Over the last few decades, the price of subscriptions to academic journals has risen much faster than inflation.
The market for academic journals is an oligopoly, with 5 major commercial publishers, Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis and Sage, covering more than half of the market. "Every scholarly journal is a natural mini-monopoly in the sense that no other journal publishes the same articles". (Suber, 2012). The largest commercial publishers make extremely high-profit margins.
Researchers and peer reviewers are not paid for their articles or reviews. They are paid by their universities, receive public research grants, and their universities' libraries pay high subscription prices to get access to their articles. It can be therefore assumed that research funders are paying 3 times for the same products.
Why Should Researchers, Students and Taxpayers Care?
Because the subscription costs have become so high that many libraries, even in rich countries, can no longer afford them.
There are huge inequality between researchers in their access to research. In 2008, Yale had 25% fewer subscriptions than Harvard, and India's best-funded academic library (the Indian Institute of Science) had access to only 12% of Harvard's subscriptions. (Peter Suber, Open Access, 2012, p. 30).
People outside the academia (NGO staff, professionals, journalists, the general public) have great difficulty accessing research, which is generally paid for with public funds.
This limits the visibility of research, its impact and the number of citations.
Researchers may not be able to use their own research as they wish for their scholarship due to copyright restrictions.
What is the Value Added by Publishers?
Although publishers do not pay the authors for their articles, they do provide some services that add value to the articles:
preparing the final typeset version of an article (although word processing software now allows researchers to prepare a clean copy on their own computers)
certifying the quality of an article through the journal's reputation for selectivity
improving the original manuscript through suggestions from reviewers and editors
distributing the article to those (and only those) who are allowed to read it.