Why does it cost so much to get access to research? Sometimes students are surprised to hear that researchers do not get paid for publishing research in a journal. Instead, we are paid by our universities or grants to do research or we do it on our own time (professors do not get paid in the summer unless we get a grant).
The $29 or $39 fee to look at a research article goes only to the publishers—not the authors, not the people who did the research, and not even to the peer reviewers and often not to the editors. Just the people who host the website where the article is posted. Yes, that website that makes it so you can only see the title and abstract without logging in or paying a fee. Their only contribution, as far as I can see, is providing teasers for the research, some copyediting and formatting of the article and providing a paywall so that only people who pay (or whose libraries have paid) for the article can see it, and a manuscript management system
In return for these fees, the publishers provide editors a platform to manage the peer review process. They hire copyeditors to format articles in a uniform way. And they host websites where the research can we accessed (often through a paywall or login). They also provide some funding to professional societies to help them pay for conferences.
This system benefit publishers but not science. Publishers like Elsevier, Sage and Wiley make huge profits. More than Apple. More than most industries. And they make these profits by holding back science. They do this by charging libraries and individual consumers of research unreasonable fees to get access to the research the same universities or the government funded. The result is also that people without a lot of money or without an affiliation with a rich university and out of luck—they cannot get access to research without paying for each article they need to see.
Most researchers do not like having their research behind a paywall. When researchers started complaining about paywalls, the big publishers started allowing open-access articles—but only if the researchers would pay huge fees (after having completed the research free-of-charge for the journals). These are typically costs of about $2000 to $11,000 for researchers. Most researchers do not have this kind of money, but with this system the publishers can advertise that they offer open-access without losing their high profit margins. The problem is that this system means most research is still not open to many, since many researchers cannot afford to pay for open-access.
So why do researchers keep submitting their research to the journals that put their research behind paywalls? All the value that is added by publishers is low-cost or free. There are free platforms for managing peer review already available. Web hosting could be more than paid for if the fees libraries were charged were re-routed to non-profits run by researchers. Cope-editing could be done by the researchers. We all need to make low-cost open-access journals our first choice for publishing.
It benefits science to make research available to everyone so anyone can learn more and science advances faster. It is also an equity issue. Having more people working on science is more equitable and better for science.
A free movie about the issue is here: https://paywallthemovie.com/
Information about Sci Hub is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Hub
Psychology preprints here: https://psyarxiv.com/
People who are working on this issue are here: https://improvingpsych.org/
Free or low-cost open access journals: https://www.psychopen.eu/browse-publications/