Richard Price always had an entrepreneurial bent. He started a cake business in his mum's kitchen during a summer break from his doctoral program at Oxford, eventually converting it into a sandwich-delivery service after realizing people only ate cake once a week. Then, when one of his philosophy papers took three years to get published, Price channeled his business interests into a new venture aimed at streamlining that academic process.
After finishing his DPhil (the English equivalent of a Ph.D.), Price raised venture capital in London and moved to San Francisco to start Academia.edu in 2008. On this site—which includes a social-networking function and allows users can “follow” others with similar interests—academics post drafts of papers, lecture notes, conference speeches, and published articles. With roughly 30 million registered users, 8 million uploaded papers, and 36 million unique monthly visitors, it has become the one of the most widely used websites to read academic research for free.
But lately, some have questioned whether academics should entrust their research to this for-profit website. And while there is a growing commitment to open-access research, there’s little consensus about the best way to achieve that goal. Traditionally, most of the research produced at American universities hasn’t been accessible to the general public. To read a scholarly paper on leukemia or political theory or Jane Austen, you needed a university ID card or you had to pay roughly $10 to $30, even if that paper was directly or indirectly funded with taxpayers dollars. Those paywalls essentially siloed research in the Ivory Tower.