Fewer hurdles are more frustrating to a research student than finally finding the right abstract for an article to support their research project, only to find the publication is locked behind a paywall. This means, that unless the individual (or institution) is willing to pay the fee to subscribe to or view the publication, the information is unavailable. A subscription service for an online publication is not unusual; it’s rather common practice. Many digital magazines, journals, and newspapers derive revenue from recurrent subscriptions, and at an average cost of $1 – 2$ per week, the price for that information is affordable. However, the average price for a scientific publication can range from $2,000 to over $7,000. Per publication. Even titles in search engines such as EBSCO are expected to hit a 6.1% increase in 2024, bringing the average cost per title to just over $380 apiece. Nothing runs online for free; publishers need to pay for everything from the domain to host the website to the content creators themselves. It’s even more daunting of a financial task to academic publishers because their target audience is niche, and they’re not generating traffic to millions of users through major search engine hits. However, in the case of federally funded research, those publications are creating their work via the taxpayer and then charging an exorbitant fee (to the same taxpayer) for the published findings.
In August 2022, the Biden administration announced that federal agencies must make papers that describe taxpayer-funded work freely available to the public as soon as the final peer-reviewed manuscript is published. This policy created by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will go into effect by 2026. President Biden stated in a conference for the American Association for Cancer Research, “For anyone to get access to that publication, they have to pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to subscribe to a single journal. And here’s the kicker — the journal owns the data for a year. The taxpayers fund $5 billion a year in cancer research every year, but once it’s published, nearly all of that taxpayer-funded research sits behind walls. Tell me how this is moving the [scientific] process along more rapidly.”
The OSTP hopes that with the removal of the paywalls, access to information will be more readily available and the free flowing of data will help foster a more nurturing and diplomatic environment for scientific growth and development.