I'm a software engineer, but I used to have to read a lot of papers about neurology. I am slightly disappointed by the high price for access to the full text of research papers. I can understand a pharmaceutical company could pay that amount of money, but I don't think private people can afford to pay $30 for reading a paper.

Does the money from article sales go to the researchers, the journals or somewhere else?


1 Answer 1


Regardless of political considerations, the answer to your question is that publishing companies are collecting the revenue from subscriptions and individual article sales. Some publishers are commercial operations, some are non-profit (such as the American Institute of Physics).

The price you pay at this time is related only to the publishing process (organization of submission process and peer-review, typesetting, archival strategies, printing, administration, etc.) and all other aspects of a commercial company including, of course, a margin. Some people have strong opinions about what this margin should be.

The actual research is paid for by other means, including government grants, university salaries, non-profit and foundation grants, funding from commercial companies, etc. If you had to pay for the actual research behind a given paper, chances are it would cost you something closer to 30k $.

There are various other business models for publishing, some where the whole process is paid for by an institution, and is thus free for both authors and readers, some where authors have to pay to publish, etc.

There are important aspects in keeping money out of the editorial board - publisher - reviewers - authors relationship, because it reduces the risk of conflicts of interest (although author-pay open-access advocates think otherwise).

Options to obtain scientific papers without paying (yourself) include: going to the library of your local institution, checking out pre-print servers and government-sponsored repositories or ultimately, contacting the authors to obtain electronic copies. More on that subject in this useful thread.

  • I would think in the field of neurology, 30k could many times be a very low estimate. Just paying for a single research subject to study the brain on PET scans can cost 1k $ on just incentive, not including paying for equipment (or rental fees) Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 11:35
  • @user1938107 suppose 50 people read the paper, you would get a million and a half, a good start for a research project. Anyway this was just a way to illustrate my point.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 11:52
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    ah now I see your point, I read "if you had to pay for the actual research behind a paper" to mean the actual cost of funding the research, which you dont need to because the research is paid for by grants etc. Now I see what you mean, which would probably turn research into kickstarter projects, asking people interested in the subject to pledge money until there is enough to conduct it. Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 12:00
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    Notwithstanding the above, the funding of the research may well be 30k, but the value of the output may be far less. More often than not, without connotation, research results are purely incremental, and relying on them is only wize if they have been further discussed in other articles, and/or reproduced or challenged by complementary approaches....
    – matanox
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 14:54

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