To advance both disciplinary knowledge and their careers, faculty published their scholarship as a means of communication. Scholarly societies published scholarship in order to support their faculty.
Society publishers couldn't support all the faculty who were publishing - there were too many. Commercial publishers, recognizing the potential value in the market, emerged as a leading alternative to scholarly societies. In response, society publishers took notice and began to support their societies from the profits of publishing. In turn, the costs and numbers of journals increased.
In order to get published, authors were forced to sign away their rights to use and distribute their own works. At the same time, the scholarly value and impact of research publications were affected by cuts to library acquisitions budgets.
Increasing costs and the proliferation of new journals led many libraries to raid their monograph budgets to cover the costs of journals or to cancel journal subscriptions altogether, a period known as the "serials crisis." The rapidly increasing cost of subscription journals, which far outpaced the rate of inflation and increases to library budgets, prompted many to investigate new publication models and to call for sustainable publishing practices which would serve the needs of researchers at all levels, without sacrificing quality.
The expansion of the Internet provided an alternative means to publish and preserve content, giving rise to open access initiatives, advocacy organizations, and both disciplinary and institutional repositories.