If your article was published within the last few years, there’s a good chance it was in a journal owned by one these four companies: Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer and Taylor & Francis. In the early 1970s, they published 15% of the researched produced in the world*. Today, it’s up to 53% of the world’s research.*
Over the years, these publishing companies have merged and acquired smaller publishers, in an effort to own even more of the journal landscape. The lack of competition allows these companies the ability to charge a high price, often not allowing universities to buy journals outright, instead only letting universities rent journals through subscriptions. Universities often pay millions to rent access to research their own faculty conduct.
The biggest contender in the journal publishing market is Elsevier. With 3,000 journals and publishing nearly half a million articles per year, RELX, the parent company of Elsevier, had revenues of US $9.8 billion in 2019. Elsevier’s profits account for about 34% of RELX’s total profits.
You can read more about these oligopolies (market shared by a small number of producers or sellers) and how they are contributing to the unaffordability of journals in the Vox article The War to Free Science.