Tearing down the academic research paywall could come with a price

“Right now, the majority of published scientific findings — and the vast majority of prestigious new research — is hidden behind paywalls. Most of the top scientific publications charge readers high fees for access, with prices that are rising faster than inflation. An annual membership with Nature costs $199, Science starts at $79 per year, and The Lancet charges $227. And these are only a few of the hundreds of journals where new research appears.

This money goes to publishers, not to the academics who actually write scientific papers.”

“in a bid to tear down the paywall and make science more accessible to all, the White House last month announced new guidelines requiring that all taxpayer-funded research, including data used for a study, be made public at no cost by the end of 2025.
The Biden plan is one of the biggest wins yet for the “open science” movement. In practice, it often refers to publishing the papers that describe new scientific findings immediately and without paywalls. It can also include publicly sharing full datasets and code used for analysis.”

“Freeing research largely paid for by taxpayer money can seem like a no-brainer, but over time, the potential downsides of open science efforts like the Plan S mandate have become more apparent. While pay-to-publish but free-to-read platforms bring more research to the public, they can add barriers for researchers and worsen some existing inequalities in academia. Scientific publishing will remain a for-profit industry and a highly lucrative one for publishers. Shifting the fees onto authors doesn’t change this.

Many of the newly founded open-access journals drop the fees entirely, but even if they’re not trying to make a profit, they still need to cover their operating costs. They fall back on ad revenue, individual donations or philanthropic grants, corporate sponsorship, and even crowdfunding.

But open-access platforms often lack the prestige of well-known top journals like Nature. Scientists early in their careers — as well as those at less wealthy universities in low-income countries — often rely on precarious, short-term grant funding to carry out their research. Their career depends on putting out an impressive publication record, which is already an uphill battle.

The established journals are reluctant to commit to open access, since submission fees may deter potential researchers from sending in their work. And if journals don’t charge submission fees or reader subscriptions, they’ll have to turn to other sources of income, which may be unsustainable in the long run.”