41

As a publisher, every now and then I saw reviews which are so good, I thought I should thank the reviewer with something more than "thanks". What can a publisher offer that will actually be useful?

Ideas:

  • Cash. This is probably not happening. Cash is too liquid, too precious a resource to offer. The only conceivable way top management might be persuaded is to have a small pool of best reviewer prizes (say 5 prizes/year @ $500 each), company wide. That makes it hard to reward all good reviewers, since there're tens of thousands of reviewers a year. I also suspect that if top management were to entertain such an idea, they'd prefer to have a best paper award.
  • Best reviewer certificate. I don't see this as very useful though, since it's just a computer graphic. Plus they're easily hacked - I changed one of these to put my name on it instead of the reviewers', which might be enough to deceive a casual observer.
  • A free book from the publisher's collection. This is more doable but is not cheap (since it also requires postage), so I won't be able to do send many of these - maybe one / year.
  • Cheaper open access. This is doable: there's a discretionary range with open access article processing charges (to e.g. offer bulk discounts and to waive them for authors from developing countries). However many reviewers never publish in the journal they review for, and even if they do they might not want to publish open access. I am not sure how useful this is.
  • A personal subscription to ___ journal. Not sure how useful this either since the reviewer probably already has access to the journal via his or her institution, and if not, there are (usually) other ways to access a needed paper.
  • Something else?

Edit: Thanks for all the answers.

  • Make best reviewer awards public: this should be easily done. My only concern is that this can break reviewer anonymity for small journals. Still, a central list of all the best reviewers who have reviewed for the publisher should be doable, with the only drawback being someone will have to compare reviewers from different journals (or there'll have to be set numbers of best reviewers for each journal, which would favour small ones at the expense of larger ones).
  • Give reviewer feedback: unfortunately only the editorial board can do this. The publisher can suggest, but cannot force the editorial board to do it.
  • Appoint as editors: it's potentially doable, but needs the approval of the rest of the editorial board.
  • Free store credit: this is doable, maybe even better than providing free books from the perspective of the publisher. After all, the publisher would not have to pay postage charges, and it's a revenue-generating activity. Making it transferable would be a nice touch!
  • Free mugs/T-shirts etc: considering publishers make books and journals (instead of mugs and t-shirts), I am not sure this is a good idea.
  • Reception at conference: the problem with this is the cost. First one would have to rent the necessary space (expensive) followed by send staff there (also expensive). It would be pretty hard to get some kind of personalized welcome; the staff that attend will probably not be those handling the journal for example, and there might be reviewers for multiple different journals at the same reception. I can float the idea, but not hopeful.

Again, thanks for ideas.

  • 3
    MDPI is one publisher which provides benefits in a transparent way mdpi.com/reviewers#2 – Nemo Sep 7 '18 at 12:49
  • The discussion about book postages and several answers as comments have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Sep 9 '18 at 13:39
  • Free shirts. You can get them printed up pretty cheaply, and people love them. Also, you get some advertising in the deal. – Hosch250 Sep 10 '18 at 15:03
  • PLOS gives out gadgets at events, it seems: twitter.com/PLOS/status/1062413973729857538 – Nemo Nov 14 '18 at 17:25

12 Answers 12

61

There are a number of quite reputable journals that actually do give public "outstanding reviewer" awards, and their value (while not large) is non-trivial.

If the journal announces their awards publicly online, as these tend to do, then there's no worry about faking a certificate or such. It's probably not going to win anybody a job, but it's another line on the "service" or "awards" portion of a person's CV, and it will be noticed in their community.

  • 6
    +1 this is the best answer. People want recognition for their effort. – Thomas Sep 7 '18 at 5:02
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    +1 This is, in fact, a solved problem, even if not all publishers and journals adopt this model. If reviewers and editors were after cash, they wouldn't do it in the first place. Personal subscriptions etc. are borderline useless to most people in academia, but public recognition is always valued (even if the tangible benefit to an academic's CV may be low). – xLeitix Sep 7 '18 at 8:35
  • @xLeitix are you saying the awards should be announced publicly? What if there's a chance of breaking anonymity (e.g. for a small journal publishing 20 papers a year, there won't be that many reviewers and it'd be possible to guess who the reviewers are)? – Allure Sep 7 '18 at 11:31
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    @Allure Yes, in all cases that I am aware awards are announced publicly. If this is not possible, I share your concern that a "private" certificate may be fairly useless. That said, even with 20 published papers, you are probably looking at 40 - 60 submitted papers times 3 reviews, so even in this case the sample isn't that small. – xLeitix Sep 7 '18 at 11:33
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    @Allure In my field (computer science), it's common to publish a list of reviewers ( e.g. ) and for people to list venues they have reviewed for on their CV. So I don't think anonymity is an issue. – Thomas Sep 7 '18 at 13:50
43

Actually, I'd be happy just to get some feedback from the editor about the quality of my review. Doesn't have to be every time, but I would really appreciate getting comments when I do a particularly helpful one and what was good about it. Similarly, I think Publons now has a 'rate this review' feature that allows editors and/or authors to score or give comments (not really sure, I haven't used the feature).

One of the journals I occasionally review for provides something like a 150 USD voucher for their books. This is given for every review or for everyone who reviewed at least once or similar. Not sure of the details as I haven't reviewed for that journal recently, but I definitely remember appreciating getting a book I otherwise would not have bought.

  • 2
    Normally, an editor is more of a generalist and the reviewer a specialist. The reviewer probably knows more about the subject than the editor. I'm not sure that every editor can understand every review. They look for consensus among reviewers and learn to trust those in their "stable" over time. Authors can actually rate reviews, though, but they may not agree with them, so a possible land mine. – Buffy Sep 7 '18 at 0:17
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    Also, if you get asked to review repeatedly then you are probably valued as a reviewer. Your reward for good work is ... more work. – Buffy Sep 7 '18 at 0:20
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    @Buffy Less complete subject matter knowledge doesn't stop an editor from commenting on whether it is a good review. A review should be helping the editor decide. That means it needs to, for example, argue positions clearly. – JenB Sep 7 '18 at 0:20
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    I have done about 7 or 8 reviews and I still have literally no idea whether what I am doing is correct, helpful, too much, too little? Nobody ever taught me this stuff and the editors don't tell me. Feedback would be invaluable. – Daniel Sep 7 '18 at 12:43
  • 1
    +1 for first paragraph: I remember for one really long, painful review I had to do, I got very nice personal emails thanking me (from the editor and editor-in-chief) and saying how impressed they were with the review. It was very nice to hear that they appreciated my work, especially since we never get public credit for these things. – Kimball Sep 7 '18 at 13:10
14
  • A variant on "free book" is "store credit with the publisher". This gives you the flexibility to offer a smaller amount. Or it can be something like "X% discount on purchases from the publisher."

  • If there is a prominent conference in your field that many of your reviewers attend, you can have a special reception at the conference, with free food and drinks. This may also be a good way to make connections with them and get feedback.

12

Good journals tend to have an extensive editorial board. There are usually various categories.

For example, the editorial board for Journal of Applied Psychology at the time of posting, has

  • 1 editor
  • a little over 10 associate editors
  • over 200 contributing editors

Admittedly, this is a massive journal with a huge reputation. Also, the exact names of these categories varies by discipline and journal (e.g., the levels might be editor in chief, editor, and associate editor).

But the point is that if a reviewer is reviewing a lot of articles and doing their reviews well, a good way to reward them is to offer them a position on the editorial board. This is important recognition for many academics that may help them with getting jobs, promotions, grants, prizes, and so on.

Note that this answer duplicates some discussion in this other answer. A commenter said

I think that is pretty rare, given the numbers of reviewers and editors needed.

The key response to this is that you are not inviting the reviewer to be the editor. You are inviting them to be part of the editorial board. There are no limits to how many people can be listed.

  • 1
    "contributing editors" is a field-specific concept. It doesn't exist in my field. I'm also not sure if I would consider becoming an editor a reward. Sure, it's an honor, but it's also additional work. – Roland Sep 7 '18 at 6:23
  • Just curious: (1) Is that just a terminology point or is there no corresponding position that represents a more minor position on an editorial board, (2) I guess that's why it's an invitation. – Jeromy Anglim Sep 7 '18 at 6:46
  • (1) I don't really know but I believe associate editor is already the more minor position. Usually, you have an editor-in-chief, five to ten editors and between zero and about fifty associate editors. So, it might just be different terminology. – Roland Sep 7 '18 at 6:56
  • @roland cool. I've edited to incorporate point. – Jeromy Anglim Sep 10 '18 at 23:57
8

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) has a rewards program for reviewers in their journals. Reviews are judged on promptness and quality and reviewers earn points that they can exchange for meeting registration, SETAC dues, and other rewards. Also, all reviewers of SETAC journals are invited to a reception/social at the SETAC meetings.

As another reward, SETAC gives Outstanding Reviewer Awards and selects members of the Editorial Boards from their reviewers. SETAC journals have an Editor-in-Chief for each journal, Editors (which some journals would call Associate Editors), and an Editorial Board (which is basically a reward and recognition for past reviewing service as well as a stepping stone to becoming an Editor).

I'm am member of SETAC as well as an Editorial Board member and this approach seems to help the Society get reviewers.

8

Cheaper open access. This is doable: there's a discretionary range with OA APCs (to e.g. offer bulk discounts and to waive them for authors from developing countries).

How about you upgrade this. Instead of "cheaper", make it "free", and make it a voucher than can be used by anyone. Then, if the reviewers themselves are too important to publish in your journal, this gives them some form of currency they can trade or gift as will. Something along the lines of:

Hey, can you run those samples for me in your instrument? I don't have any funding but I have 2 APC waiver vouchers you can use when you submit to the Journal of Waiver Vouchers!


However many reviewers never publish in the journal they review for, and even if they do they might not want to publish open access.

Other than that, people don't generally refuse to publish open access. They find paying the fees (even if extremely low) an obstacle, sometimes more mental than financial. Why pay to publish in this journal when you can publish in the other journal for free? Readership isn't always important, because people assume everyone has access to paywalled articles somehow (whether legal or not). By removing the fee obstacle, you're making it easier to publish.

  • What about being able to vote for the articles that should get open access for free? – Ian Sep 7 '18 at 18:29
  • 1
    @Ian Nah - it's not a reward. It's more work. Not only you have to review something, now you have to vote as well? – Gimelist Sep 8 '18 at 7:45
7

I've gotten free books from a publisher, usually for longer reviews of books or proposals, rather than journal articles.

The American Journal of Epidemiology awards several 'Reviewer of the Year' awards, which are hard to fake as they're published in the journal: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/187/4/637/4956753

  • 2
    Note that public recognition may undermine reviewer anonymity. Even if you don't say what article they reviewed, in specialized fields, people may be able to guess without much difficulty. – Nate Eldredge Sep 7 '18 at 0:10
  • @NateEldredge I'll admit that this is possible, but I'm also somewhat skeptical from personal experience about how easy it is to break double blinding. – Fomite Sep 7 '18 at 0:15
5

Reviewers can be promoted to editors, which eventually can contribute to a successful tenure / promotion application. Also, best reviewers have a good potential of becoming great editors, which is beneficial for publisher, too.

  • 2
    I think that is pretty rare, given the numbers of reviewers and editors needed. Also, the skill set is a bit different. – Buffy Sep 7 '18 at 0:10
5

A significant sum of money would be the best option if you are serious about rewarding and expect to encourage further good reviews. You make it sound like you are too broke to give out even a few thousand, so perhaps your operation is too small to be support this sort of reward at all. I would mention something like free conference attendance or travel aid, but probably those run into the same issue with lack of funds.

The certificate is unlikely to have much weight. Certificates don't really improve your prestige or status by much. For a junior academic they might make for some decent CV padding material, but most reasonably successful academics seem to have much more impressive accolades already (grants, recognition from professional societies, papers in prestigious journals). It would have to be an underrated researcher indeed for the "best of reviewer of 2018" certificate to make much difference. The authenticity problem you mention is a non-issue: Simply list past awardees on your journal's website and fakers will be instantly exposed. Granted, if you really admire the reviewers and think they should be recognized, I think it's not a bad idea to list them on your website anyway - not as a reward, but as a way of giving credit where due.

The free book is at best a nice gesture. I don't think books are unaffordable for the average academic, and most likely they are available for free through their library. Unless the book has some kind of exclusive branding, all it does is save the recipient a very cheap Amazon purchase. Reading books is a fairly private activity, so you wouldn't really brag about getting a free book, nor would you question people about where they got a book (the obvious answer being that they probably bought it from a bookseller like everyone else). It is also a bit strange to me that you say books are too expensive. Maybe we're talking about extremely valuable, rare volumes here, the kind fancy bookstores keep under a glass display with a padlock? Or are you really too broke to send a few books out every few months? If the latter, perhaps it's time to worry about finances, not awards.

Cheaper open access (doesn't "open access" already mean it's free?) and subscription seems almost a non-gift to me, possibly more trouble than it's worth. From what I've seen, most normal people access papers through some automated system provided by their campus network or library proxy, which shows the papers as if they're subscribed without any login being necessary. If you give people personal subscription, you now give them yet another account to forget the password to. Imagine if every journal did this: The only way to take advantage of the "reward" is to juggle a dozen journal accounts. Besides, many people do indeed have access to institutional subscription anyway. And, aren't reviewers usually people who have previously published in your journal? How/why would they publish with you if they don't even have access to you?

Since cash is out, I think your best option is to provide something cheap and/or worthless, but branded so as to derive prestige from exclusivity. Tshirts, mugs, hats and other swag with either just your journal's logo, or something like "best reviewer of 2018" on it, is a nice conversation starter and status symbol. The items themselves are dirt cheap (well, not to you, if you think books are too expensive...) and the value is basically created out of thin air by virtue of your branding.

  • 5
    Are you aware how expensive academic books are? They can easily cost more than $200. Also, "cheaper open access" presumably means waiving (part of the) publishing costs the author has to pay. Since these can be as high as $2500, that can be a sweet deal. – Roland Sep 7 '18 at 6:39
  • @Roland OP says even 5x$500 is on the high end of his likely budget, so how do you expect him to gift $2500 books? – Trusly Sep 8 '18 at 22:32
  • And if "cheaper open access" is supposed mean "discount on publication fee in our open access journal", wew! What a confusing way to describe it! – Trusly Sep 8 '18 at 22:33
  • @Trusly books don't cost $2500, those are open access publication fees. It's not so much that 5 x $500 is on the high end of the budget that it is that a single journal cannot offer cash prizes - top management would never allow it, given that there are hundreds of journals. If there is a cash prize, it would have to be centralized, and then top management would want to start small and see returns on its investment before committing more money. – Allure Sep 8 '18 at 22:53
4

The American Physical Society (publisher of Physical Reviews, one of the principal series of physics journals) has what they call and Outstanding Reviewer Program about which they state:

The highly selective Outstanding Referee program annually recognizes about 150 of the roughly 67,000 currently active referees.

1

The assumption that paying referees is unaffordable is not obvious. Particularly for a society journal which isn’t seeking to maximise its profit. Some journals (in Economics and Finance at least) do pay referees for reports. Often this is associated with providing a report within a given timeframe. See here for example. The Journal of Financial Economics pays a referees $350 (per round) (see here) and offers a discount on future submissions, and also publishes statistics on editor and referees median turnaround times. Note, that a submission costs $750 (per round) such that with three referees per paper the journal faces a substantial cost per paper.

  • Are you sure there are 3 referees per paper? The webpage says there were 1,384 papers processed last year and there were 545 referees. I didn't count how many papers on average each referee reviewed, but I would guess somewhere between 2-3, i.e. it is covered by the submission fee. See also academia.stackexchange.com/questions/20930/…. My experience in publishing strongly indicates it's not sustainable to pay reviewers more than a pittance without external funding (and besides, it'd make more sense to pay editors). – Allure Sep 8 '18 at 22:41
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    I imagine the number of referees varies from paper to paper. Two would be a minimum though I’d think, and there are definitely cases with more. That they report averages per referee suggests,in line with my experience, that they rely on some referees for multiple reports a year. The model seems sustainable enough given they have operated it for some years and is not unique to that journal but I don’t share your experience and expertise in publishing. – dothyphendot Sep 8 '18 at 22:50
0

Editors should be able to award reputation points to good reviewers. These points can then be used as follows. Say a reviewer's paper is rejected and told not to resubmit. He/she should then be able to 'cash in' some of these points and be allowed to resubmit the paper after revision. These points can also signal an editor that an author is a key contributor to the journal. Hence, he/she should handle the author's paper 'better' (up to you how you want to define 'better').

Overall, the aim is to reduce the 'randomness' in the review process. The points are by no means used to bypass the review process.

protected by Alexandros Sep 9 '18 at 20:35

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