Many times I learn or look for some information, I find scientific article on ieeexplore.ieee.org or similar, where articles are paid. Most of the articles are written by some professors of universities or students about their work.

My question is, why do they sell their results?

If I was a professor and made some work, I would like to gain some acknowledgement for it and I think there is no better way then see others work based on mine. So why not to publicly share the article for free?

I understand that private companies sell their innovations because that's the main source of their income, but people at universities are usually paid and writing articles are part of their job.

So what are the advantages of selling results instead of sharing for free (is there any other except money)?

Does selling your results have any negative influence?

PS: I may not have enough backstage knowledge about how it works on universities and I don't want to offend anybody. I also don't mean work people do in their own free time, but work they do on behalf of universities. This just slows down the development and overall research in field in my eyes.

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    To get impact and statistics, like the h-index or the JCR rankings. Sometimes (often?) the universities will even pay for publishing these results, either to journals that require some fees (specially open-access journals do) or in conferences for the travel and registration expenses. Because universities do also care about these statistics. Otherwise everybody would be happy publishing exclusively in their personal blogs, github accounts and other free (usually social) media.
    – Trylks
    Jan 16, 2014 at 12:20
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    @Trylks: Your comment seems to imply that authors DO, as Buksy supposes, sell their results, which is not at all the case.
    – Tara B
    Jan 16, 2014 at 12:35
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    @TaraB How does it seem to imply that? Universities pay, publishers (usually) cash (as airlines, and hotels, conference hosts...), authors get credit (the non-monetary type of credit) and they have to pay if they don't have a university or other kind of institution that does that for them (which could potentially be the case).
    – Trylks
    Jan 16, 2014 at 12:44
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    @Trylks: Because Buksy asked "What are the advantages of blah blah" (where blah blah is something that doesn't happen) and you answered listing some advantages. So without the answers here, which correct the misconception, your comment might be misleading.
    – Tara B
    Jan 16, 2014 at 17:48
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    @Trylks: I certainly agree that the authors gain something by publishing in journals, but it's clear that the question is assuming this is a direct monetary gain.
    – Tara B
    Jan 16, 2014 at 23:50

4 Answers 4


Professors who publish their research results normally do not earn money from these paid articles. It is the publishing journal who earns. There are even journals who ask the author to pay for publishing the articles.

Contact the authors of the paid article directly and ask them for the copy of the article. Be polite, explain why do you need it for. In most cases, you will get that copy for free.

Also, try put the article name and authors into Google search. Another similar article by the same authors may exist and be free to download.

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    Just to add that in copyright agreements, most academic publishers allow authors to put pre-prints (versions of the paper with all of the content but without the publisher's final typesetting/copy-editing) online. Most academics I know of avail of this option and make their papers available for free on the Web.
    – badroit
    Jan 16, 2014 at 16:43

The publication business is largely just that, a business. Publishers make money from selling their product, they need money to keep staff to provide the services as well as make a profit among other things. No journals that I am aware of, or at least have been in contact with, salary authors for what they write. I am sure there may be the odd exception but in general, research articles render no income to the author. Books may be a different story of course.

In the last decades or so Open Access publishing has become more common and some research funding agencies demand results are published in such journals. Check, for example, the Open Access for an introduction to Open Access or the Open Access Net site for additional information. Open Access does not mean everything is free but it moves the charges from the reader to the author so that authors pay to have their papers published. There are free services for publishing. As with everything else, some less scrupulous business models have sprung out of the Open Access idea such as so-called predatory journalsUnfortunately. So awareness is necessary.


As others pointed out, publishing has its costs (editing, maintaining website, creating and distributing print versions etc.) and that has to be paid for. Either by the readers, or by the authors. Each has its pros and cons and it depends on many things, which of the approaches the author takes (funding agency might require the article to be made freely accessible, the author may not have the resources to pay the publishing fee himself, there can be some customs in their field that everyone follows or something else).

I would, anyway, like to point out a different issue here – the number of readers is not affected much by the article being behind a paywall or not. Scientific articles use very technical language and assume certain level of knowledge in their readers, making them less accessible (or even completely unaccessible) to general public. The only readers then come from academic environments, and universities usually pay for subscriptions to the most important journals in each field. Other researchers can thus read scientific papers without any (visible) costs on their side. As long as there are universities willing to pay subscription fees, there will be journals where readers have to pay for articles.

  • I think papers (at least in some fields) lose a significant amount of readers outside of universities. But the authors might not care much about that, since those readers won't provide citations. Personally I've read far more papers about my hobby than about things I actually studied at university, so I'm very happy about open access. Jan 17, 2014 at 15:02
  • @CodesInChaos Perhaps I should have added that my experience comes from theoretical physics which is rather difficult to follow for non-experts. Anyway, the main point – that the paper will reach most of its addressees even behind a paywall – stays unchanged. Jan 17, 2014 at 15:17

I have had two papers published with IEEE when I was an undergrad. There is no provision for me, or any of my co-authors, to be paid by IEEE. In fact, I was required to pay steep conference registration and publication fees, and also a fee for an extra page on one of the papers, to have the papers published by IEEE. I recall that some conferences also actually require you to attend the conference in order to have the paper published, so, add mandatory hotel accommodations and an airline ticket to that as well (although I'm not complaining, since I got plenty of support from my universities, and conference trips are always a lot of fun).

The way the paper publishing world works is, after and if your work is accepted by a conference, you pay various registration fees and publication fees, transfer your copyright to the publishing house like IEEE (there are some tricks around this, like giving up the copyright instead, by placing your paper into the public domain), or, as is the case with some other publishers, give them a non-exclusive irrevocable royalty-free licence, and then they publish your work on their web-site (with a right of collecting fees from web-site users, too), as well as possibly into a printed proceedings of the conference that's given to all attendees (sometimes for an extra fee, too).

Many universities in the US, Canada, England and other contries, pay IEEE some kind of subscription fees, so, anyone on the university network is automatically given unlimited free access to all such papers that are published by IEEE. Otherwise, if you're using a home connection, or your university lacks any such agreement with IEEE, then IEEE collects individual fees for every paper directly from end users (and gives none of it to the authors of said papers).

As mentioned by other answers, many authors also place a copy of their papers on their own web-site. This is often done illegally, since they often no longer own the copyright to such papers, so, depending on the circumstances, IEEE and such can potentially resort to legal methods to enforce its copyright against the illegal copies. For practical reasons and bad-publicity considerations, this is not actively done in reality. It is also the case that after having the copyright assigned to itself, IEEE and other publishers generally give some kind of non-exclusive licence back to the authors with some limited rights on what could be done with an exact copy of the paper. IANAL, but I think the language of such licence is generally restrictive enough that you're not actually supposed to provide the very same copy of the paper elsewhere to the general public in an unrestricted access.

In contrast, these academic conferences are different to the technical conferences around open-source software. With technical conferences, there is a lot of members of the general public who want to see the presentation of the author, and such members of the public pay modest registration fees, which, when taken together, together with some contributions by big-name sponsors, are enough not only to support the web-site with free access to all the resources, and potentially a publication of the paper proceedings, but are also often sufficient enough to even cover the airfare and other travel expenses of the authors.

  • I don't know when those pages that you link at cr.yp.to were written, but in the last few years the publishers have become more attentive to copyright matters and refuse more often to make exceptions to their copyright transfer forms. You may want to take that information wit a grain of salt (as in: things may be bleaker today if you wish to publish your articles in public domain). Jan 17, 2014 at 8:11
  • @FedericoPoloni, obviously, if you don't turn in a required form, that will not satisfy them at all. However, those forms have many options, to account for works that are already in the public domain (or crown copyright), and you can always select one of such options which IEEE didn't really intend you to, or cross out stuff you don't like, and write "public domain" in place, since it's all a paper form. There is no good reason why they'd deny such forms, especially as long as you make it crystal clear on the form that there's no copyright to transfer, so, it's of no real worries to IEEE.
    – cnst
    Jan 17, 2014 at 15:59
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    For my second IEEE paper, I actually did place it into the public domain, and did alter the form to select one of those options that no copyright needs to be transferred, crossing out the explanation of when it's the case (i.e. crossing out mentions of which entity has produced it), and writing a declaration that work is hereby placed into public domain. I've never heard back from anyone, and the small "public domain" caption also appears within the paper itself just fine, too. See my old (2007) thread on mathcopyrights@crypto: article.gmane.org/gmane.science.mathematics.copyright/9
    – cnst
    Jan 17, 2014 at 16:21

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