The promise of portable peer review took a fatal blow earlier this year as Rubriq, the company that began a radical experiment to disrupt the peer review process, quietly closed its service after years of unremarkable uptake.
When I last reported on Rubriq earlier this year, just 30 manuscripts were reviewed over the prior three months. According to Damian Pattinson, VP of Publishing Innovation at Research Square — the owners of Rubriq, the service has not gone away, just focused entirely on providing peer review and other editorial services to publishers.
On March 1st, Axios Review, a Vancouver-based company decided to close after lackluster uptake. Tim Vines, its founder and chief operating officer, cited several reasons for the lack Axios’s success: price sensitivity, entrenched workflows, and the culture of conducting in-house peer review.
The last surviving portable peer review service in this market is Peerage of Science, based in Finland. Unlike Axios’ business model, Peerage is free for authors but charges publishers when a reviewed manuscript is transferred to a journal.
According to Janne Seppänen, Co-Founder, and Managing Director of Peerage, submission rates are low but continue to grow. In the past 12 months, Peerage processed 102 manuscripts. Seppänen, who now works full-time at the University of Jyväskylä’s Open Science Center and, like his other co-founders, derives no salary from Peerage, offers insight on how the company remains viable:
Financially, Peerage is sustainable, but only because the costs are so low. We want to hire a team and start doing the things I know will quickly accelerate the submission rate, but we need serious money to do that. Finding investors who offer terms I can live with has not happened so far. But the effort to get there continues.
Peerage will soon begin to offer customized submission and peer review solutions for conferences, according to Seppänen, working with Jyväskylä’s Open Science Center and his university’s open access repository.
A commercial future of portable peer review looks less likely today than it did in 2012 when Rubriq announced its new venture. In spite of the rapid growth of the open access Article Processing Charge (APC) model, which shifted fees from the consumer to the producer, there is still little interest in shifting the financial costs of peer review to the author, even if the publisher promises a fast-track to publication.
Nevertheless, the versions of portable peer review that persist are not truly portable. With its last pivot, Rubriq has become a service for publishers who wish to outsource some of its peer review and editorial operations. And while Peerage is still standing, it operates like a marketplace within a limited community of reviewers and participating journals.
It may be time to bury the promise of portable peer review.