February 2019

IZA DP No. 12158: When Paywall Goes AWOL: The Demand for Open Access Education Research

forthcoming in: Educational Researcher, 2020

As universities cut library funding and forego expensive journal subscriptions, many academic organizations and researchers, including the American Educational Research Association (AERA), are moving towards open-access publications that are freely downloadable by anyone with a working internet connection. However, the impact of paywalls on the consumption of academic articles is unclear. We provide novel evidence on this question by exploiting a natural experiment in which six high-impact, usually gated AERA journals became open access for a two-month period in 2017. Using monthly download data, and an always-open access journal as a control group, we show that making journals open access increased article downloads in those journals by 60 to 80% per month. Given a per-article download price of $36, this suggests a download elasticity of about 0.3 to 0.4.