Elsevier In Advanced Talks To Buy Mendeley For Around $100M To Beef Up In Social, Open Education Data

The world of ed-tech is ramping up another notch, and getting a lot more open in the process: educational publishing giant Elsevier is in advanced talks to buy Mendeley, a London/New York-based provider of a platform for academics to share research and collaborate with each other via a social network. TechCrunch understands from sources close to the companies that the deal is underway and should close this quarter, possibly by the end of February — all things being equal — and will be in the region of $100 million. The news comes at a pretty busy time for Mendeley: it has also closed a recent round of funding — value undisclosed but thought to be under $10 million — with investors including Access IndustriesPassion Capital, Tom Glocer (Ex-CEO Thomson Reuters), and UK-based Andurance Ventures.

Prior to today, the company had only publicly disclosed a raise of $2 million from Passion’s Stefan Glaenzer, Alex Zubillaga and Ambient Sound Investments.

Elsevier was contacted for comment and a spokesperson had this to say:

“Elsevier often looks at acquiring companies that could improve our customer offering and add value.  Some we end up acquiring, most we do not. In all cases, as I’m sure you understand it’s never good to address speculative questions, regardless if they’re on target or not, and we’ll take the same approach here.”

Mendeley, meanwhile, did not confirm nor deny the news: “We don’t comment on rumors,” Mendeley’s CEO and co-founder Victor Henning told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch also understands that there had been others approaching Mendeley, including Thompson Reuters and Nature Publishing, a division of Macmillan, owned by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group — “effectively, the other big players in the world that Mendeley is disrupting,” said TC’s source.

Since being founded in 2008, Mendeley has gone from strength to strength on its guiding principle of open source and free access to research data — a timely message given recent, tragic events.

Its database covers over 340 million documents, posted by more than 2.1 million members and nearly 206,000 research groups. Riding the boom in tablets, smartphones and light software in the form of apps, Mendeley has also made a move into educational apps based on that content base. As of August 2012, there were 240 research apps generating 100 million API calls per month (with a more recent reference showing 260 apps).

Mendeley was originally pitched to investors as a kind of “Last.fm for research” — an approach that would have appealed to Glaenzer, an early backer of the music service — for how it would not only serve as a database of research, but also use algorithms to search and extract data relevant for different users.

Mendeley doesn’t make money on apps built on its platform. Instead it generates revenue from its data dashboard product. In August, the company said this revenue was in the region of “tens of thousands of dollars” per month with “plenty of runway” for the next couple of years. Early customers include the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Nevada, Reno, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council Japan.

But while Mendeley has often been mentioned as the disruptor to companies like Elsevier, it’s also been a partner: in 2011, when Elsevier shuttered its 2collab collaboration platform, Mendeley was the company endorsed by Elsevier for those who wanted to transfer and continuing work on their 2collab libraries.

Indeed, Elsevier has been trying to keep up, but with an approach that has been decidedly more proprietary, and arguably less successful. Its own Scopus platform — which includes actual content — is behind a paywall and as of August, its SciVerse applications platform has generated 100 apps, less than half the number of apps as Mendeley’s. It’s a credit to Elsevier that it’s now taking a different route, one that is looking to a more open future for educational data.

Additional reporting by Mike Butcher