Journals report that it is becoming harder and harder to find willing reviewers, so the idea of paying them to review is getting a new airing. The Researcher to Reader conference this year held a debate (Part 1 & Part 2 viewable online) on the motion “Resolved: Publishers Should Pay Academics for Peer Review” and both of us (Tim Vines and Alison Mudditt) were asked to speak against the motion. Since our opening and rebuttal statements were only read aloud at the debate, we present an adapted version of our case here. 

drawing of handing over a sack of money

A new peer review bureaucracy

There are so many problems it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s go with the fee itself.

Just like articles themselves, reviews vary wildly in length, quality and complexity — where would we start with assessing an appropriate fee? Our fellow debater James Heathers has started a movement calling for reviewers to be paid $450 for their reviewing efforts. Reviewers can ask for any amount they like, so why pick $450?. Some articles are so intricate that there are perhaps only a handful of experts on earth who can review them — what are their reviews worth? The going rate for expert witness testimony in a court case starts at about $300 per hour — using this rate, a 20 hour review of a long and complex article could then come in at $6000. 

It’s clear that even the apparently minor task of determining the fee is a bureaucratic quagmire that neither publishers, editors nor academia want to deal with. But there’s also the question of who pays this fee. One of the primary goals here is to penalize big publishers who make “too much” profit. Setting aside the challenges of how that’s defined and who gets to decide how much is too much, such a system would require publishers to build an entirely new infrastructure to handle hundreds of thousands of micropayments. This would be a huge burden on any publisher but especially smaller ones with tight margins — and it would act as a massive additional drag on the efficiency of the peer review system.

Skyrocketing costs

The truth is that payments to reviewers would just lead publishers to raise their prices. They’d raise prices to cover the money they’re paying reviewers. And they’d raise them again to cover the cost of making those payments. A movement focused on punishing big commercial publishers by forcing them to pay reviewers would thus lead to big publishers jacking up their prices by 20 to 30 percent. Publishers will just pass the costs along to libraries and authors, drawing additional money out of library budgets and granting agencies’ publication funds, and putting a healthy percentage into big publishers’ pockets. 

It’s also worth quantifying the additional direct costs — especially in a system that is already considered too expensive by many. In an APC world, the authors of the accepted articles cover the costs of reviewing all those other articles that get rejected. For an Open Access journal with a 25% acceptance rate and an average of 2.2 reviews per article, paying the reviewers for one article’s worth of review comes in an 2.2 * $450 = $990. The journal reviews 1/0.25 = 4 articles to find one that is publishable, and the authors of the publishable article pay the costs for reviewing the other three. So, the modest proposal of a $450 fee for each review balloons to an additional $3960 being added to the Article Processing Charge for an average journal. 

And then of course there’s the spurious argument that publishers don’t pay for peer review. In fact, they spend millions of dollars each year supporting the peer review process, taking on tasks that would require hours of effort from authors or reviewers. They pay for peer review management systems, stipends for journal editors, and internal editorial office teams. At PLOS alone, this costs about $2.4 million each year — and those are just the direct costs, without adding any management layers or necessary overhead such as office space, finance and Human Resources. If we were to implement the notional $450 dollars per review, PLOS’s costs on PLOS ONE alone in 2020 would have increased by over $30 million. Add in the other PLOS journals, and these fees would have more than doubled PLOS’s entire cost base.

Even if the fee were a mere $100 — significantly lower than others have suggested — this would wipe out the entire surplus of most society publishers. And in so doing, eliminate investment in the society’s research and researchers. 

The ethical quagmire

For those who perhaps care less about the negative impacts of paying reviewers on publishers, it’s worth thinking about the integrity of the entire peer review system.

First of all, paying reviewers creates a number of new and problematic conflicts of interest for both the reviewer and the journal editor. This is particularly the case in an APC model where reviewers must be paid even if they reject an article, but the journal earns no revenue. There is a risk that some editors will want to find reviewers who will accept the article so costs can be recouped from the APC.

The prospect of a quick buck would also tempt some reviewers to comment on articles well outside of their area, or to tell Editors what they think they want to hear so they get hired again. We’ve already seen concerns caused by similar issues, especially when linked with “fast track” peer review. And even if we only applied a peer review fee to some subset of predetermined “greedy” publishers, surely, we’d then be incentivizing reviewers to review for them rather than the “good guys”.

Next, the academic reward system already has plenty of perverse and damaging incentives: paying reviewers would add yet more. Review payments likely incentivizes quick, non-detailed reports that don’t serve the community well. It’s quite possible that we’d see the emergence of “review factories” — along the lines of paper mills — and a sharp spike in review fraud as there would now be double benefit to these activities. And just as we’re starting to see healthy and much-needed experimentation with new forms of review such as reviews of preprints, these would likely fail as many academics would be reluctant to peer review for free.

In sum, bringing money into a system built on trust and altruism will be highly corrosive: motivation will shift from professional duty to maximizing profit, and a whole new class of ethical infractions and conflicts of interest arrives. 

Deepening the divides

We’re at a moment when we are increasingly aware of the deep inequities in the global research system; paying reviewers would undermine our efforts to be more inclusive. We know that reviewers currently come mainly from the Global North (in spite of efforts to change this) and so yet again, this is where the money would flow, further disadvantaging researchers in low- and moderate-income countries. If we charge authors for that review services via APCs, it will create another problematic transfer of funds in the wrong direction. 

So what are the solutions?

Let’s move to academics themselves: do they actually *want* to be paid? Some view peer review as a service to their community — a quid pro quo of having your own work reviewed. Many reviewers also have a desire to help shape their fields and to get a sneak peek at new work before it’s published. Acting as a peer-reviewer thus has the characteristics of a community service driven partly by altruism. We want to stress that there is a lot of research showing that altruistic behavior is quickly eroded into an ugly mess by the addition of financial incentives (c.f., the overjustification effect)

We can’t end without asking the obvious question: what problem is paying reviewers actually trying to solve?  

If it’s anger at the scale of selected publishers’ profit, then there’s a far simpler solution: don’t review for or publish in their journals. The most powerful action each of us has as a consumer is where we choose to spend our time and resources: if I think that certain publishers are generating inflated profits based on my labor, I can simply choose not to give them my labor.

We suspect that what’s actually going on here is more complicated. When researchers call for payment for review, we might find that the majority are simply asking for recognition. Because we traditionally recognize work with pay, the ‘demand’ is formed as a request for payment. So, instead of getting into a mess by trying to pay them money, we must work harder on rewarding reviewers with other currencies of academia: reputation, recognition, and success. 

We acknowledge that there are indeed many underpaid and overworked people in academia, especially among early career researchers. Paying them for peer review is not going to solve that deeper set of injustices. Let’s tackle those injustices directly instead.

Tim Vines

Tim Vines

Tim Vines is the Founder and Project Lead on DataSeer, an AI-based tool that helps authors, journals and other stakeholders with sharing research data. He's also a consultant with Origin Editorial, where he advises journals and publishers on peer review. Prior to that he founded Axios Review, an independent peer review company that helped authors find journals that wanted their paper. He was the Managing Editor for the journal Molecular Ecology for eight years, where he led their adoption of data sharing and numerous other initiatives. He has also published research papers on peer review, data sharing, and reproducibility (including one that was covered by Vanity Fair). He has a PhD in evolutionary ecology from the University of Edinburgh and now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt joined PLOS as CEO in 2017, having previously served as Director of the University of California Press and Executive Vice President at SAGE Publications. Her 30 years in publishing also include leadership positions at Blackwell and Taylor & Francis. Alison also serves on the Board of Directors of SSP and the Center for Open Science.


53 Thoughts on "What’s Wrong with Paying for Peer Review?"

I think that the paid peer review movement is an expression of frustration rather than a serious proposal for reform. That being said, I think the argument here is the strongest in its discussion of bureaucracy and costs.

The argument that paying people might lead to sloppy work is particularly weak. It seems more likely that paying people would lead to effort commensurate with the pay received. A $100/review journal will get reviews done in 15 minutes or less. A $6,000/review journal will get the expert consultant eager to please their client. It also contradicts the later point that we should provide non-monetary incentives which all convert into (grant) money at the end of the day. Recognition via academic prestige points is just a more roundabout and random way of paying reviewers than a wire transfer.

I am not so sure the $6000 review will be more worthy than the $100 review. There is no evidence that high pay creates a better product. Witness the JD Powers evaluation of very expensive automobiles!

A point about context. I agree with the spirit of “anonymous” that underlying the paid peer review movement is frustration. I agree with the other comments posted against paid peer review. I put out a 31-part tweet on May 30 with my own list of 25 ways payments will corrupt peer review. It has always been difficult to find good reviewers, but I do not think the proportion of frustrated reviewers has changed over time. There have always been reviewers (and reviewers who refuse to review) frustrated by the lack of recognition for their efforts. But I believe they were and are still a minority from my experience. The difference today is the frustrated minority have a much amplified voice with the internet and social media.

Not all peer reviewers are academics. Arguably, a full-time professor derives income from a teaching position and reviews papers, or even monographs, as “part of the profession” or, as you say, “a service to the community.” Fair enough, but (not being a professor) when I review a paper for publication, I’m not compensated in any way except through contributing to the field (medieval history). That’s fine for somebody like me who reviews, at most, one or two papers per year, and derives some satisfaction from it.

Regardless of who is doing the reviewing, blind or double-blind peer review obviates any chance of overt recognition because, in theory, the reviewer remains anonymous.

Not complaining, just saying.

Publons does offer overt recognition for peer review, but the covert recognition (by editors, chief editors, and journal staff) also matters too.

There are options for recognizing reviewers in blinded peer review processes, such as the Publons method of showing the number of verified reviews that someone performed for a given journal, but not what article was reviewed.

Two other problems:
1) The largest commercial publishers will be able to invest in and build the most efficient payment mechanisms, and amortize their costs over a larger number of journals than smaller, independent or non-profit publishers. These reduced costs will, once again, unwittingly favor consolidation of the market around the largest and most profitable entities.
2) Those large and profitable publishers will be able to afford to outbid smaller, community-run journals for the best peer reviewers. Why review for a society journals for $100 when you could review for a for-profit, commercial journal for $500? Again, the unintentional consequence of what seems like a good idea is to do further harm to the smaller, independent publisher.

I consider that reviewing a scientific manuscript within his/her expertise is part of the duty an academician needs to perform owing to his/her obligation to the community and should not be a paid assignment .

It feels like you are dismissing the pay-for-review argument out of hand without acknowledging contexts where it is currently being used successfully to incentivize and speed review (economics), or in many medical journals where experimental papers are required to go through an additional round of statistical review. Journals without their own in-house statisticians often pay stats professors several hundred dollars to do this work.

I understand your piece if it is merely to dismiss an activist campaign to have all publishers pay for peer review. It clearly doesn’t acknowledge where paying for review is being used and does appear to work.

I too found it disappointing in that there was no real attempt to learn about and describe areas where paid peer-review is working just fine. Not to mention, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find academics who are willing to review articles, in my experience – whether paid or unpaid. This has gotten even more problematic due to COVID which has made everyone more harried with less time to devote to peer-review. This issue is not addressed at all.

As people arguing *against* the motion we left instances of paying reviewers working well to the other team…

It is increasingly hard to find reviewers, it’s just that paying them doesn’t seem to be a broadly applicable answer

Anyone can make pizza from flour, yeast, water and whatever you have in the fridge to put atop tomato paste, yet most of us buy pizza by the slice. Why don’t we just grab it and punch those trying to charge us for it in the nose? After all, eating is more important for survivaql than having your scribbles publsihed once approved by peer reviewers.

(Just mulling the thought aloud, kinda cynically.)

In the 1970s it was standard practice to pay referees for article peer reviews at IPC Science & Technology Press which merged with Butterworth Scientific in the 1980s c. 100 journals). Almost without exception, it was the academic editorial boards put a stop to this on grounds of academic community standards of integrity. Over my 30 years at T&F and Routledge I had many discussions about introducing paid reviews on hundreds of journals and at editor round tables. It was mainly medics and economists as board members who showed much interest in introducing appropriate payments as reviewer incentives, and they were usually outvoted by colleagues.

In at least some countries universities pay external reviewers of theses an ‘honorarium’ of around $800. Most of the arguments against paying article reviewers would seem to apply to paying thesis reviewers, yet I am not aware of the expected bad effects emerging.

This seems in line with what the authors were suggesting in the last point. That “compensation” for a review needs to be at the university level because review is an academic service to the community and field. having the payment feed into an academics overall compensation is a much less complicated solution.

Except that in my experience universities never pay their own academics to examine theses; they pay only external examiners.

This article is disappointing, for many reasons, not the least this is not a balanced review of both sides key points (I expected more/better, at least more comprehensive).

This article is nothing more than big profitable publishers trying to justify keeping the current status quo, despite the deep and valid issues with this current system (driven by massive profits in the increasingly consolidated publishers landscape) which are not discussed here.

Re payments- where is the evidence for “It’s clear that even the apparently minor task of determining the fee is a bureaucratic quagmire that neither publishers, editors nor academia want to deal with”? The current publishers had no problem setting up a massive system to solicit payments from authors (paypal anyone? what about publication vouchers which is already in use by some?).

I think its likely society journals, which are not driven by profits, would/should likely keep reviewers unpaid (in keeping with their non-profit ethos/mission; to be for scientists, by scientists). This would also likely lead to authors choosing society journals over commercial publication houses.

And why finish with a clear misdirect “Paying them for peer review is not going to solve that deeper set of injustices.”? If your argument is strong you would finish by addressing your winning point of view, not distracting about other issues.

Perhaps a re-read of the post is in order — as the introduction states, the authors were asked to speak to one side of a debate, not present a balanced view of both sides. Second, you might also want to take a look at where the authors of the piece work — neither are employed by “big profitable publishers”, unless you consider PLOS both big and driving “massive profits”. As the argument notes (and as further expanded upon in comments above), paying peer reviewers would result in more consolidation, and like many other measures, have the unintended consequence of favoring the large for-profit publishers over the smaller non-profit publishers.

Perhaps it would be of interest to the group to have a similar blog post of the argument on the other side of the debate, noting that it is the second half of this one.

Very well said David and thanks for providing the links to the original debate! The authors of this article were asked “to speak against the motion” which I think they did a good job. In a debate, they don’t need to speak up for the other side. It is up to the readers to see if their points are valid or not.

David Crotty explained why the article read as a one-sided argument. I just wanted to comment on your proposal about just keeping mostly society journals with unpaid peer review. We need to remember that many society journals are also published by big publishers—-the same publishers marked as “greedy” by some. For example, the journals owned by the American Geophysical Union, the German Chemical Society (e.g., Angewandte Chemie), or Chemistry Europe are managed and published by Wiley. The journal Zeitschrift für Medizinische Physik (Journal of Medical Physics) is owned by the German society for medical physics, but is published by Elsevier. Those are just a few examples of non-profit society journals published by the Big Ones. In the chemistry world, the Royal Society of Chemistry and American Chemical Society are both non-profit, but run two huge publishing houses with their own extensive line of journals as well. So making a distinction between which societies/society journals should be eligible for unpaid peer review (especially if you want to distinguish them from “big publishers”) would be difficult, if not impossible for many cases.

We also need to be wary of the mindset that just because a society is labelled as non-profit, that it does not care about making money. Of course these societies also think of money—-more than some outsiders may like or would be led to believe. They need money to keep their journals alive, to fund their projects, to help out their members, to pay for their staff, to invest in new technology/projects/events that help the society etc..

If this happens, the publishers should not only charge an APC, but also a review cost – separately, for both accepted and reviewed and rejected papers.

Regardless, all this does is increase the money extraction from the academic system. Both in publishers costs for processing payments and their margins on that, and the associated tax bill due to payments to individuals. All in all it would exacerbate a problem rather than solving it.

“Paying reviewers would undermine our efforts to be more inclusive. We know that reviewers currently come mainly from the Global North … and so yet again, this is where the money would flow, further disadvantaging researchers in low- and moderate-income countries.”

Hmmm. I’m a bit skeptical of the assertions here. Why assume no shift in who reviews? Perhaps it is only those in the Global North who have the kind of employment that enables one the privilege of doing service as part of their compensated work. I recall one university I was at in the Global South where employees had to reimburse their university for their Internet usage at work.

Compensating reviewers (something, I would note, monograph publishers often do in my experience) could be a force for equity, especially implemented with a creative tiering that recognizes the global inequities in who can afford to give their time or is supported in the resources to do so.

This is great. A few notes:

1. Peer review also strengthens a researchers own methodology development for future work. This is one of the biggest areas of development where experience in peer review has led to greater chances of success in selection for publication, as the meta-exercise of peer-review allows you to refine your own practice.
2. In the US, it is common for academics to be rewarded monetarily through “service to community” through tenure and promotion. While we can discuss the equity issues related to tenure and promotion, the monetary incentives for peer review do exist. We just need to do better in making those incentives more equitable.
3. to respond to a comment above, it is accurate that “paying people would lead to effort commensurate with the pay received”. HOWEVER, the kicker here is that the expert who is being offered 6000 dollars to peer review values their money and their time quite differently than an early career researcher (ECR). An ECR may be very willing to review for pennies on the dollar compared to experts, who might even need more than 6000 dollars because they have little enough time in their day to devote to peer review. In any case, incentivizing work will add elements of corruption no matter what. How that might manifest in a paid peer review structure is not clear at a detailed level, but it seems quite obvious (and through this article) that it would only hurt academic publishing.

An article from Science in 2017 references country-level incentives for publishing in high-impact journals. It would be great if SK could perhaps re-visit this topic and think deeper along the lines of monetizing both publications and peer review in high impact journals and potential pitfalls. I would find that quite compelling, particularly as different countries have widely different monetary incentives for publishing, which also aligns (negative correlation) with sentiment toward OA.

article for reference:

I think the movement for paid peer review has roots in two elements. One, as the authors point out, there is a need for greater recognition of the behind-the-scenes work. Some steps, like open/public peer review, APC vouchers and integration onto ORCID/Publons are certainly going in the right direction.

Two, I think the other main point underlying the movement, to an extent, is the frustration with the uneven speed and quality of peer review. Many of us deliver good quality, reasonably rapid peer review only to. Yet we also all have stories of waiting12+ months to receive unhelpful, if not outright rude, feedback. In the debate about paid peer review, then, I think there is an element of ‘If we pay, quality/speed might improve’

Thanks Rick – I looked all over for these links and came to the conclusion they weren’t public. I’ll add them into the article itself.

Since it is the authors themselves who are predominately the reviewers, why don’t we ask them whether they are willing to pay to have their own papers reviewed in exchange for reviewing the papers of others? If enough of them say yes, we can then ask them what they think is a reasonable fee to pay, and to be paid, for this effort.

Great article: thank you!
As managing editor of a journal that that includes content on fraud and corruption on what should be clean, impartial government, at the very least I fear the risk of favouritism is enormous if reviewers are paid. It is very easy for a journal to be captured by a particular group and to start promoting a very biased way of thinking. The whole point of wide-reaching peer review is to ensure that all lines of enquiry are fairly represented in order to arrive at something that will have value in society. The solution is a large, representative editorial board, members of which will either review themselves or help find someone who will.

Instead of offering a fixed price why not have an auction? I have a paper on X in cell biology. I need a review in 4 weeks. What am I bid….

Quite a few of the pro and con arguments may disappear if the whole publication system would be more transparent. I am thinking of the following steps.
1. The publication process has three steps, each with their own fee.
a. Submission, say for € 100
b. Peer review, say for € 500
c. Editing, circulation and preservation, say for € 400.
If an author submits an article, they know that it will cost € 100.
If the article is accepted for peer review, they know the price in advance, i.e. € 500.
If the article is accepted for publication, they pay the final amount of € 400.
These amounts are for a specific journal. Other journals may have different prices. All very transparent.
Thus, you never pay for someone else’s rejected articles.
2. The amounts for submission (1a) and editing etc. (1c) are for the publisher. The amount for the peer review goes to the institution of the peer reviewer, as reviewing is simply a part of their job. Compare tuition fees. These are not paid to individual professors either.
3. Only peer reviews which are published openly are paid for, including the price. So, everybody can judge if the peer review in question is worth the price. Some reviewers may become renowned for their great reviews, like professors who are famous for their lectures. Their institutions may reward them.
Wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems?


Leo, I’m a big fan of more transparency in the system both in terms of cost but also the content of reviews – it’s far too much of a black box at the moment. But I’d be concerned about the implementation costs of this one. As a fully OA publisher, we already know that collecting APCs one by one isn’t very cost efficient – that would get a lot worse if we split each into 3 even smaller payments. My own view is that the APC model is one reason that we haven’t seen wider embrace of OA among researchers – it creates a friction point between author and publisher that isn’t there with subscriptions. Would a system like this just deepen that problem?

Alison, I think the more transparent a system is, the easier it is to handle, also administratively. I you can send invoices for well defined services at well defined moments in the process, how difficult can that be? For the peer review payments, which concerns money that remains in the academic domain anyway, a clearinghouse construction could be set up which settles the balance between institutions once a year. For the publisher two simple invoices remain, one at the very beginning of the process (submission) and one at the very end (publication). I think, this is doable.

Thank you for accepting the challenge Alison and Tim!

I like the topic, but I wonder sometimes whether this topic is of more interest to publishing professionals than the academy and researchers, and whether the topic is more of a proxy for fundamentally twisted incentives and recognition in the academy? I tend to believe (and my beliefs are always evolving) that the funders, academies, and researchers hold the keys to this topic, and that the scholarly industry would adapt if the funders, academies, and researchers changed direction. That’s not to come across as visionless, but to question whether this topic is truly a core problem or a curiously twisted result of greater problems that require introspection in the academy before the publishing industry solves for what may be a proxy problem?

PS! I tried walked the walk when I was part of launching an experimental reviewer payment scheme at UC Press with Alison and other colleagues some years ago and it failed. I’m tempted to say, not because it can’t be done, technically, but because the reviewers didn’t seem to care at scale when they were given choices, and despite all the validation market research and deliberation that went into the product development prior.*i0aOUTXGGPWFvB-XWXD4Yw.gif

Yup, I agree with you on both points, Neil. The value of review – monetary or otherwise – is deeply intertwined with the wider and deeper challenges of rewards and incentives in academia. As publishers, I do believe that we have both opportunities and an obligation to explore better options but you’re right that change at scale requires other actors to come to the table. (And yes, our experience with Collabra definitely informs my views on this issue.)

Just to gently remind everybody that there is a crucial but oft-neglected sphere in which peer review has long been reimbursed (whether in cash or books-in-lieu), namely academic book publication, and payments to referees apply whether in the commercial or non-profit/UP sector. It follows therefore that academics in the book-oriented humanities and softer social sciences are relatively (underlined) more likely to be rewarded for undertaking peer review than their peers in STEM (and the written peer reports may themselves be the length of a scientific journal article). But the processes (and arguably purposes) of Book Peer Review call for assessment of a different kind, as I am sure Alison and Tim would agree.

Perhaps worth considering volume here — how many scholarly books are published annually versus scholarly papers? And then it’s probably also worth noting how many papers get submitted and rejected and then move to another journal for another round of review, and another, and another. For papers, we’d be talking about managing a payment system on a massively larger scale.

As I recall from the days when Company of Biologists paid reviewers a small sum, the program was ended at the request of the reviewers because of the amount of work necessary on their part to receive that money. For a reviewer to be paid by a publisher, they are going to have to fill out a W2 form (or its equivalent), supply bank information for funds transfer, and then deal with the payments when paying their taxes. Reviewers felt that the time required for all of this was not worth the small amount paid. That might shift if we are talking about larger sums of money though.

Regardless, the publisher has to manage all of that paperwork and pay all of those electronic funds transfer fees. This is not a trivial undertaking.


As said in my comment to Alison already (see above), I think payments for peer review should not go to the reviewers. They have their salary for doing their academic job, which includes reviewing and teaching and research. Third party payments for tuition, contracted research, peer reviews etc. should go to the institution. No administrative hassle for the researcher. And, more importantly, no conflicts of interest either (as mentioned above), and the money remains in the academic system (also mentioned above)

Understood, I’m just thinking about the administrative overhead required. First, disambiguating the institution of a researcher (whether author or reviewer) is a much bigger task than seems evident. As publishers are working toward better (non-APC) business models for open access, this has been one of, if not the biggest stumbling block. I wrote about this here, and even after extensive efforts, groups like the ACM still can’t identify where nearly 25% of their published authors are based:

Then thinking about it as far as publisher workload. If you start with the biggest commercial publishers with over 3,000 journals, and you conservatively estimate 100 articles per journal per year, and three peer reviewers for each article, you’re talking about 900,000 payments. But wait, for every article that’s accepted, two are rejected, so triple that number to 2.7 million transactions. For a smaller publisher with a smaller stable of journals, it probably means at least hiring a full-time person just to manage those payments. And that’s just payout for peer review. Then factor in processing author payments at submission, peer review, and publication and for someone like Elsevier, you’ve just added another more than 6 million transactions to keep track of. And that’s just one publisher.

So I’m not arguing against your suggested system, I’m just trying to make it clear that it would carry an enormous and entirely new administrative burden that would need to be paid for on top of the fees themselves. It’s nice to think that such things could be entirely automated, but given how page charge, color fee, and APC payments require a lot of manual massaging, I’m not so sure that a system on this scale could easily be implemented.

We no longer publish journals, but when we did we were very keen to “reward” our peer-reviewers with a couple of books for any review turned in within a reasonable time frame. Obviously the production cost of a book is less than the money it would cost the author to buy, so they got something of higher value to them than it cost us. Often academics felt valued by the offer, even if they forgot to claim the reward. We sometimes managed to reduce old stock in the warehouse saving it’s destruction, or we got copies of our newest books onto the shelves of active academics – a good promotional opportunity, and we won lots of goodwill. There was little conflict of interest, since few academics can live on books alone…. There was of course some administrative and logistic cost of doing this, but even 10 years after we sold our journal publishing program I was still getting comments at conferences about how much the “gesture” was appreciated….

For anyone struggling to understand why some people oppose the notion that academic publishing should be a for-profit commercial activity, this article is an excellent specimen showcasing the hypocrisy present in the industry. Publishers complain about sci-hub allowing people to access articles for free, while at the same time refusing to pay peer reviewers and (even more importantly) authors for their hard work in creating and vetting the products the publishers sell.

Some points raised in the article are valid, in particular the fact that this would necessarily result in substantial price increases. However, this is simply an admission that commercial publishing’s economic viability depends on the exploitation of free labor. If publishers were to pay peer reviewers – and even more importantly, authors – for the hard work they put into making the “product” being sold, the industry just wouldn’t work. Instead, they must convince as many people as they can that they are the only parties in the ecosystem that have a right to generate income from allowing people to read scientific literate, while those that contribute the overwhelming majority of the value (authors and publishers) do not.

This untenable situation is a major factor in the arguments by some that publishers have no right to restrict access to research output for which they provided no monetary compensation to authors and reviewers, whose efforts generate the main source of value.

You seem to be overlooking the fact that one of the authors of this piece its the CEO of a fully open access, not-for-profit publisher. I am certainly not going to defend the policies and practices of some actors but by lumping all publishers into one group (as happens so frustratingly often), you miss many of the key nuances of the case that we’re trying to make here. A policy aimed at castigating large commercial publishers would wreak untold damage on those of us who are trying to solve for the problems you note.

And as the post clearly states, paying peer reviewers would give further advantage to the large (and highly-profitable) commercial publishers over the smaller non-profits.

I would also argue that the commenter above does not truly grasp the nature of the scholarly publishing industry, which is a service industry, not a product-based industry. Publishers provide services to authors. The authors either pay for those services directly (for example through open access APCs) or by signing rights over to the publisher so the publisher can recoup the costs of the services (and profit) by selling the resulting articles.

Alison – I missed the fact that you run PLOS (I see that now in your author bio), and I’d like to clarify that my arguments are against for-profit publishers and those who rely on the paywall model. I’ll admit my response was a bit harsh because I didn’t take this into account and read the article assuming it was written from the perspective of a large, for-profit publisher. For PLOS and other nonprofit/open access publishers, I consider your arguments valid.

Many (myself included) see peer review as “a community service driven partly by altruism”, to quote from the article. Many (myself included) also see all the other work that goes into the production of scientific literature (including the actual research and writing, comprising the bulk of the work), editorial services, and everything else required to get publications out there as a community service driven partly by altruism. Of course, someone has to pay the people who do that work; for researchers and reviewers this is typically universities (or research grants), and for journal staff I think that APC is the right model as it makes open access viable.

What I have a problem with is big commercial publishers locking away scientific literature behind expensive paywalls preventing access from the economically disadvantaged, while simultaneously claiming that it’s unreasonable for them to financially compensate those who produce the content for which they are charging readers. The context in which I (personally) consider paid peer review reasonable is for these publishers, but really only as a thought exercise to highlight the unfair nature of their business model, where both the authors and readers pay (with their time and money, respectively).

David’s point about the notion of academic publishing being a service industry, not a product industry, is a really really important one which I hadn’t previously considered. Perhaps it’s common knowledge in some circles, but as an author and reader I’ve never thought to consider it in this way, largely because the pay-to-read model, from a consumer perspective, so closely mirrors the film, book, music, and video game industries. When I view it relative to those industries, it seems like charging musicians or game developers for making their creations available for purchase, but never paying them a cent for their work.

The concept of the publishing industry as a service industry does cast things in a very different light, though I think this is only readily apparent in the context of the APC model, where author pays for the publisher’s services directly; to a reader of a closed-access journal it feels like they’re paying for a product (even if in reality the access charges exist to cover the costs of the services to authors). Ultimately I believe we should be working aggressively towards an open access only model (with APC as appropriate to pay for the work of journal publishers) because only then can we realize what is purportedly a core principle of academia, that of sharing ones work openly with humanity. The biggest challenge I see is in incentivizing authors to publish solely in open access venues, something which the current system based on closed access but highly prestigious journals fails at.

Thanks for the really thoughtful reply. We wrote about the question of product versus service industry back in 2012:
But as you’re right, most researchers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about publishing, and most publishers have worked (often to our detriment) to make things as frictionless and invisible to the author/reader as possible, hence it’s not really clear just what it is we do.

As you note, one of the big advantages of the APC model is that it makes that transaction very clear. That said, APCs create as many problems and inequities as the resolve, and the leaders of the open access movement are working hard with experimentation on new business models that don’t disadvantage authors as much as the APC model does. Alison has written about this eloquently several times recently:
And we had a group discussion about how to move beyond the APC:

In the end, I think Tim and Alison’s advice in the post above is the best way to approach things as an author — support the publishers whose practices align well with how you think things should work.

Why should journals pay for peer review, the authors ask.
Because it is a service you ask for. And from a small (very small!) group of people who are the only persons who can actually provide the service. And that should make it free? Highly paid specialists, with decades of training are supposed to work for free? Or on somebody’s elses time? Do people in the publishing companies or other external services for these companies go unpaid? Not really.
Arguments that payment is too complicated and that they will lead to overhead in the HR department and higher electricity bills and what have you are completely nonsense. Piling one of these on top of another just shows the weaknesses of the arguments. If you have one good reason, state it. If you need to have ten reasons, they aren’t good.

I have a suggestion: 1) ensure that peers are properly trained, and a diploma must be obtained (like a gar exam, or similar); the diploma can be issued only through be pre-determined higher education departments with specific expertise; 2) only qualified peers with this diploma can apply as paid peers, and all other peers remain free (inducing an incentive to get trained and obtain such a diploma); 3) diamond OA = free peers but gold OA or any other model (e.g., subscription) remunerates peers with a specialized diploma; 4) all peer review must be open peer review (scrap single, double and any other blind formats), and indicate the names and qualifications of peers, peer comments, and if each peer has this specialized diploma, or not.

Some of my own reflections on this topic: Teixeira da Silva, J.A., Katavić, V. (2016) Free editors and peers: squeezing the lemon dry. Ethics & Bioethics 6(3-4): 203-209. DOI: 10.1515/ebce-2016-0011

f we analyze it in detail, scientific publication for profit is a bargain. There are no fees for inputs (authors do not receive payment for publishing their articles), authors must pay for publishing (it is assumed that research funds received for the project from which the article results covers this or at least part and the rest is out of pocket) or readers must pay to download (in this case, copyright is transferred to the publisher, authors cannot freely disclose the full text of their article on public networks and if the they do, he/she will receive an order from the publisher to remove it because it infringes copyright), and there is no fee for the work of the peer review (since this work is normalized, it does not generate payment of fees, the review and approval process of the articles has a zero cost). Added to the above are the low operating costs and the high prices charged.

As an anecdote, in all the time that I have been agreeing to peer review, only one journal that is published by a Colombian university in authentic open access and that is not in the WOS or SCOPUS ranking, offered to pay me 36€ for the review work. The payment was fulfilled when I delivered my report. So, if this university can pay me, then those who belong to for-profit academic publishers can too.

I published a entry about this topic since my own experience with this: Should journals pay for peer review work?

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