Here is quite a usual case: when you’re looking for a scientific paper or article, you can rather quickly come across its title and abstract in an academic citation index (Web of Science or PubMed, for example). However, when you open a link to get the full article, a notice informs you that you’ll have to pay a certain amount of money to get the access to it. You have just faced a paywall.
Over the years, paywall has become a controversial issue for parties that are involved in the debate on pros and cons of paywall. On the one hand, these are scientists who share their research and discoveries with the world by means of journals but have to pay to get their article published. On the other hand, there are publishing companies, who have to pay their own expenses and still get profit. In addition to that, there are universities, scientific communities, and researchers, who need the access to scientific papers but have to pay a subscription fee, which is quite high.
So, what is a paywall? It is a system of limited access to Internet content by means of a paid subscription. At the beginning of the mid-2010s, paper mass media started implementing paywalls on their websites in order to increase revenue. In academics, research papers are often subject to a paywall and are available in academic libraries.
There exist three high-level models of paywall: hard paywalls (no free content is available, the user should pay to get the access), soft paywalls (provides free abstracts or summary), metered paywalls (a certain number of free articles that are accessible to a reader over a specific period of time).
Most published scientific papers hide behind paywalls, although the publishing seems to imply sharing your research with the world. The journals that publish them charge a high fee per subscription, putting access out of reach. Subscription costs have significantly risen over the past years. In April 2012, the Harvard Library published a letter stating that their subscriptions to academic journals were “financially untenable.” Due to price increases as high as 145% over the past 6 years, the library said that it would soon have to cut down on subscriptions. Libraries point to the high cost of journal subscriptions as a problem. This issue has been highlighted already in 1998 by some financial journals. Nowadays even the world’s most successful universities cannot afford to purchase access to new scientific knowledge — even though universities are responsible for funding and performing that research. According to some critics, this dramatic increase is the result of the takeover of journals by private companies who make profit from their market share of scientific knowledge.
Elsevier is one of these companies, having such a reputation. Every year it publishes 250,000 articles in 2,000 journals. Its 2012 revenues reached $2.7 billion. Its profits of over $1 billion account for 45% of the Reed Elsevier Group — its parent company which is the 495th largest company in the world in terms of market capitalization.
Companies like Elsevier appeared in the 1960s-70s. They bought academic journals from the non-profit and academic societies, announcing that they could raise prices without losing customers. Nowadays only three publishers, Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley, make roughly 42% of all articles published plus academic publishing market for science, technology, engineering, and medical topics. University libraries constitute 80% of their customers. Since each article is published in only one journal and researchers generally want to have an access to every article in their field, libraries buy subscriptions despite the constantly increasing price. From 1984 to 2002, for example, the price of science journals increased by nearly 600%.
The most crucial issues for the scientific world like sharing datasets, collaborating with other scientists, and crowdsourcing difficult problems are all side lined, when careers are made and profits are earned by publishing in prestigious journals. Moreover, not only the financial side makes paywall a stumbling block.
Subscriptions limit access to scientific knowledge. For a scientist, the consequences of facing a paywall can be critically more serious than simply a frustrating relationship with the financial side of academic publishing. If once a scientist is unable to get the access to the full text of a particular article or paper, then he or she may find themselves lacking information that is important for making decisions about experimental design or the interpretation of study results. The supporters of the open science claim that science operates more efficiently when findings and researches can be accessed freely and immediately by scientists around the world. What is more, it allows new results to be data-mined with the help of a powerful web-crawling technology that might identify the connections between data — insights that no one would be likely to make.
Despite the negative side of the paywall, there are some reasonable ideas in its defense.
First of all, it’s the quality. Paywalls are introduced by some journals with the aim to put a value on the exclusive content they produce. Journals maintain the quality of published research and make it more understandable and convenient for readers.
What is more, journals have real costs, even though they don’t pay authors or reviewers, as they help ensure accuracy, consistency, and clarity in scientific communication. For most of the science journals, editors are paid professionals who carefully select the journal content in order to present readers important and exciting discoveries. They make sure that articles are complete and conform to standards of quality, transparency, openness, and integrity.
While the supporters and adversaries of paywall are constantly arguing about this issue, the world community creates and diffuses the solutions that help to avoid paywalls and get the access to any scientific work needed.
In increasing numbers, researchers around the world are turning to Sci-Hub, one of the famous and mostly used online repository that hosts 50 million papers. Recent investigations showed that Sci-Hub can immediately give access to more than two-thirds of all scholarly articles. As for research papers protected by a paywall, Sci-Hub makes 85% of all papers published in subscription journals accessible for free. For some major publishers, such as Elsevier, more than 97% of their catalogue of journal articles is being stored on Sci-Hub’s servers — meaning they can be accessed there for free.
From the one side, this is an excellent opportunity for the scientific world to get every paper a scientist would ever want to read, and quickly obtain requested papers.
But on the other side, these works are technically pirated and not legal.
How to find a balanced solution between high-priced subscriptions and pirate repositories with free access works?
DEIP offers the solution that may become a new step in the development of the open access science.
First of all, DEIP doesn’t charge scientists for publishing or requesting the access to any kind of scientific work. Due to a completely different economic research model, DEIP monetizes the research without the need of getting paid subscriptions. All the materials on the platform are open and free of charge. Every user of the platform can read and cite them in their research works. So the universities, libraries, and single researchers don’t have to buy a subscription to get the materials they need.
DEIP’s expert community involving the scientists from all over the world is responsible for maintaining the quality of publications on the platform. Moreover, the publications get a free peer review from the experts in various scientific knowledge areas. If a review gets a high evaluation from the expert community, the reviewer gets a reward and builds up the reputation on the platform.
Due to the blockchain technology DEIP is using, all the research works are stored on the platform. It ensures the security and copyright protection for every research published within the platform.
Scientific journals themselves can get benefit from joining the platform. They will have the opportunity to publish journals here and reach a new audience (either parallelly to their own websites or using only DEIP platform). The access to all publications at DEIP is open, so they may be used as content for journals too. Due to a greater variety of publications available the quality of journals can considerably increase, plus it will also give an opportunity to find authors and reviewers easily.
The solution proposed by DEIP can help the scientific community to share and access easily any research or publication. The universities, libraries or individual researchers won’t have to worry about the price or quality of required materials anymore.
Anastasiya Kastsiushkina, Communications, DEIP