Friday, June 15, 2012

More developments in academic journals

There has been a new development in open-access academic journals (see my previous posts on this matter here, here, here, here and here). Two articles, here and here, describe PeerJ, a new approach to open-access journals. Whereas the traditional publishers charge readers for access to content, and open-access journals charge authors per-paper publication charges, PeerJ charges authors a one-off lifetime publishing fee. As long as all of the authors (or at least the first 12 authors) of a paper are subscribers, the authors can submit as many papers as they like for no further cost. The papers are peer-reviewed, and will be available for free. There are different subscriptions available, ranging from a lower-cost option that allows for a fixed number of papers per year, up to a more expensive "all you can eat" model with no restrictions.

PeerJ is starting with life sciences first: given the large number of researchers and papers coming out of the life sciences, this seems quite sensible and is more likely to give them a solid revenue stream early-on. It is interesting that they are requiring each member to review at least one paper per year, which neatly gets around the problems associated with finding enough reviewers for papers.

I suspect that the computational intelligence community does not have enough researchers to make such a model viable at the rates PeerJ are advertising. So, such a journal would probably have to charge higher subscription rates, or charge an annual or bi-annual fee.

But these are all ways for publishers to make money off of free content (submitted papers) and free labour, in the form of reviewers (who are actually paying for the privilege in the case of PeerJ). I'm not the first person to suggest this, but why not spend some of that money on reviewers? That is, when a reviewer completes an on-time review, pay them a small gratuity (like 100-200 Euros). That would motivate reviewers to do their reviews on time (if you're working for free, there is less motivation to do the work quickly). It would also be a more fair system, as those who provide the most valuable service in the publishing process would be compensated for their time and efforts. Finally, it might make it easier to find reviewers for papers: my own editorial experience has shown me how hard it can be to find reviewers for a paper. I review about a dozen papers per year, so this scheme wouldn't provide me with a living, but it would cover many of the incidental expenses that come up over the year.

Instead of a Boycott Elsevier pledge website, do we need a website where people can pledge to no longer review any papers until publishers start paying? Would anyone sign up for that?