Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What is the $value$ of an editorial decision ?

(warning: random thoughts ahead)

From my viewpoint open access is doing great. PLoS has demonstrated that authors want to publish in open access journals and that these journals can quickly establish themselves as high impact forums for their respective audiences. BMC is set to show that open access can be profitable and within BMC some journals are are also trying to position themselves in the top tier of perceived impact.

How will BMC manage this and will PLoS and others find a way to serve the authors interest while keeping the direct costs to the authors within reasonable ranges (even if they are paid by the funding bodies) ? I can't really answer this :) but I do note a trend. Open access publishers like PLoS and BMC are increasingly publishing more and decreasing the rejection rates (when considering all that is published within the brand).

BMC has primarily focused on publishing high volume (peer-reviewed) articles without regarding to much on perceived impact in the field. I might be incorrect but more recently they have been trying to highlight a group of flagship journals (BMC Biology, Genome Biology and Journal of Biology) where they filter on perceived impact. They have even said that papers submitted to other BMC journals can even be suggested "up" if they are found to be of high impact.

PLoS on the other hand had the the exact opposite direction. PLoS started with their flagship journals (PLoS Biology and later PLoS Medicine), then created the community journals (PLoS Genetics, Computational Biology and Pathogens) and now opened PLoS ONE that will not filter on perceived impact.

On an author pays model, the most obvious way to limit the cost per paper and still provide a solid evaluation of perceived impact, is to have journals that cover the broad spectrum of perceived impact. In this way, for the publisher, the overall rejection rates decrease, the papers are evaluated and directed to the appropriate "level" of perceived impact.

Also, on closed publishers it is custom to be able to transition a manuscript with the peer-review comments from one journal to another of the same publisher. This practice is can be advantageous to everyone. saving the time of the another peer-review process.

Taking away the costs of editing and printing (online this can be very small) most of the costs of sustaining a science journal should mainly come from the editorial staff. So, what is the value of an editorial decision ? In other words, could there be freelance editors ? Could the editors be separated from the publisher ? Imagine I read a paper from a pre-print server, ask some people to peer-review (why would they?) and sell our evaluation to a journal.

Also, can a publisher sell the editorial decision to another publisher ? Lets imagine a journal that has a very high rejection rate, the editor asks referees for comments but ultimately the manuscript is rejected. The editor could then ask the authors where they want to send it next and offer to provide the referee report and editorial comments directly to the next journal to expedite the process. Could this journal get paid for this ?