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How Do You Compete with Sci-Hub? Focus on Researcher Needs

Marcie Granahan,
NFAIS Executive Director
According to a study currently in preprint on PeerJ, nearly two-thirds of all scientific articles—including 85 percent of subscription articles — can be accessed for free on Sci-Hub [see full article here]. Not only does Sci-Hub provide the world’s copyrighted and pay-walled academic literature for free, it offers a centralized search interface that can be accessed through a single search box [see full article here].

Today’s researchers expect to be able to read research without a hassle, to share their own research without having to ask permission, and to access research instantaneously and for free. Sci-Hub is meeting those expectations, leaving many to ponder whether Sci-Hub is so big that it will bring an end to subscription journals [see full article here].

So how do publishers and content aggregators compete with the likes of Sci-Hub, which becomes increasingly more visible and popular with each mounting lawsuit? The solution may lie in open access. Many researchers believe the tide has already turned, and it’s not a matter of if subscription publishing will end, but when. Sci-Hub’s primary weakness is that libraries must subscribe to subscription journals for them to end up on Sci-Hub in the first place; kill the host, and Sci-Hub dies.

From a user perspective, it’s all about discoverability and workflow. With funders such as Wellcome Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the European Commission now offering open publishing platforms with substantially lower article processing charges (APCs) than commercial and scholarly publishers [see full article here], quality and the ability to provide a suite of services—including seamless search, access and usability—will become paramount in meeting researcher needs.

Elsevier has made deliberate moves to shift the company from journal publishing to research and technology data management with the recent acquisition of Bepress [see full article here]. The move into institutional repositories means that Elsevier now offers services in almost every stage of the scholarly workflow – from initial research to citation management, to publication and deposit into a repository.

Whatever the future holds, it’s clear that scholarly communication is not immune from radical transformation spurred by the Internet. As witnessed in the music industry, there is no doubt big changes are on the horizon for the information services community. more

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