19 August 2015

Journal fees: would you rather pay a little on a bet or a lot on a sure thing?

I’m looking for a place to publish one of my next manuscripts, and I’m considering which journal to send it to. One that I’m considering is unusual: it has a modest (less than $100), but non-refundable, submission fee.

Thinking about this fee was very much deterring me from submitting there. But, then I realized that lots of journals have article processing fees that are much steeper (over $1,000).

If an appropriate journal had an article processing fee that was less than $100, I’d probably jump at submitting there. I was more annoyed by the prospect of a submission fee than an article processing fee, even though both are going to cost.

The psychology is interesting. Psychologists Kahneman and Tversky got famous studying problems like this and how people evaluate different costs, and showed that people were far from the rational optimizers that economic theory often treated them as. And I am certainly not a rational optimizer. I am in academia, after all.

A submission fee has that dread of, “It could all be for nothing.” Rejection is common – I daresay the norm – in academic publishing. Even journals that review only for technical competence reject something like a third of papers, judging from PLOS ONE: it typically rejects about 30% of submissions. An article processing fee for accepted papers feels more like you’re getting something for your buck.

Plus, there’s the fact that a submission fee is just not the norm in academic publishing. Running contrary to expectation doesn’t help my willingness to shell out the fee.

Logically, journals that ask only for article processing fees are using those fees to subsidize the editorial costs for all the rejected papers. For some journals, a modest submission fee might be one way to bring down the costs of article processing fees, which remains a road block for many researchers, particularly those who want to publish in open access journals.

Plus, all of this does raise the question of why more journals’ costs aren’t in line with, say, PeerJ?

Photo by Ben Husmann on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

My guess is that the 30% rejection rate at PLOS ONE (and the very similar rates at other megajournals) is largely made up of no-hoper articles -- cranks, spam, or otherwise non-starters. I'm pretty sure that when any legitimate scientist submits to such journals, the rejection rate is way down at 5% or 10%.

But for me, the last line of your post is the key one. I still ask myself now, for every paper: is there any reason not to send it to PeerJ?