first is the transition to the digital era which completely restructured the costs of reproduction of academic content, theoretically decreasing costs and allowing for knowledge to be more accessible. We focus upon the implications of such transition to the profit structure of academic publishers and the subsequent production of the paywall which maintained publishers’ profits. The second transition is one towards the concentration of scholarly infrastructure and services which we document throughout this paper.

8Economic rent is the value which can be extracted through the ownership and control of a particular resource (Ricardo). As such, rent relations are social relations between the owners of an asset and the general population which wants access to that asset (Ball). This rent relations have led to the rise of rentier class for which property of an asset represents significant financial security with little involvement on the production of the asset (Veblen; Tawney; Keynes). As such, rent relations are social relations of value distribution that the owner of an asset enjoys as a result of the ownership of the asset rather than of its production. Value grabbing is defined as the appropriation of surplus value through rent relations (Andreucci et al.). In this respect, value grabbing is an important analytical tool through which to visualize the politics involved in the distributional relations generated by economic rent (Andreucci et al.). Rent struggles are in turn representative of struggles over the redistribution of value that has been grabbed through rent-seeking strategies (Andreucci et al.). Throughout the analysis we build upon the rent-seeking strategies through which economic rent is acquired and maintained in order to demonstrate the extent to which they align with the behaviours of big academic publishers.

9In documenting publishers rent-seeking strategies we rely upon concepts such as accumulation by dispossession, monopoly rents and club-goods (Buchanan; Schwartz; Andreucci et al.; Birch). An essential condition for the acquisition of rent over an asset is the entitlement or property title over that asset as established by regulatory and institutionalized property regimes (Birch). Accumulation by dispossession refers to the establishment of such a private property rights for assets that did not previously form part of the private - public ownership regimes (Harvey, “The “New” Imperialism”; Andreucci et al.). In this regard, establishing property titles over an asset such as knowledge requires a process of turning it into a “thing” that can be packaged, turning it into an asset that can be valued, and finally extracting value or rent over that asset (Birch).

10The consolidation of academic knowledge in the form of an academic paper which can be owned and distributed for the extraction of profits is an example of the aforementioned process. However, the extraction of profits of academic papers was complicated by the turn of the digital era which enabled a near zero marginal costs for their reproduction. In this context, the establishment of the paywall was a rent-seeking strategy geared at establishing monopoly rent in response to the threats of the digital era. The extraction of monopoly rent is the “result of a systematic shortage of supply created by the property monopoly of the supplier of a key product, which encounters no direct competition from substitution goods” (Zeller 98). The paywall generated a systematic and artificial shortage of supply of academic papers, which in many instances have no substitution, which has allowed publishers to maintain monopoly rent over academic content throughout the digital era.

11Rent-seeking theory explains why the turn of the digital era allowed the publishers to establish themselves as a rentier class that freely acquires academic papers as intellectual property assets and then captures rent through their entitlement. Club goods theory provides a framework through which to understand how knowledge in the form of academic papers in the digital era was converted into goods which are non-rival, such that the consumption of the good by one does not impede the consumption by another, yet excludable, so that one may be excluded from its consumption through artificial scarcity (Schwartz; Hartley et al.).

12Given that rent is a distributional and not a productive relationship it has the potential of draining productivity by limiting the productive potential of members who don’t have access to the assets as a result of the artificial scarcity (Harvey, The Limits to Capital; Felli; Andreucci et al.). As a result, the expansion and proliferation of rent based returns has also been associated with exacerbating inequality over the past decades (Piketty). Furthermore, Harvey argues that firms assert and maintain monopoly rents under the current globalization context through a variety of strategies including concentration, securing property rights and diversifying strategies (“The Art of Rent”).

13Our study focuses on the ways in which the documented behaviour by the large publishers studied in this paper coincided with the concentration and diversification strategy suggested for the maintenance of monopoly rent. Concentration of academic content coincided with the centralization of an asset under massive corporations. Harvey refers to the diversification strategy “as monopoly privileges from one source diminish so we witness a variety of attempts to preserve and assemble them by other means” (“The Art of Rent” 98). The paper argues that the vertical integration of academic content acts as a simultaneous process of aligning open access with the diversification strategy of big publishers. While the movement towards open access reduces the amount of rent available for capture by limiting the revenues associated with each publication, the publisher movement towards infrastructural control valorises their existing owned content, enables the accumulation of additional open data on a massive scale, and furthers the creation of new rent relations through the provision of data and analytics based on their own content and other open content, while simultaneously generating new data through algorithmic means, enabling the appropriation of additional surplus value in a form of value grabbing.

Methodologies and Materials

  • 1 Financial data services accessed through the University of Toronto. Factset and CapitaIQ are subsc (...)

14We documented the economic concentration of major academic publishers over the past 20 years until December 2017 using Factset and Capital IQ1 to extract financial data such as Merger and Acquisition (M&A) and revenues. Factset and Capital IQ were used due to the information services’ collection of historical mergers and acquisitions information in an easily extractable format. For mergers in 2018, online news articles as well as press releases were consulted. We also collected data on publishers’ current service offerings as presented on their website and on their financial reports.

15Extracted data were aggregated into tables sorted by date consisting of over 340 M&A for Elsevier, 80 for Wiley and over 240 for Informa (Taylor & Francis). Due to the involvement of the major academic publishers’ parent companies within a multitude of fields, as well as their potential simultaneous execution of a multitude of business strategies, only those purchases directly relating to higher education or academic knowledge production are included for analysis for the purposes of this article. The items included have been categorized in terms of academic content and academic services/data analytics. The analysis will look at the extent to which publishers have extended beyond the traditional roles of academic publishing into associated processes throughout the knowledge production cycle. This will include a systematic analysis of the various companies/services acquired or launched by these publishers within the academic knowledge production/higher education fields. The analysis will focus on the implications of a vertical integration of scholarly infrastructure by major publishing corporations. At this point, we have not included Springer-Nature and Sage into our analysis because they are private companies and thus data on their M&A are not disclosed on financial databases. We recommend further research on their activities, perhaps using a different methodology.

Key Findings on Merger & Acquisitions of Academic Publishers

16The figures below present our findings for the M&As of Elsevier, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis. M&A data was systematically disaggregated and coded according to categories such as content, infrastructure and services and non academic acquisitions. A predominant relationship was found between the transition from academic content towards the acquisition of scholarly infrastructure and services.

Figure 1. Elsevier Mergers and Caps Product Launches

Figure 1. Elsevier Mergers and Caps Product Launches

Figure 2. Wiley Mergers and Product Launches

Figure 2. Wiley Mergers and Product Launches

Figure 3. Taylor & Francis Mergers and Product Launches

Figure 3. Taylor & Francis Mergers and Product Launches

17The figures show that all three companies have shown a historical increase in concentration through the merger and acquisition of academic content. The findings corroborate claims of the disproportionate and continued concentration of academic content and its implications to the oligopolistic tendencies in the industry (Larivière et al.). Beyond the expected concentration of academic content, the findings also brought to light an increasing interest in the acquisition of academic services and data analytics primarily since 2007-2008 by Elsevier and Wiley. A scan of press releases over the past four years showed that Taylor and Francis could also be starting to head in a similar direction (Taylor and Francis, “Academic Digital Research Services”).

18The remainder of the paper analyzes the potential motivations and implications following the rising trend by large publishers towards the acquisition of services and data analytics as documented by our findings. The subsequent analysis focuses primarily on the experience of RELX and Wiley since their transition towards the acquisition of services is relatively well established and thus facilitates an analysis of potential implications for the entire industry as well as knowledge production at large. We will first show the extent of the transition towards the acquisition of infrastructure before discussing the economic context under which the transition is taking place and the potential motivations and implications of such a transition.

Vertical Integration of Publishers

19Our data suggest that the purchases and service launches of Elsevier primarily relate to the academic knowledge and research production process; while Wiley’s purchases and service launches primarily relate to the higher education value chain, a process related to students’ development throughout higher education.


20This section expands on the analysis of Elsevier to look into how the acquisition of academic services appears across the academic knowledge and research production life cycle. This analysis requires an understanding of the various stages involved in the knowledge production process. Figure 4 presents a simplified depiction of the various stages involved in the academic knowledge production process. We divided this into three connected sections; the research process, the publishing process, and the research evaluation process. Elsevier academic services were examined individually to see what part of the knowledge production cycle they were targeting. Figure 5 depicts the results. The findings suggest the extent of Elsevier expansion through its acquisitions of various key infrastructural components, a phenomenon that we analyze as a vertical integration of the academic production value chain.

Figure 4. The Academic Research Knowledge Production Lifecycle

Figure 4. The Academic Research Knowledge Production Lifecycle

Figure 5. Elsevier Presence Throughout the Research Lifecycle

Figure 5. Elsevier Presence Throughout the Research Lifecycle

21Elsevier has acquired and launched products that extend its influence and its ownership of the infrastructure to all stages of the academic knowledge and research production process. The various services and their integration will be analyzed in detail in the following section to demonstrate how they influence institutions and individuals’ decision making.


22Wiley’s acquisitions demonstrate a similar strategic move towards a vertical integration for the educational life cycle. To visualize Wiley’s acquisitions of and product launches within the education sector, an understanding of the higher-level education cycle is similarly needed. Figure 6 showcases a simplified depiction of the various stages involved in the university education process. Stages one through seven present a simplified version of the various traditional steps taken by students and designed by academic institutions in the process of obtaining a degree. Simultaneously, important student oriented activities such as student retention, student recruitment and course feedback are also a part of the diagram. Finally, step 8 represents the influence of post secondary education on career development. Wiley services were examined individually to see which sections of the education cycle they were targeting. Figure 7 depicts the results.

Figure 6. The Education Lifecycle

Figure 6. The Education Lifecycle

Figure 7. Wiley Presence Throughout the Lifecycle

Figure 7. Wiley Presence Throughout the Lifecycle

23As hypothesized, Wiley exhibits a similar vertical integration within the education life cycle by its acquisitions and product launches. By expanding into additional parts of the value chain such as course design, online platforms, and course testing, Wiley is attempting to attract institutions through the dynamics of convenience and financial benefits (further elaborated in the analysis section). The participation of institutions within the Wiley vertical integration similarly enhances dependency for institutions on the expanded services and products provided by Wiley. Thus, Wiley’s strategy similarly attempts to enhance its position in the education market, especially for online education.


24The vertical integration of scholarly infrastructure has often been justified under the promise that integration allows for efficiency, interoperability and a better-functioning system of services and products (Schonfeld). However, it is precisely because of the power to integrate products across the value chain that this expansion should be critically examined. While we acknowledge the many benefits of a better integration of academic services, we problematize the implications that this integration is occurring under the control of large corporations with tendencies of oligopolistic behaviors. As such, it is crucial to understand the extent to which this integration represents an increasing influence on decision making power by publishers in regards to the type of research that gets produced, the way in which it is produced, and more importantly who gets to produce it. These questions become particularly relevant given a historical record by large publishers to employ rent seeking strategies such as the construction of the paywall and aggressive concentrations of content with direct implications to access to academic content, while creating exclusions and inequality for resource constrained institutions and individuals.

25Elsevier has acquired and launched products that extend its influence and its ownership of the infrastructure to all stages of the academic knowledge production process. This raises an imminent concern of a potential conflict of interest. This is especially true when the largest supplier of academic journals is also in charge of evaluating and validating research quality and impact (e.g., Pure,2 Plum Analytics,3 Sci Val4), identifying academic experts for potential employers (e.g., Expert Lookup5), managing the research networking platforms through which to collaborate (e.g., SSRN,6 Hivebench,7 Mendeley8), managing the tools through which to find funding (e.g., Plum X,9 Mendeley,10 Sci Val11), and controlling the platforms through which to analyze and store researchers’ data (e.g., Hivebench,12 Mendeley13) (Elsevier, “All Elsevier Digital Solutions”).

26The conflict of interest arises because the influence that Elsevier has over institutional and individual decision making, based on their recommendations and metrics, can privilege their own content as well as researchers that participate within their integrated systems. As such, the conflict of interest has direct implications for the power and control that publishers have over the content and methodological approach of the research being produced. Having publishers involved as key stakeholders of research development and evaluation, as well as researchers’ career development, further raises a number of important questions in relation to the ethics and the negative potential implications of having such a concentrated and centralized force behind the production of academic knowledge.

27Specifically, we argue that the vertical integration has the potential to increase dependence by users (universities, lecturers and researchers) on big publishers such as Elsevier and Wiley, as well as transforming the institutional and individual decision-making process, ceding over increasing control to the private for-profit industry. In turn, the increased dependence by individual researchers and institutions as a result of the integration translates into an exacerbation of power and control by the big publishers. Through this logic the rebranding of Elsevier as a data analytics company is also a move towards a future of disproportionate ownership of data by the industry’s giants. A disproportionate ownership of data facilitated by a vertical integration and coupled with an existing disproportionate ownership of content can thus have dire implications for reproducing inequalities across institutions around the world.

28The following sections expand upon this arguments by looking at the

  • political economic contexts under which the integrations are taking place;
  • the dependence generated on academic institutions;
  • the dependance generated on individual researchers
  • and finally the inequality implications for Global South institutions.

Political Economic Contexts of Vertical Integration

29While the vertical integration of Elsevier’s products in the academic production cycle brings the potential for greater convenience, the products themselves build a clear dependency through its integration into the institutional workflow. Elsevier’s further move to offering metrics-based decision making, as with SciVal (Elsevier, “See what SciVal can do for you”) and Pure (Elsevier, “Features”), is simultaneously a move to gain further influence in the entirety of the knowledge production process, as well as to further monetize its disproportionate ownership of content, in addition to cementing an increasing supply of content through such dependence. Here, dependency upon Elsevier’s metrics is enhanced as Elsevier leverages the university’s desire to compete with other universities in global university rankings. Indeed bibliometric data from Scopus are heavily used by university ranking companies such as the Times Higher Education whose multiple of league tables are increasingly influential around the world.14

30For universities keen on raising or maintaining their rankings, publishing in Elsevier high impact journals may help them gain the advantage. The promotion of impact metrics and high impact journals favors established titles within the collection of journals, titles which Elsevier and the other large publishers have had the time and capacity to acquire. In fact, the promotion of publication within high impact journals further entrenches their status. This potential valorisation of existing content owned by Elsevier is complemented by the capture and creation of new data through a combination of existing data as well as data extracted through the ownership of knowledge infrastructure.

31The analytics offered by SciVal, such as the visualisation of “topic prominence,” the fields in science with “the greatest momentum,” serve as a prime example (Elsevier, “Topic Prominence in Science”). Thus, while additional value may be generated through the use of algorithms to consolidate certain data, primacy should be placed upon the ownership of data as it is the core of new value extraction. Thus vertical integration and the promotion of citation metrics and algorithmic recommendations may, in fact, constitute rent-seeking behavior designed to increase the dependency of products, further monetize content ownership, and entrench established journals within the publishers’ database.

32Finally, it is with vertical-integration and the promotion of metrics, as a quantification of reputation, that publishers are able to co-opt and monetize open access to a greater extent, with the move towards infrastructure and open access as simultaneous and complementary processes.

Dependency at the Institutional Level

33At the institutional level, the vertical integration of infrastructure generates added dependence on publishers as a result of intense inter-university competition, both at the local and at the global level. The integration of products particularly in regards to research evaluation, analysis of the availability of funding, and multiple forms of university rankings, create the condition such that universities success and reputation becomes dependant on their participation within the integrated structures offered by publishers.

34In particular, Elsevier has acquired or developed products such as Bepress (Bepress, “Features”), Pure (Elsevier, “Features”), Plum (Plum Analytics), and SciVal Funding (Elsevier, “Research Intelligence”), ostensibly to optimize the university workflow, but also to capture institutional data throughout the research life cycle. Pure embeds Elsevier within the university workflow process through its abilities to manage research at the university level, including the provision of a dashboard to facilitate decision making by university research administrators (Elsevier, “Features”). Being able to generate targeted funding recommendations using the Elsevier Fingerprint engine, an algorithmically driven product produced through publication and submission text mining (Elsevier, “Elsevier Fingerprint Engine”), Pure enables algorithmically driven flow of recommendations, and thus enhances Elsevier’s control and influence on institutions’ strategic decisions.

35In particular, Pure offers a dashboard as well as other statistics for universities to base their decision making (Elsevier, “Features”), while Plum offers an entire suite of data analytics (Plum Analytics). Bepress promotes the use of “Impact Analytics” for universities to engage in trends and tap into collaborative opportunities in addition to the use of Data Analytics as a method of showcasing the “vitalness” (quote from Bepress) of work (Bepress, “Impact and Analysis”), though vitalness is not defined by Bepress.

36Promoting the use of metrics in the decision making process under the promises of efficiency (Elsevier, “Features”), Elsevier further serves to influence university decision making by acting as the creator of source data through its algorithms. Here, in adopting Elsevier products, universities simultaneously cede a portion of their control to Elsevier.

37In this sense, SciVal further influences decision making by offering metrics that compare the performance between universities as well as recommending potential collaboration partners at the university and individual level (Elsevier, “See what SciVal Can Do”). Here, Elsevier has provided case studies, including one where an Australian university adopts SciVal to analyse trend data by discipline and conduct scenario modelling for researcher recruitment and retention, with SciVal further “raising awareness” (quote from Elsevier) of opportunities for future collaborations with other institutions (Elsevier, “Case Study”).

38The epitome of Elsevier’s attempts to influence university decision making comes through Elsevier Analytical Services, whereby Elsevier’s in-house team provides a report of the university’s performance amongst its peers (Elsevier, “Who Uses Analytical”). Specifically in the offering of “Institutional Research Performance Studies”, Elsevier provides universities the opportunity to hire them as consultants to analyze the university’s performance and makes the corresponding recommendations (Elsevier, “Who Uses Analytical”), cementing their influence in university decision making.

39With regard to Wiley, the company enhances dependency by taking advantage of the rise of online degree programs through the offering of an end-to-end online degree consulting and management system (Wiley Education Services, “Higher Education”). Beginning in the program design stage, where market-oriented strategy is offered, and culminating in education and testing on their in-house Learning Management System (Wiley Education Services, “Higher Education”), Wiley’s attempt is to enhance its control of the online education infrastructure. Here, the competitiveness of a university’s online programs are enhanced, with the expertise/infrastructure of Wiley, while dependency is raised in the use of such expertise/infrastructure. Ultimately, control is ceded in the online education process to the developers of the infrastructures and the recommendations of the experts, Wiley. As such, as institutional attempts to enhance their competitiveness, whether in research or education, institutions become ever more dependent on the infrastructure of Wiley and Elsevier.

40Wiley also attempts to influence education strategy directly with its consulting, describing their services as market demand based analysis (Wiley Education Services, “Higher Education”). Here, although Wiley may provide the existing experience in online education, the focus of market demand in program development may lead to a focus on “hot” programs, with Wiley explicitly releasing an article on the viability of online MBA programs (Wiley Education Services, “While On-Ground”). Thus Wiley’s influence extends beyond the integration and alteration of existing programs but rather attempts to encourage an explicit direction in the strategic path of the university, here in the direction of online MBAs for schools with business school programs. There is thus a clear attempt by Wiley to enhance its control over the university decision making process in education, as Elsevier has for academic knowledge production.

41With the various product offerings in the Academic Production Cycle, Elsevier entrenches dependence upon its products and enhances its influence in institutions in ways paralleled by Wiley’s activities within the Education Value Chain. Yet despite the parallels in their behavior, the strategic orientations are distinct. In fact, they also represent the need for oligopolistic structures to avoid direct competition. Even as Wiley has moved towards the acquisition of infrastructure situated within the knowledge production cycle (Atypon), their primary acquisitions remain those within the separate education space. Yet the final objective of both companies is the same, being the use of vertical-integration to extract additional value from higher education. With Elsevier in particular, said activity is a form of rent-seeking simultaneously complementing its adoption of Open Access.

Dependency at the Individual Researcher Level

42At the individual level, the “efficiency” generated through the integrated system also generates a form of network effect. As a result, researchers may perceive their success as being dependent on participation in this exclusive system. The forward and backward integration with other in-house products makes it so that collaborations, fundings, job prospects and career success are integrated within their use of the entire product suites.

43While Elsevier’s products such as Mendeley Reference Manager (Mendeley, “Get On Top”) and Hivebench lab notes (Elsevier, “Features and Benefits”) encourage the use of other integrated Elsevier products, “My Research Dashboard” showcases an individual oriented vertical integration as a free dashboard service for any author who has published in at least one Elsevier journal (Elsevier, “My Research Dashboard”). This personal dashboard “shows download activity, shares, citations, demographic data about who is reading your research, and how and where your publications are being discovered.” For researchers labouring under the “publish or perish” regime, they now have to also demonstrate their citation impact relative to other researchers. This dashboard promises such personalized metrics.

44In addition to metrics, publisher could influence individual’s decision with services that curate and promote particular research topics (SSRN), specific opportunities for collaboration (Mendeley, “Join a Community”), and the conducting (Mendeley, “Share and Discover”) and publication (Elsevier, “Find the Perfect Journal”) of their research. The influence of publishers on individual decision making is exacerbated by the aforementioned dependence and influence of services at the institutional level. The dependence to and influence of publishers over institutional strategy has the further potential to permeate into the pressures and incentive systems which are put in place to measure and reward individual success within those institutions. The previous example of an Australian university’s use of SciVal to model researcher recruitment is a case in point (Elsevier, “Case Study”).

45SciVal Funding may have great influence on researchers through its ability to recommend targeted funding opportunities as well as potential collaborators to enhance the possibility for maximum funding (Elsevier, “Research Intelligence”). Similarly, Elsevier Journal Finder (Elsevier, “Find the Perfect Journal”), using Elsevier Fingerprint Engine (Elsevier, “Elsevier Fingerprint Engine”), recommends to individual researcher the most suitable journals for research publication, journals with the greatest opportunities for success in terms of acceptance. While services may be used individually, the cross-service integration of Elsevier services encourages the collective use of services, due to additional convenience, thereby maximizing Elsevier’s influence at the individual level.

46In fact, the recent acquisition of Aries (Elsevier, “Eslevier to Acquire Aries”) by Elsevier reflects not only an expansion into the space of other publishers but also enables the further acquisition of researchers journal submission data and creates a potential conflict of interest due to the platform’s capacity to redirect failed submissions to collaborator journals (Aries Systems), especially with Elsevier now being simultaneously a publisher and the submission service host for other publishers. In influencing individual researchers in research direction and submissions, Elsevier has the potential to directly enhance the quality of its journals’ content, using data analytics and services to valorise their content while also generating new data through its ownership of the integrated infrastructure.

47Individual researchers thus face a double burden of pressures, through the network effect mentioned earlier, but also through institutional incentives, to adopt and rely upon the integrated systems of infrastructures by publishers. A relational power structure is created in which the increasing power of publishers represents a diminishing of choices by individual researchers. This is a distinct disadvantage for researchers in departments or institutions that can not afford to use the integrated system, or who choose to conduct research and collaboration outside of the system.

48In parallel, Wiley’s offering of Course Workflow services such as WileyPLUS, provides online testing and is integrated with Wiley’s textbooks through the features of online tutorials (John Wiley & Sons, “Empowering”). It reduces the need for lecturers’ development of questions. Wiley further provides features such as Custom Select (John Wiley & Sons, “Wiley Custom Select”) which simplifies the content selection process within the Wiley content ecosystem.

49In Wiley, the convenience of its integrated system may reduce the willingness of lecturers to leave, potentially leading to certain topic compromises. Additionally, individuals are influenced by institutions to alter the structure of courses in incorporate technology such as WileyPLUS due to the potential course savings, with the reduction in Teaching Assistants needed in grading or teaching. Furthermore, End-to-End online degree consulting and management services such as Wiley Education Services (acquired as Deltek) has Wiley consult at the course level (Wiley Education Services, “Higher Education”). Here, Melbourne Business School, the business school of an Australian public research university, serves as an example of the increasing influence of Wiley within the academic education process. Wiley has been hired to:

incorporate digital technology into the learning process… The transformed subjects will have a more individualized, student centric learning process to improve student learning outcomes and be more efficient for both students and faculty. (Wiley Education Services, “While On-Ground”)

50Here, control in the hands of the individual lecturer is further reduced with the top-down instituted Wiley consulting, with Wiley gaining additional influence over the learning process. Ultimately, services provided by Wiley reflect not only an additional source of income but it also has the potential to create environments favouring their other products/content, generating dependencies and potentially enabling further rent extraction.

51In both Elsevier and Wiley, institutions and individuals are encouraged to adopt the services due to inter-institution competition. In Elsevier, funding competition and the need for publication and university rankings drives their adoption, while in Wiley, cost reductions and competition between institutions for students serve as the rationale for their adoption. Yet in both cases, control is transferred to the publisher as their recommendations/consulting become increasingly “crucial” to achieving the goals of institutions/individuals’ success, whether funding/publication or enhanced enrolment in education; with the motivations of the institutions in particular tied into the global university rankings.

52At the same time the integration of services by large publishers and the resulting dependence makes it harder for alternative services to emerge or succeed, particularly since they lack the existing system of support and compatibility. In addition, alternative services have to compete with the substantial financial cross-subsidies and the disproportionate ownership of content and data that big publishers possess.

Exclusionary Implications towards Global South Journals and Researchers

53The dependence and increased reliance on publishers’ products, services and infrastructure give publishers a higher stake at influencing how institutions value and incentivize research and education, with direct implications on the direction of research investment and resource allocation. This influence is intensified by the aforementioned disproportionate ownership of data collecting infrastructure, which gives publishers the capacity to generate algorithmic recommendations through which to enhance their control and influence over the institutions.

54As publishers become key influencers in terms of how research gets produced and who gets to produce them, the implications for inequality within the university and globally can be expected to rise. Institutions that can not afford or are not interested in using the products and services offered by the publishers face a vast disadvantage with regards to their competitiveness in attracting future funding. Additionally, in their attempt to achieve success, such institutions may end up replicating and following publishers’ defined models of success. Inequality would be particularly worsened for resource constrained institutions in the Global South, as the narrow measure of success (for example publication output, citation impact, and university rankings) promoted by publishers becomes the universal yardstick for all institutions.

55The dependency on the products and services of publishers such as Elsevier as well as the promotion of citations metrics have the potential of furthering inequalities and marginalization of global south journals and researchers. This is because products such as SciVal, Mendeley, and SSRN promote collaboration with their potential paying customers, who are primarily based in well resourced institutions in the Global North. The matching features of the Elsevier Fingerprint Engine is also limited to English, further excluding non-English speaking Global South researchers from a technology that Elsevier is increasingly promoting.

56Furthermore, the funding targeting abilities and comprehensive databases within products such as SciVal Funding can possibly increase the success of Global North researchers while excluding researchers from the Global South. It is also well known that the promotion of citation metrics favours Global North journals, who have benefited from the western modality of research as well as the western norms of scholarship, to the potential exclusion of global south scholarship (Chan and Costa; Tijssen et al.; Nwagwu). For Global South scholarship to join the discourse and to participate, there exists an increasing need to adopt the western norms of scholarship, and an increasing allure for Global South journals in joining a Global North publisher and be included in the primary indexing databases such as the Web of Science and Scopus (Beigel; Ràfols et al.; Le Roux). Joining a Global North publisher, some have argued, serves as a form of academic neo-colonialism, as the Global North firm will exert direct influence upon the policies of such journals; while the adoption of western forms of scholarship merely enhances the hegemony of Global North academia (Okune et al.; Fiormonte and Priego). Both processes thus add new layers of marginality to Global South epistemologies (Nyamnjoh; Hall and Tandon). Such is only a very precursory discussion of the exclusionary implications of the increasing concentration of control of infrastructure by dominant publishers, and we continue to explore these issues with the Knowledge G.A.P. project.15


57Having documented the historical increase in concentration within the academic publishing industry through mergers and acquisitions, we further described the expansion of publishers towards associated academic services and data analytics by building end-to-end infrastructure that span the entire knowledge production life cycle. At the same time, they are embracing open access, and their clear intent is to leverage their disproportionate content/data ownership to enter into a new field of data analytics with existing competition, most notably Clarivate, who owns the Web of Science.

58We have shown the strategic intent of both RELX and Wiley in diversification. The differing primary expansion paths for the two companies may be a form of oligopolistic behavior to not only leverage their possessions but also to enhance monopoly power within each lifecycle, whether in education or knowledge production.

59Thus despite the superficial benefits of the rising uptake of certain open access practices by big publishers, it is clear that they are developing complementary methods of entrenching dependency by institutions and individual researchers. We expect the exclusionary forces generated by the increasing adoption of Elsevier products to have a direct impact on the diversity of knowledge production, with exclusion on funding, citations, norms of discourse, and research collaboration. This is a key area and a recommended direction for further research.

60Vertical integration has the further potential to exert a direct exclusionary effect on less financially well-endowed journals and institutions, primarily those in the Global South, in their attempt to emulate the western modality of knowledge production. To address global inequalities in knowledge production and scholarly representation there is a clear need for a community-driven integration of scholarly infrastructure, one that is designed to mitigate inequality, that serves the public good within the community, rather than one which only seeks to maximize profits and co-opt open access for the objective of rent-seeking.


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1 Financial data services accessed through the University of Toronto. Factset and CapitaIQ are subscription-based services providing financial statistics, subsidiary structure, and financial news reporting for public companies. The services report all mergers and acquisitions by the firms exceeding a minimum financial threshold and the database includes a brief description of each acquisition.













14 See

15 See

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Elsevier Mergers and Caps Product Launches
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Titre Figure 2. Wiley Mergers and Product Launches
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Titre Figure 3. Taylor & Francis Mergers and Product Launches
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Titre Figure 4. The Academic Research Knowledge Production Lifecycle
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Titre Figure 5. Elsevier Presence Throughout the Research Lifecycle
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Titre Figure 6. The Education Lifecycle
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Titre Figure 7. Wiley Presence Throughout the Lifecycle
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