This morning, I searched for an article about autism on JSTOR, the online database of academic journals. I have a child on the autistic spectrum, and I like to be aware of the latest research on the topic. I could not access any of the first 200 articles that contained the word "autism." That's because, for the most part, only individuals with a college ID card can read academic journal articles. Everyone else, including journalists, non-affiliated scholars, think tanks and curious individuals, must pay a substantial fee per article, if the articles are available at all.
I later found one article that was available for $38. I'm not sure why one twelve page article costs $38. It takes me about eight minutes to scan a twelve page article. The researcher receives no royalties. Why does it cost so much to read one article?
The answer lies in the antiquated system of academic publishing.