U.S. government funded research: why does a German publisher charge $10,000 a year for access?
My wife and I read a quirky newsletter you won’t find online called the Belly of the Beast. It is the source of this startling but at the same time not surprising information:
Academic researchers publish 2-3 million papers a year, most of it funded by governments. Most of the results of the this research are published in copyright protected journals owned by private companies, especially the giant German company Elsevier, companies that together are thought to earn over $25 billion. To read the research, you need to subscribe, and some of the journals charge as much as $5,000-10,000 a year for the subscription. Individual articles may be purchased separately, but there are stiff fees for them such as $40 each. Academic libraries often use public funding to pay the subscription or article prices. There are some other peer reviewed “open access” journals, but researchers may have to pay a high fee to be put up on line by them, for example $3,000, and they are generally less “prestigious” than the print publications.
A documentary film on this subject may be found at paywallthemovie.com. The film teases that you will have to pay $39.95 to see it, but you won’t actually have to do so.
By the way, the government giving away billions for research and then allowing private publishers to skim billions from it is far from the whole story. If government funded research at a university results in a patentable invention, such as a drug, the university is granted all the rights to the patent. The university then sells or licenses the patent to a drug company. The government, having doled out so-called public funds, does not share in any of the profits.
Why is government perfectly happy with these arrangements? Because government is working hand in glove with the private interests directly profiting from the arrangements. Politicians benefit through campaign contributions, donations to their captive non-profits, and future jobs. Bureaucrats receive trips or other benefits or the prospect of future, remunerative jobs from the same private interests.