To get a pdf copy of a paper published in Elsevier is quite difficult. You need to pay a high price. Publishers like Elsevier used to have good reasons to charge people a lot: before the invention of internet it was expensive to make those papers accessible.

However, now the cost to make those papers accessible is very low. The marginal cost of sending out a pdf copy is zero. The fixed cost of administration expense is extremely low compare to the publishers' stunningly high profit. What's worse is that the creators of those research papers do not get paid from publishers at all most of the time.

According to the most basic theory of economics, the consumer surplus is maximized if and only if the price is equal to the marginal oppotunity cost. So if we want to benifit the society as a whole, we should set the price of those pdf papers to nearly zero. So the copyright laws today actually unfairly benefit Publishers at the cost of the interest of the whole society.

So should the government force publishers of research papers to make their price more reasonable? Is there any other solution to this problem?

I am an ESL learner. please condone my error if it was a language problem. Thank you.

  • $\begingroup$ I think your title should be more similar to your actual proposal; regulating the price isn't the same as the government controlling a company. $\endgroup$
    – J.G.
    Aug 5, 2018 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah but why stop at Elsevier? Shouldn't the government pretty much nationalize everything and set prices equal to marginal costs in a planned economy? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Aug 5, 2018 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand why there are votes to close this question (at the time of writing this comment, one because it is "too broad" and one because answers will be "opinion based"). Any question about a real-world market can be considered too broad, and that it will generate "opinion based" answers. But the OP put forth a specific principle and conclusion of theoretical economics, essentially inviting answers to do the same , thus making the thread squarely on-topic. $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2018 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @denesp In most cases the government doesn't know what the marginal cost is. In the case of elsevier, the government can easily know the marginal cost. That's the reason why the government could regulate elsevier but not many other things. $\endgroup$
    – Ma Joad
    Aug 6, 2018 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AlecosPapadopoulos cc MaJoad My main problem is with the word "should". What a government should and should not do is very much opinion based. The government could regulate Elsevier and that may lead to an improvement in aggregate welfare (depending on your definition). $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Aug 6, 2018 at 11:12

1 Answer 1


According to the most basic theory of economics, the consumer surplus is maximized if and only if the price is equal to the marginal opportunity cost.

You are mixing agents in using these concepts. Consumer's surplus (or utility) is independent of the producer's marginal cost. Paraphrasing Investopedia's explanation, the consumer surplus or utility is maximized when the purchase of an additional unit equals the marginal benefit the consumer obtains from that additional unit.

Should publishers of scientific papers such as Elsevier be regulated by the government?

No. Doing so could prompt the publisher to reduce the quality of its product or --in an extreme scenario-- close operations altogether. The existence substitute publications which are available for free further weakens the need for governmental intrusion in a private entity's decision-making.


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