I am asking this question because I've always had the impression that manuscripts submitted to a journal in my field (theoretical linguistics) take an insanely long time to get published, and sometimes I get the impression that this is because, most of the time, nobody other than the author cares about getting things done within a reasonable amount of time. Some examples from personal experience follow.
- For the last paper I submitted before getting my PhD, I had to wait nine months from the submission date to get reviews back from the referees.
- Last week I got a review request from a journal I had never reviewed for previously. The review deadline is March 15 (almost four months).
- In early October, I submitted a manuscript to a journal that I know asks reviewers to return reviews within 6 weeks. I checked the status of the manuscript online and it still says "with editor".
- Earlier this year, I was about to start writing a review when my wife went into labor. By the time we came back from the hospital, I had forgotten about the review, so I missed the deadline. The editor didn't contact me to ask about the review until two months after the deadline.
- Late in 2013, I was asked to write a survey chapter for a handbook. The expected publication date of the handbook is summer 2016.
All of this is not me being unlucky with editors and referees. In private conversations through the years, many colleagues have confirmed that it is virtually unheard of to get reviews back within 3 months of submission; 5 or 6 months seems to be a good average, but in some cases it can take longer (see my first point above). In general, everybody seems to have accepted that the submission-to-printed-journal process is going to take a bare minimum of one year, and that's assuming that the manuscript is accepted without revisions. If revisions are required, two years is not out of the question. Also, it's not like our papers are ridiculously long. I've reviewed about 100 papers so far, and the longest one was about 50 single-space pages; 30-35 single-spaced pages is closer to average.
I remember that, when I was a postdoc, my astrophysics housemate mentioned that in his field the entire submission-to-printed-journal process took only three or four months. I really can't see a good reason why theoretical linguistics shouldn't operate on similar timeframes, other than the fact that everybody seems to have grown used to things taking way longer than they really need to. What are the wait times in other fields? How do you manage to get things done quickly?