Shaw: Should we pay for information?

The insanely high costs of Elsevier are not reasonable to ask of educational institutions and others. However, paying for access to information should be required of consumers on the internet, because it is not fair for publishers to provide that access and struggle to support their staff and publications themselves.


Photo illustration by James Year/The Daily Iowan

Nichole Shaw, Opinions Columnist

The University of California on Feb. 28 firmly decided not to renew its subscription with Elsevier — the largest scholarly publisher in the world, disseminating scientific, technical, and medical information through publicly funded research. Its reason: rapidly escalating costs of the subscription to the company.

“Make no mistake: The prices of scientific journals now are so high that not a single university in the U.S. — not the University of California, not Harvard, no institution — can afford to subscribe to them all,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, the university librarian and economics professor at UC-Berkeley said in a press release. “Publishing our scholarship behind a paywall deprives people of the access to and benefits of publicly funded research. That is terrible for society.”

Elsevier and other scholarly journals are demanding too high subscription rates from institutions such as Cal, with access to the entire Elsevier database entering the multimillion-dollar tier, according to its price list. However, its demand for monetary support brings up an interesting conversation on where to draw the line for subscription rates and paywall fees for access to information that is produced by underpaid writers, authors, scientists, and scholars alike. 

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In the Information Age of the internet, people have turned from the traditional industry of industrialization to information technology in the 21st century. Subscription models are a controversial and shifting idea that plagues publishers across the globe as they ask the crucial question: Do we make our audience pay for information?

The establishment of the internet has made the relationship between accessing information and paying professionals such as journalists, scientists, and scholars more complex. Before the 21st century, people would pay for information to be delivered to or accessed by them. However, when the internet took off in the 21st century, consumers suddenly had exceptional access to information online at the click of a fingertip — and without paying for it.

As a college student, I’m a big fan of never spending more than is absolutely necessary. Growing up in the Information Age, I was privileged to obtain pretty much unrestricted access to anything I wanted online. The introduction of newspaper paywalls in the mid-2010s was a shock to me, and I didn’t understand why I would have to pay for information and news if I never had to before.

However, as a journalist, I can also understand the need to come up with a realistic and supportive plan to cover the costs of running a website, printing and publishing stories, and paying professional staff. That’s why I pay the subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post

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As a consumer, I already pay for such streaming services as Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix to watch television shows and films, which support the costs of those media platforms to make their own original content as well as obtain and/or manage partnerships with artists, screenwriters, actors, etc. Why is paying to support platforms that give us entertainment different from paying for information? They both inform us of contemporary current issues and events and reflect or report upon a looking glass of the trends and impulses of the society around them.

The people behind the information published are professionals who deserve to be paid and have a dependable, reasonable living income.

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