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Incentives Matter: A Proposal to Speed up Academic Publishing

Publishing in an academic journal is a long and grueling process. But much of the length of time is spent simply waiting for reviewers – who are volunteer and unpaid – to do the hard work of determining contribution and quality of the submitted manuscript.

**Edited: Thanks to @FarmerHayek and @AparnaHowlader for pointing me to Trevon Logan’s original tweet-proposal about up-or-down decisions.

Last week @TrevonDLogan proposed that editors commit to up-or-down decisions after one round of reviews. This would definitely speed up the publishing process by curtailing the time involved in multiple rounds of review.

My proposal piggyback’s this idea, but it attacks a different cause of the publication delay.

Because reviewers are unpaid, the task almost always goes to the bottom of their to-do list. I am the worst. Generally, an article review doesn’t even get on my to-do list until the editor has nudged me twice. I know, I’m a terrible person.

A Proposal

Get incentives aligned and grease the wheels with money.

  1. Charge a submission fee of $900 for each manuscript
  2. Pay three reviewers $300 each for submitting a well considered review within 14 days
    1. If the review is late, no $300
    2. Perhaps refund the $300 to the author since the premise of the submission fee is a quick review

Problem solved. Aggregate costs are zero, since everyone who submits a paper need only review three articles to make up the submission fee, which they are currently expected to do for free anyway.

I think this is enough money to get an article review onto most professor’s to-do list.

The biggest hurdle is what to do about brand new assistant professors who don’t usually have a lot of money but will have 3 papers to submit within the first year. In this case, departments have a couple of options. If the new professor has a start-up package, they could use these funds. If they don’t, the department could pay the submission fee, to be paid back by the professor after they do three reviews

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19 Comments

  1. I know some finance journals charge relatively high submission fees, $250 to $500. Reviewers paid. Does it help speed up their process? I would hope so. I think one journal shames reviewers by posting their turnaround time. That might be effective!

  2. My limited experience has been not a huge difference between economics and finance turnarounds, but that’s based only on a very limited sample.

  3. I think it would totally be appropriate to give veto power to the editor. If they think the review was not made in good faith, no payment. Perhaps with potential to appeal to the editorial board to prevent abusive or discriminatory editors.

  4. Great Idea, will the old gaurd accept it?? From my dealings with Econ profs I simply cannot see this happening… now is there a business opportunity here? Absolutely!

  5. $900 dollars is quite a lot of money for an academician from developing nation. And the institutes also don’t have alot of research funds which can be used for this purpose.

  6. Journals could publish editors’ selection of reviewers aggregated across a year. Then, obvious funneling of money to friends could be spotted. Would that be enough to preserve blind review?

  7. I hope so. Thank you for clarification. Hmm I am also thinking if journals can give some incentives to authors for acceptance of article. Then it will be a win-win situation for both authors and reviewers !

  8. Some top finance journals operate on a high submission fee/high referee payment model. JFE has a $750 submission fee and $350 + 1/3 off a future submission for an on time report, for example.

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  • Think tanks often pay $500-$1000 for timely reviews and it works.

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  • I know some finance journals charge high submission fees, $250 to $500. Does it help speed up their process?

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