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I am considering developing a new journal, with an innovative publishing method, and would love to hear some insights. The main concept is to change the review process. I would like to have a extra fast review period, by doing two things:

  1. All the reviewers should be still PhD student or post-doc students. They are the ones with higher knowledge on a specific topic and more free time to quickly review a paper.
  2. Reviewers get paid if they review in less than one week, lets say 10 USD, as an incentive.

Also, all papers are open-access and there are no publication fees. The income would come from ads on the papers. What do you think? Would you publish a paper in a journal like this? Would you be a reviewer?

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    I don't think review in less than one week is very reasonable, at least in some fields like maths. – YiFan Feb 12 at 10:27
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    "All the reviewers should be still phd student or pos-docs students. They are the ones with higher knowledge on a specific topic..." Seems like a way to generate lower quality reviews. – user2768 Feb 12 at 10:30
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    "Reviewers get paid if they review in less than one week, lets say 10 USD, as an incentive." is nice to have but no incentive. It's an hourly rate of 2 to 5 USD. Sorry, my spare time is worth more. If I do the review during work hours (often the case), I'd have to give the money to my employer. – Roland Feb 12 at 11:16
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    If I'm really busy, 100, let alone 10, USD are not an incentive to change my priorities to work on a review. – henning -- reinstate Monica Feb 12 at 11:26
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    I can't get past the "Ph.D students have more free time." I have no memory of free time when I was a grad student. And I was surely much slower at reviewing papers back then. My garbage detector is much more refined now than it was 30 years ago. – B. Goddard Feb 12 at 13:14
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Your idea has no chance of success. I'll ignore the part about reviewers being PhD students and postdocs and just look at the publishing model, because that alone is enough to sink the concept.

Ad revenue is not enough to sustain a journal. Just consider: who is willing to pay to advertise in a journal?

  • You might be able to get some ad revenue in a print journal, but as a whole, print is declining (maybe ~20% of the journal market at this point and dropping), plus with the most lucrative markets (developed countries) almost fully using electronic articles, you're not going to reach much of an audience that advertisers will be interested in.
  • Plus, if you do print your journal, you have printing costs to pay for.
  • Even if you go fully electronic, academic journals don't have nearly enough readership to attract advertisers. Just compare how many subscribers you need on a YouTube channel to monetize content (I use YouTube because this is also an advertisement-driven service). YouTube wants one thousand subscribers. Academic articles don't come close to 1,000 readers on average.
  • And to top it off, not only are you generating no revenue (diamond open access), you want to pay your reviewers. Where are you going to get the money from? You can beg your editorial board members work for free, you can use a free editorial-management system, you can outsource copyediting and typesetting to the authors, you can ignore marketing your journal, you can strongarm your institution to host your journal's webpage for free ... but paying reviewers involves cold hard cash.

The only way this can work is if you manage to secure renewable, external funding. Depending on how much you're willing to skimp on a journal's operating costs, as well as on how many articles your journal gets, you might not need more than a couple of thousand dollars every year. However even this level of funding is not easy to get. There's a reason why diamond open access journals are rare.

tl; dr: you can try, but expect to fail.

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    I would also add the questionable ethics: running ads means that the customers are the companies who pay for these ads. It's going to raise all sorts of conflict of interests: they might demand that you don't publish a paper against their interests, they might display content that undermines the findings of the papers, etc. Even if the publisher is very careful, there will always be a doubt about the neutrality of the science they publish. – Erwan Feb 12 at 12:49
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    @Erwan Maybe. Then again, having ads in scientific journals is par for the course. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 12 at 14:57
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    Some journals may attract enough advertisers to make a difference. Medical journals, say, with ads for medical equipment and for prescription drugs. But I agree, most academic journals do not. – GEdgar Feb 12 at 14:57
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    @AzorAhai I think that 20% figure is revenue, not readership. Some libraries may still be getting print versions. (It's potentially a good idea because, if you end your subscription, you still have the physical print version, while online access is revoked.) – Thomas supports Monica Feb 12 at 19:26
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    @AzorAhai You might be interested by this question and this one. – Arnaud D. Feb 13 at 9:33
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So the deal is that if you drop everything else you are working on to do a review in a week, you earn $10?

I think you need to reconsider that business model, or at least, make the gain worth the disruption. $100 might work better than $10 for "impoverished" grad students, but it's still only chicken feed for a professional.

If somebody offered to pay me $10 to review something, I would put in the amount of effort that $10 was worth. That's probably about 5 minutes of my time - long enough to flick through the pages, and write a couple of sentences saying "awesome" or "garbage". That counts as "a review", yes?

The above intentionally avoids the question of whether the whole idea is ethical from an academic point of view, but if it won't work as a business model, the question of ethics doesn't matter much.

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    $100 (or preferably £100) would have made a lot of difference to me as a grad student. I agree with your $10 assessment. – thosphor Feb 12 at 16:29
  • 5 minutes is too short. How about an hour? Anyhow, there is a service for you: pre-submission peer review – Ooker Feb 13 at 5:58
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    @Ooker Fine, if you want an hour of my time not 5 minutes, pay $120, not $10. Your choice! Alternatively, find somebody who flips burgers for $9 and hour and pay them $10 an hour to do the review. That's a pay rise for them. – alephzero Feb 13 at 10:03
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    There's a name for a "peer reviewed" journal that operates based on 5-minute or even 1-hour reviews of the submitted papers: fake. – R.. Feb 13 at 15:59
  • @alephzero: It's NOT, because of spin-up/spin-down time. They can't just take a week off from flipping burgers then go back to it. The time they'll be unemployed waiting to get started on something else completely obliterates any gain of $1 or a few dollars an hour for what's ultimiately temp work. – R.. Feb 13 at 16:01
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The first thing you need to do when developing a new service is to come up with a realistic business case. What are your fixed and variable costs, and what kind of revenue you can expect?

Fixed costs: at least costs for hosting your website and papers, staff (maybe you initially will run everything yourself in your free time, but if this should become a real business you need to envision a future where you can't do it all on your own anymore), advertisement. All together not too bad (probably).

Variable costs: if you pay a modest 10USD per review, every article will cost you at least 20USD or 30USD to produce. Additionally, you may want to pay editors as well (why would they work for free if the reviewers get payed?). This sounds like peanuts, but it adds up since you are paying this upfront and for every submitted (not only accepted) article, and even for the ones that get viewed less than a 100 times in their lifetime. One journal that I am in the Editorial Board for accepts about 20% of submissions, so your unit costs of an accepted article may be in the range of 100USD or more.

Expected revenue: it is unclear to me if you want to put ads on the website, on the papers, or both. In any case, advertisement revenues live from large numbers of views. Nobody pays you to advertise contents that a few hundred people look at every month. In journals such as PeerJ you can figure out how many views articles typically get, while data from platforms such as Youtube can give you an impression of how many views per paper you will need to offset the variable costs. However, do take into account that views follow a long tail distribution - most content basically nobody ever looks at, so your high runners need to make up for it. This is true for all platforms - Youtube does not earn money with most videos, but when it does, it often makes a lot of money. It is unclear to me how many scientific articles you can expect that would hold the same mass market appeal.

All in all, I am not buying the business case based on this napkin calculation, but it's certainly in the realm of possibility that it could work out financially. You will need to do your own estimations.

That said, you also have some other considerations (which may also sink your business even if the monetary side would in theory work out):

  • Bootstrapping a journal outside of the big, established organizations (Springer, ACM, IEEE, ...) is hard. Authors today live and die based on reputation of the journals that they publish in, and your new journal will need to fight to be seen as serious. That it also operates differently will be a strike against it in this dimension. I assume that you hope that your fast reviews will provide sufficient incentives for authors, but I am not buying it - fast reviews are not typically considered to correlate with quality, and neither is that the reviews are done by PhD students and postdocs. You personally may be convinced that PhD students write better reviews than senior academics, but the larger academic world is unlikely to agree. If you want your business to succeed, the community needs to buy into your premise.
  • Another aspect that may be held against your journal is that your journal has somewhat unfortunate incentives: it is better for you to accept than to reject (given that rejected articles incur costs but never lead to revenue), and it is even better to accept highly controversial (but wrong) articles that get viewed a lot. Even if your journal never gives in to these temptations, I foresee that there will be a certain level of mistrust hanging over the scientific trustworthiness of your journal.
  • Actually, with the myriad of predatory open-access journals, I recon it is quite hard for a new true non-predatory independent journal to get through. – Oleg Lobachev Feb 13 at 13:15
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It isn't exactly an academic journal, but Scientific American is a high-quality publication in which advertising is a large part of their business model. But, the way they make things work is by being a reasonably popular publication. Without the popularity, the advertising wouldn't generate enough revenue (why would advertisers pay for ads unlikely to be seen by many?). Furthermore, they wouldn't keep the readership that they have unless they maintain a consistent high quality in what they publish -- where quality isn't just measured in terms of accuracy but also depends on writing quality and anticipated reader interest. They couldn't function if they relied on poorly-paid graduate students rather than professional editors to decide on what gets published. Your desired properties of being quickly-reviewed and advertiser-supported pull in opposite directions.

  • They couldn't function if they relied on poorly-paid graduate students rather than professional editors to decide on what gets published. – Can you elaborate this? – Ooker Feb 13 at 6:02
  • @Ooker A graduate student reviewing an article will concentrate on the academic merit of the article, but will have little knowledge of or even interest in questions along the lines of "will this article be interesting to a general reader?" or "will this article catch the eyes of someone thumbing through the journal in a bookstore?". The overwhelming majority of academic articles would be unlikely to garner the readership that would be needed to support a publication which depends on advertising. It is the difference between a subsidized PBS documentary and a commercial television show. – John Coleman Feb 13 at 16:56
  • @Ooker by the way -- I looked at your profile. Your projects seem interesting. – John Coleman Feb 13 at 16:58
  • Thank you. Have you read them? What do you think? – Ooker Feb 14 at 3:02
  • @Ooker I didn't look at them in detail. The ESL project looked helpful for those learning English and I liked the aesthetics in the one on perspective. – John Coleman Feb 14 at 13:25
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As others have stated, your approach is a bit naive, but I don't think it's unreal. Just improbable. If you are going for a new concept do it properly. 10$ is effectively zero. Consider paying hundreds per review.

Also consider paying real fees to authors. Almost every periodical except academic ones pay their authors. Newspapers do, tabloids do, comic journals do...

Should the access be free? Preferrably, but I don't think it's mandatory. People pay for Scientific American and The Economist. Why wouldn't they pay for a good academic journal? Of course, not the current fees but prices comparable to normal journals like the ones I mentioned.

Now how do you pull it off? Who's gonna pay for it?

For an inspiring example in another area, see https://letsencrypt.org/sponsors/ - here's a bunch of companies who are paying so every website could have an SSL certificate for free. I think it is possible to convince companies like Google or Facebook to sponsor academia, especially if you are going to improve a field that they care about, say - AI research.

I don't think you can survive on ads. For most fields there's no one audience. Like what are you going to sell to AI geeks or statisticians? Few of them are interested in hats, some in chess and others like cooking. It's not like you are going to sell them calculators and I doubt it's even worth advertising professional products like SPSS to them...

0

How much you're paid rates on youtube are terrible because youtube gets most of the cut and the targeting is very broad, so the ad impressions are not worth much (but they have to stream your video, handle ad campaigns etc... all of that is not free).

Youtubers make more of their money from the in-stream adverts (and paid review / product placement). Advertising in a scientific journal would refine the target and in theory increase the value of each advert, and you would get a bigger cut.

It's all a game of numbers:

  • how much is your audience worth to advertisers. (nVidia, google etc... might be highly interested in an audience of AI researchers, lab equipment manufacturers in biomedical journal...)
  • how big is your audience.
  • how high are your expenses.

Good luck

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