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Collabra's Web page.

Collabra's Web page.


New open-access journal plans to pay peer reviewers

A new open-access scientific journal hopes that paying peer reviewers a little hard cash will help strengthen efforts to make research results freely available to the public.

Collabra, an online journal to be formally introduced tomorrow at a conference in the United Kingdom, plans to break with the research community’s long-standing tradition of reviewing journal submissions for free by paying small sums to the reviewers and editors who decide what gets published. In a further twist, the journal will give the payees a choice of what to do with their money. They can keep the cash, donate it to a fund that helps cash-strapped scientists pay the journal’s $875 publication fee, or contribute it to their own institution’s open-access activities.

Collabra is not just about paying reviewers, but also about directing some of the value generated back into the research community,” says Neil Blair Christensen, director of digital business development at the University of California Press (UC Press), the journal’s publisher.

“Paying reviewers for editing papers has been a subject of discussion for quite some time, but it’s actually never been tried,” says Graham Steel, an open-access advocate and community manager at the ContentMine, a literature mining initiative.

Most scientific journals rely on volunteer editors and peer reviewers to operate. But when it comes to business models, journals fall into two general camps: subscription journals, which charge readers and libraries to read content that is kept behind paywalls; and open-access journals, which charge authors an upfront fee to make their accepted papers immediately available to anyone with an Internet connection.

The article processing charges (APCs) charged by open-access journals range from just a few hundred dollars to more than $3000. Collabra plans to charge $875, of which $250 will be placed into a “research community fund,” which will be used to pay reviewers and editors. Payments will be based on how much money the fund collects and on a point system, with editors and reviewers earning points based on their involvement in the publishing process. Senior editors will earn one point for each article that they handle, for instance, whereas handling editors and reviewers will be given three points per article. Periodically, journal leaders will write checks based on the total amount collected by the fund, divided by the number of points awarded. One point would be worth $25, for example, if the fund collected $10,000 and each of 40 submitted articles had two reviewers, one handling editor, and a senior editor, for a total of 400 points (10 points per article).

Jon Tennant, an open-access advocate and a Ph.D. student at Imperial College London, likes the concept. “It recognises the work that editors and reviewers do, which to me are the most important parts of the postsubmission process, and usually goes completely unrewarded,” he says.

The journal aims to pay reviewers and editors regardless of whether the articles are accepted or rejected. UC Press “considered adding a nonrefundable submission fee to contribute to rejection expenses,” Christensen says, but ultimately rejected that idea. The system also aims to eliminate any incentive to accept subpar papers simply to fill the payment fund. “We wanted to ensure that editors and reviewers generate value regardless of their decision to reject or accept,” Christensen says.

He also expects many reviewers and editors will donate their checks back to the journal or other open-access efforts. “Our market research suggests that 50%-plus … may elect to pay forward,” he says. But Collabra isn’t counting on any donations to operate, he adds.

The press will also watch closely to make sure the payment system isn’t unfair or abused. The payments will be “fairly low,” Christensen predicts. “It’s unlikely anyone will profit by reviewing papers … [or that] any editor would keep sending manuscripts to the same reviewer time and time again. Any reviewer generating subpar reviews, or exhibiting questionable motives for reviewing, is subject to the same editorial scrutiny as on any journal.”

Collabra aims to publish papers from many different disciplines. Initially, it will focus on the life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental science, and the social and behavioral sciences. It ultimately aims to expand into biomedical science, the humanities, and computer and physical science.

UC Press officials plan to unveil Collabra at the FORCE2015 Research Communications and e-Scholarship Conference in Oxford on 13 January. The journal aims to formally publish its first articles in March 2015.