Shouldn’t knowledge be free?

I was researching the top academic journals in organizational behaviour to either buy or subscribe to them. I realized I couldn’t do either — they cost a bomb!

I couldn’t believe these universities charge so much for peer-reviewed journals! But why? I have no clue! Yes, I understand; developing a single issue of a journal calls for hundreds of person-hours. And the cost goes way up because we’re talking about tenured professors and academicians who invest their time writing and reviewing these articles.

But that doesn’t mean the journals should carry a ridiculous price tag! It’s honestly offensive to learners who would want to explore, research, and supplement their education.

How much? Exact estimates are hard to come by. Research by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) suggests that the cost of libraries’ subscriptions to journals only increased by 9 per cent between 1990 and 2013. But as Library Journal’s annual survey pointed out, there was a change in ARL’s data collection.

That estimate, Library Journal said, “flies in the face of reality.” Library Journal’s records showed that a year’s subscription to a chemistry journal in the US ran, on average, for $4,773; the cheapest subscriptions were too general science journals, which only cost $1,556 per year.

Those prices make these journals inaccessible to most people without institutional access — and they’re increasingly difficult for institutions to finance as well. “Those who [have] been involved with purchasing serials in the last 20 years know that serial prices represent the largest inflationary factor for library budgets,” the Library Journal report says.

Taken together, universities’ subscriptions to academic journals often cost $500,000 to $2 million. Even Harvard said in 2012 that it couldn’t afford journals’ rising fees, citing, in particular, two publishers that had inflated their rates by 145 per cent within six years. Germany’s University of Konstanz dropped its subscription to Elsevier’s journals in 2014, saying its prices had increased by 30 per cent in five years.

Note that most research is publicly funded. So, essentially, it’s developed from taxpayers money and academicians’ hard work. And of course, the latter would love to see more people review their work than not. But the academic publishers put all of that behind a paywall stating it takes them a lot of money — between $3,000 to $4,000 or up to $40,000 in some cases — to develop a single article!

If you’re wondering, that’s a lot of money, but it’s not a lot of money compared to the ones paid out to direct-response copywriters. But then, the revenue model is a little different as the copywriter is commissioned to write a sales page targeted at a much larger audience with deep pockets.

The audience for the academic publishers is students or academicians! They don’t have a lot of money to shell out on research papers!

While this is a much broader issue that I can’t dig into right now, the question is, why can’t universities fund this research themselves? They can afford it. And even if they can’t, there’s a high likelihood that coming up with an affordable subscription plan will be a hit among both their academicians and student base.

If this makes you curious, check out these in-depth articles on Open Access and Academic Paywalls.

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