Academic publishing is a $25.2 billion a year industry. To put that into context, the publisher Elsevier’s journal Biomaterials costs an average of $10,702 for a yearly digital subscription. That’s a lot of money to pay for access to publicly funded research. In 1995, Forbes predicted that the internet and digital distribution of scholarly research would level the playing field on publishers and make them obsolete.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
My film dives into the need for open access to research and science, questions the rationale behind the $25.2 billion a year that flows into for-profit academic publishers, examines the 35-40% profit margin associated with the top academic publisher Elsevier and looks at how that profit margin is often greater than some of the most profitable tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Google.
I was drawn to this documentary topic when I learned that public funds that come out of tax payers’ pockets fund important scientific research that is locked behind paywalls and inaccessible to the general public. I wrote about these issues and, as I researched them, I was struck by the global energy and enthusiasm toward open access and the strong resistance to the movement by many of the world’s top publishers.  Further, I found that the funds paid to academic publishers are heavily burdening the higher education market, contributing to the rising tuition fees at all universities, the closure of many institutions and, ultimately, limiting science and progress. 

In my documentary, we take the audience on an excursion to where academic publishing began in 1665: The Royal Society of London. We illuminate how access to research is often limited for those outside prestigious academic institutions—especially within the Global South, showcase how open access models like have played a strong role in information dissemination in physics, mathematics and computer science, and try to make sense of the infamous scholarly pirate research service, Sci-Hub, which houses more than 67 million research papers for free download by interviewing its creator, Alexandra Elbakyan, who is currently in hiding.  

My crew and I traveled over 150,000 miles related to the filming and dissemination of the film. Staying true to the open access model: this film is free to stream and download and maintains the most open CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons designation to ensure anyone regardless of their social, financial or political background will have access to view this film. 

We were honored the film screened publicly at over 500 locations including CERN, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The United Nations, The British Library, and nearly every ivy league institution.

Press coverage

“Paywall: The Business of Scholarship Movie Review” in Nurse Author & Editor (2019, September)

“Unsustainable scholarship: How private companies control research in higher education” in The Daily Tarheel UNC-Chapel Hill (2019, September)

“Still causing disruption: “Paywall: The Business of Scholarship” one year later” Clarkson University press release (2019, September)

“Opening up Access to Research, A Film Review of Paywall: The Business of Scholarship,” in Endeavor review by Aileen Fyfe, University of St. Andrews, UK.  (2019, April)

“Open Access with Paywall’s Jason Schmitt” interview on Future Trends Forum with Bryan Alexander (2019, March):

“The Quest to Topple Science-Stymying Academic Paywalls” in Wired (2019, January):

“Movie Review: Paywall” in Digital Tattoo by the University of British Columbia (2019, January):

“Documentarian: Take down paywalls, open access to scholarship” in Cornell Chronicle (2018, December):

“Documentary Criticizes Closed-Access Academic Journals as Too Expensive, Restrictive” in The Cornell Daily Sun (2018, December):

“The Danger of For-Profit Science” interview on The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur (2018, November):

“It’s Time For Science to Embrace Open Access” in Research Features, Issue 130 (2018, November):

“A Pirate Bay of Knowledge?”  Team Human podcast conducted by Douglas Rushkoff (2018, October):

“From Paywall to Datawall” The Scholarly Kitchen (2018, October):

“Paywall: The Business of Scholarship Review—Analysis of a Scandal” in NewScientist (2018, October):

“Science’s Quality-Control Process Gets A Makeover” in Undark (2018, October):

“Documentary Makes Powerful Plea for Open Access Publishing” in BioEdge (2018, October):

“The Business of Academic Publishing: A Catastrophe” in The Lancet (2018, October):

“Open Access at the Movies” in Inside Higher Ed (2018, September):

“Open access — the movie” in Nature (2018, September):

“Documentary puts lens on the open-access movement upending scientific publishing” in Science (2018, September):

“Paywall the Movie—Opening Access to Global Research” in Research Features, Issue 116 (2018, September):

“Documentary “Paywall: The Business of Scholarship” Premieres in Washington, DC” in Association of Research Libraries (ARL) (2018, September):

“Fighting for open access: Why academic publishers are making a killing” in Big Think (2018, September):

“Paywall: The Business of Scholarship Documentary in English and Russian,”  Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (2018, September):

“Documentary  Paywall: The Business of Scholarship Premieres in Washington, DC” Association of Research Libraries (2018, September):

“New Film Stresses Need for Open Access Publishing” Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) (2018, September):

WUNC North Carolina Public Radio interview on the need for open access to research entitled, “Academic Knowledge for All,” (2018, March):

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