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I would like to entertain a thought that a researcher could get paid for publishing a research article just as textbook/fiction authors do.

The readers of articles already pay large sums of money (either directly, or indirectly through institute subscriptions) to read articles. Thus it would seem that they value the information contained in these articles and are willing to pay some amount of money for it (I understand that this practice is also under question due to open access movement, but open access movement also wants publications to be free, which remains a different open debate. This question is under the premise that readers continue to pay for the publications).

The two models of research that I'm aware of are the following:

  1. Publicly funded: first receive grants, use the grant to fund research, and then as perhaps an obligation to terms of that grant make research available to the scientific community through journals for free.
  2. Commercial research labs: conduct research, gain technological advantage before competitors and capitalize on it or file patents.

In the first, those who put up funds (the government) get their return through some altruistic measures. In the second, those who put up funds (the company) get their return through using the research themselves. Neither are perfect systems (not all research may be good / profitable, not all good research may immediately do good / immediately turn a profit) but they do well enough to justify the spending.

A third (also imperfect) model which I can think of is where the funds are recovered simply due to the popularity and the price tag of the research publication. The publication goes through the regular publication process, but when someone purchases the article (or the entire journal proceedings containing the article), researchers get paid their cut (and perhaps the peer-reviewers are paid an honorarium as well). Other researchers (academic/industrial) may be inclined to pay for this because they believe it would help them toward their respective goals (and perhaps get a refund if it doesn't live up to their expectations).

As I already admitted, this model may be imperfect (bad research publication may end up turning a profit, good publications may take a decade after author's demise to start selling like hotcakes) just as the other two. And just like academic research doesn't suit all (people/projects), industrial research doesn't suit all (people/projects), this may be unsuitable for people due to lack of promise of a stable income, and for some projects because only short-sighted "best-selling" research might benefit from this model.

I also see some structural challenges in current world which may prevent it from happening (current journals might be against this due to their own profit motive, academic/industrial research already incentivizes research to be popular through honors, distinctions, and bonuses)

But is there something inherently wrong (morally, philosophically, or practically) with this idea of peer-reviewed publications opting to turn a profit just from the article's readers and benefactors while choosing not to rely on the other two models of funding, or is it only because of historical reasons (as detailed in a similar question) that this is not a viable model today?

Has this already been tried, or discussed (just as open access has been discussed as an alternative to current system)?

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    Not counting authors and reviewers, a publication in pure mathematics is probably read by a mean of less than one person. Even if that's not true, the median is almost certainly less than one. – Alexander Woo Apr 15 at 16:22
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    I don't think there is anything 'inherently wrong' with that -- it is just the economic model you suggested is not viable. Suppose you initiate such a journal. You'll have to compete with other reader-pays journals, and your prices will be higher (because your costs are higher). And researchers will know that their readership will be even smaller with such a price tag, so they'll have little incentive to submit their work to you. (Realistically speaking, they will receive very little monetary profit from your journal, so it won't be a reason enough to submit to an obscure journal). – rg_software Apr 15 at 17:00
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    @AlexanderWoo I suspect the mean is a bit higher, at least if I take the number of papers I've read divided by the number of papers I've written as an estimate. But the reason I read so many papers is the ease of accessibility. I mostly get my papers from arxiv or the author's homepage. If I have to fiddle around with a publisher's interface instead or remember the arcane invocations needed to access the university vpn, then I'll likely not bother. If you'd add to that having to fight with the financial department for reimbursement of that paper's price, this scheme would be doomed to fail. – mlk Apr 15 at 17:04
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    I also do not understand how this system would help with funding overall. Generally the only people who read research papers are other researchers. So the only thing your proposed system does is shuffling existing funding around from unknown young researchers towards old established ones, losing some of it for added overhead. – mlk Apr 15 at 17:26

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