Today we follow up with Richard Price, the founder and CEO of the most popular social sharing site for the academic sector, Academia.edu. When we talked to Richard almost five years ago, the site had 1.5 million users, mostly academics sharing their own papers so that their peers had access without any paywalls. Today the site boasts over 50 million users and serves as a laboratory for the future of academic publishing.
It’s not hard to understand the site's phenomenal growth. Weathering the hit back by Elsevier and other prestige publishing houses, Academia.edu has been able to open up access to millions of scholarly papers which otherwise would not have been accessible. And the papers are not only available to academics. Anyone can get an account for free. Richard recently found a farmer from Sub-Saharan Africa downloading a paper on water conservation.
In addition, many users now choose to publish on the site rather than with an established journal. An emeritus professor at Berkeley told Richard this:
“If I publish in a journal, it takes two years to come out and seventeen people read the paper. If I upload to Academia, I get 100 views in the first week."
It's a success story in terms of uptake by the scholarly sector, but what does this success mean to Richard and the company, and to its users and the future of publishing?
So far revenue sources are limited. Experiments with a premium service have had mixed results with users pushing back and arguing that "open access to scholarship should be a human right, not a business model." How will the site, which requires huge infrastructure, sustain itself?
Richard said before that the site could speed up science. Has it?
Join us behind the scenes with the mastermind of Academia.edu.