The giants of the scientific publishing industry have made huge profits for decades. Now they are under threat

Scientific publishing has long been a licence to print money. Scientists need journals in which to publish their research, so they will supply the articles without monetary reward. Other scientists perform the skilled and specialised work of peer review also for free, because it is a central element in the acquisition of status and the production of scientific knowledge.

With the content of papers secured for free, the publisher needs only find a market for its journal. Until this century, university libraries were not very price sensitive. Since academic careers depend on publication, the demand for scientific publications is unbounded except by the price that scholarly libraries can be forced to pay. Scientific publishers routinely report profit margins approaching 40% on their operations, at a time when the rest of the publishing industry is in an existential crisis.

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