The Academic Paywall

There has been a recent discussion in the media recently about the commercialisation of academic work. Typically academic papers cost around $30 each to download, most students are able to avoid this as their institutions subscribe to the large academic publishers are thus the costs are paid through their tuition. However, universities rarely subscribe to every publisher and institutions in less wealthy countries may not subscribe to any.

In response to this issue a Russian scientist - Alexandra Elbakyan - created Sci-Hub, an online repository of over 48 million academic papers available free of charge, with the slogan: To remove all barriers in the way of science.

While this is a noble effort Sci-Hub is in fact infringing copyright by providing these papers for free. But it does raise an important question about why academic articles are so expensive - around £20 for each article - the profits from which go to the publisher, not the author.

The economics of this seem rather strange. Academic authors of course want to get their articles published and read, but publishers typically charge the author around $1000 to publish and article if they want it to be free to download. So instead they choose to let it be kepy behind the $30/£21 paywall.

Mary-Ann Russon (2016) Sci-Hub: Russian neuroscientist running 'Pirate Bay for scientists' with 48 million free academic papers. International Business Times. Online. Available at: