“In The Studio,” Academia.edu’s Richard Price Is A Founder On A Mission

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Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is a contributor to TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

“In The Studio” continues this week by welcoming a former Oxford PhD student who, upon completing his long education, ended up in San Francisco, toyed with a few web ideas, and eventually was so inspired by an idea, based in part on his experience in a PhD program, that he found his passion and founded his first real startup.

Richard Price had an interesting path to be on this show. After launching his startup, Academia.edu, in 2008, and raising over $5 million in venture capital from savvy investors, it was Price who reached out to me to be on the show. I was very skeptical, I must admit. I didn’t understand how the site had been around for so long but I couldn’t get a feel of the activity on the site. To his credit, Price answered a long battery of emails quite nobly, and while we are all looking to use the web to test ideas far and wide, we too are enamored by growth and evidence of usage or impact, the validation that many seek. While Academia.edu certainly isn’t there yet, it’s clear from interacting with Price — and as you can see on this video — he is a founder who has identified a key problem and is obsessed with trying to solve it.

In this video, Price and I discuss the genesis of the site, what they’ve been doing to help architect their system, and the overall state of how academic papers are kept within the realm of academic journals, which he believes slows down the pace of discovery and innovation in science and technology. Additionally, while this conversation was originally taped on December 13, 2012, it is quite relevant today given the news around the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. A few days ago, I invited Price to comment on his views about Swartz’s attempt to free academic papers from JSTOR using MIT’s network. Price responded:

Aaron was totally right that there is an injustice about taxpayer-funded research being behind paywalls. There is a tragedy of the commons in science. Individual researchers hand over the copyright of their intellectual property to journals for free, in their desire to collect reputation metrics (i.e. the journal title on their resume). This dynamic enables the journal industry to acquire the intellectual property for the entire world’s scientific output for free, and charge the scientific community and the general public $8 billion a year to get access to it. To get out of this mess, we need to build new reputation metrics, ones that don’t incentivize scientists to put their work behind paywalls. Ironically scientists would vastly prefer to have their work open access. It is just that the system of reputation metrics that has emerged in science doesn’t allow them to do it. Building a new system of reputation metrics is one of the most important things that Academia.edu is doing.