Gavia Libraria

What was BePress?

Quite the shakeup in library scholarly-communication circles. BePress’s foolish, venal sellouts (may they choke on their doubtless-massive payouts) have sold themselves and their customers to Elsevier.

The Loon has approximately one million and one things she might say, had she time. (Do not ask about her day when the news broke, or her workload at present. The former was heartbreaking for reasons having nothing to do with scholarly communication, and the latter is staggering as well as full of her least-favorite job task.) As she watched some of the discussion on Twitter, however, she kept noticing that little of it took into account everything that BePress did.

So, in hopes of being useful (including to several potential BePress killers or pieces thereof, such as Fulcrum—beware autoplay video, the Web’s current scourge—Hyku, and the perennial OJS), the Loon will lay out as clearly as she can her understanding of what BePress was and did. Note that this understanding is somewhat spotty, as the Loon’s Boring Alter Ego rarely touched BePress and was never herself responsible for a BePress installation. Corrections and amplifications are welcome in the comments.

First, something BePress used to be but divested itself of: an open-access journal stable, sold to de Gruyter half a decade or so back. (This did not raise many hackles, as far as the Loon recalls. As mostly-toll-access corporate publishers go, de Gruyter is fairly decent.) This obviously informed the design of its frankly best-in-class journal-publishing platform.

Second, as just mentioned, a journal-publishing platform whose usability and author/editor-focused feature-set left Open Journal Systems (its chief, if not only, open-source competitor) in the dust. The Loon is harping on BePress’s unparalleled usability and feature set in this post because it is important to point out that BePress libraries were not lemmings, were not sellouts, were not ignoring open source. Even for libraries capable of running and maintaining open source (as often and rightly mentioned, hugely far from all of them!), BePress was still a smart, defensible platform choice. The innards of the behind-the-scenes journal workflow the Loon is not intimately familiar with; what she chiefly knows is that BePress attracted—even stimulated—impressive amounts of new journal development by faculty. The Loon did run OJS for a time. It simply didn’t measure up.

Third, author-brag pages (“Selected Works”). These are not exactly elaborate (see Denise Troll Covey’s here), but authors love them (likely for their just-the-facts simplicity, in fact) and neither DSpace nor EPrints has ever had them.

Fourth, an institutional-repository platform that for all its petty irritations (the Loon was always particularly irked at how BePress used to rename every single file handed it—it finally seems to have stopped this preservation-unfriendly practice, which is good) was good at attracting depositors and deposits. Conscious that its client base often lacked web-design and -development talent in-house, BePress cheerfully did the design and branding customization for them, more or less eliminating sheer ugliness as a reason for faculty to turn away. (The Loon has themed DSpace some half-dozen times. She doesn’t think she ever managed to make it pretty. She tried to theme OJS once and gave up in sheer despair. OJS is outright fugly.)

Fifth, a portal/aggregator (the DigitalCommons Network). After OAIster went down OCLC’s ravening maw and disappeared, nothing else like this existed until the advent of academia.edu and ResearchGate. In the Loon’s experience with DSpace, some faculty shied away because they didn’t like what else was in the tiny IR neighborhood but they couldn’t conceive of that neighborhood as part of anything bigger. The DigitalCommons Network, the Loon suspects, did away with that particular suspicion.

Sixth, all of this—every piece, joined together mostly seamlessly—as a service. To this day, no other such service exists. Oh, one can purchase journal-platform-as-a-service and IR-as-a-service; in latter days, brag-pages-as-a-service has also come about. But together, never mind actually integrated? No. There is nothing like BePress. Nothing whatever.

Would-be BePress killers have a significant mountain to conquer.

What now?

Well, Elsevier has any number of options here. The Loon can’t say which road they’ll take.

  • Elsevier could knock a big chunk out of US-based green open access at a stroke. How? Pricing BePress’s current client base out. The quickest, easiest, and most PR-friendly way to do this is to bundle ElseBePress with Pure, Mendeley, and so on… and as we all know, Elsevier surely does love leveraging bundling for high prices.
  • Re-enclosure. As it did with SSRN, Elsevier could do copyright sweeps. It could take down the DigitalCommons Network. It could robots.txt away search engines. It could play soft-TPM games. Petty pettifogging, but effective.
  • Embrace, extend, extinguish (and goodness, the Loon did not mean that post as prophecy no matter how much it reads as such now!), especially in combination with the bundling/pricing strategy.
  • Extending its tentacles into the non-Research-1 library/institutional market. This will only be possible as long as Elsevier can curb its normal pricing rapacity. Can it? The Loon doesn’t know.
  • Letting BePress languish undeveloped, with an eye to eventually shrugging and pulling the plug on it.

The Loon is sorrier than she can rightly express for all the libraries who trusted BePress and have been betrayed by its foolish, venal leadership. They do not have easy choices in front of them, and that is not their fault.

9 thoughts on “What was BePress?

  1. Matt Ruen

    Some other thoughts about what bepress/Digital Commons offered:

    7. Superb search engine optimization. The Digital Commons Network was _nice_, but something about the platform makes content leap high into search rankings. Relatively speaking, nobody finds content in MPOW’s repository by navigating our website or even via the DC Network–it’s google, and google scholar, all the way.

    8. (or maybe 2a, 3a, 4a) Useful, easy-to-use usage stats. Even *aesthetically appealing* usage tools, like maps showing where many downloads originated, so administrators and users can see global reach at a glance.

    9. (informing many of the others) Simplicity. In almost all respects, Digital Commons is a more limited and constrained system than DSpace, OJS, or other platforms. That’s a good thing, in many cases–less that can be broken, fewer ways to break things, simpler set-up. The journal behind-the-scenes is simple, maybe even simplistic, but that’s what makes it appealing for faculty who aren’t very interested in publishing minutiae.

    10. Exceptional customer service. Unlimited, responsive assistance from dedicated support staff, who would do most of the Complicated Tech Stuff. That let MPOW, for example, dedicate our staff to handling IR uploads ourselves, promoting and recruiting new partners, and managing existing relationships…plus an assortment of the other hats that come with ScholComm in libraries, of course.

    11. Hosting. This is huge. Getting server space was (or is) a major obstacle for many institutions, especially if IT then has to manage and fiddle with those servers. Bepress provides unlimited hosting space–no extra charge.

    12. Few or no tech skills required. You don’t need to be able to wrangle code to set up, run, or maintain a Digital Commons site. Even HTML knowledge is optional, though fairly useful at times.

    13. A community. One of the reasons last week’s news felt like a betrayal to me was that, until last week, bepress has acted like a genuine and enthusiastic partner, putting a ton of energy into developing communities of practice and professional networks of Digital Commons users. Regular community-led webinars. A shared online library of templates and workflows and other resources. Community fora and groups where everyone was in a similar context, and understood we were dealing with limited resources. We felt like partners with a shared mission, that even though bepress was a for-profit company, they seemed driven as much by library/academic values as by profit maximization (which is rare but entirely possible, especially in privately-held companies)! We were wrong, unfortunately.

    And I’ll cosign everything on your list, but especially 2, 4, and 6. 6 most of all. That’s what enabled MPOW’s scholcomm program to prove itself, to justify expansion, to become an integral part of the library and to set roots across the campus. I suspect that’s going to be the hardest part to replace, for any of us.

  2. Roger

    Something connects the “foolish, venal sellouts,” as you call them, of both bepress and SSRN. The founders of both, anyway, were faculty members. I don’t know what other ownership interests they each may have had when they were purchased. I’m not suggesting a pattern or causality, just a small observation.

    1. Library Loon Post author

      Faculty get bored with OA infrastructure projects; this has been true since arXiv. (The lack of academic-career rewards for such projects of course contributes to the problem.) Sometimes this works out all right, as with arXiv; sometimes it does not.

      Librarians’ ground is slightly higher; libraries do spin off companies—usually technology-related—but selling them to Elsevier would be outré. Unfortunately, this does not stop independent spinoff companies from being bought at one remove: see half the proprietary ILS market.

  3. Jeremy Morse

    Hi, I’m the Director of Publishing Technology of Michigan Publishing and the technical lead on Fulcrum development. Could you please let me know where you’ve encountered autoplay on our site? We are committed to accessibility and strive for WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance; all time-based media hosted on Fulcrum is delivered via Able Player, and the promo video on our homepage is not set to autoplay. If we’ve got something wrong somewhere, we want to get it right!

    1. Library Loon Post author

      It was on Fulcrum’s home page. The Loon just checked, and the video is no longer autoplaying, so thank you for disabling autoplay. The relevant text in this post will be struck out momentarily.

  4. Mike Taylor

    This is why the smart play — even if it’s painful in the short term — is to insist on open-source software. It simply can’t be taken away. When Oracle, a Big Pig in the software space, hijacked MySQL, the community simply forked the source code and switched to MariaDB. For a non-open-source project, that’s not possible.

    Open source is not just an ethical imperative: it’s a rock solid pragmatic policy.