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Paywall: The Business of Scholarship

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Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (Director: Jason Schmitt. Open Society Foundations. (2018)) advocates that scholarly research should be accessible to everyone without it being locked behind a paywall. Featuring interviews with academics, publishers, and internet pioneers, this documentary proposes that open access to research – which has often been funded by the public purse - benefits society.

The film was produced and directed by Jason Schmitt, “I was drawn to this documentary topic when I learned that public funds, which come out of taxpayers’ pockets, fund important scientific research that is locked behind paywalls and inaccessible to the general public,” explains Schmitt. As it is the scholars who create the value for the publishers, the film argues, the large academic publishers’ profits margins are not justifiable. The open access model, which can provide free global access to academic papers and data, will lead to better education and research. 

The hour-long documentary, with its many fast-cut interviews to help it keep zipping along, may sometimes veer into didacticism but it is nonetheless a stimulating overview of the current state of academic publishing and open access.

The full documentary, released under a CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons license is available to download or stream here:

(Ben, Research Support Assistant)

The Research Support team in Library Services have some favourite clips from the movie:

Karla Cosgriff paywall image

How can scholarly publishing industry profit margins be at levels as high as 35-40% - levels which are considerably higher than other corporate profit margins?  Karla Cosgriff, Director of the Free the Science Project at the Electrochemical Society reveals these eye-opening statistics and discusses how costs of scholarly publishing need not be so high. (Penny, Research Support Assistant)

John Adler paywall image

Why are publishers’ profit margins so high? John Adler explains in abject detail why this is the case and you may (not) be surprised at the answer but hearing it in such stark terms gave me a shock. (Frances, Research Data Manager)

Heath Joseph paywall image

What on earth has the Grateful Dead got to do with open access? Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC, makes an intriguing comparison. I think she makes a valid point – it should be possible to find a sustainable model for open access, but it will require a very different approach to traditional scholarly publishing. (Sally, Head of Research Support)


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