Survey Results: Experimental business model for a journal
From time to time we poll contributors to Elsevier journals to get their opinion on a current issue. In April we did a survey on an experimental business model for a journal suffering from low-quality submissions. In the case of this journal, the submissions often contained plagiarism, other ethical violations, or simply lacked novelty, rigor, or motivation. The journal was striving for higher standards, but the overwhelming inflow of poor submissions was putting a serious strain on the editorial process.
We were considering changing the business model for this particular journal by switching from a subscription-based model to an open access model, sustained by submission fees, rather than publication fees. Our idea was that a submission fee would add a barrier to submission and thereby increase the overall quality of manuscripts received. Authors whose papers were accepted would receive reimbursement of their fee, and their articles would be published open access at no cost to them. Proceeds from the submission fees would be shared between Elsevier, to cover costs of running the journal, and the Mathematical Sciences research community. If we decided to trial the new model we would have posted a transparent balance sheet of the journal operation at the end of each year.
Various survey questions were left open so that we could see a broad range of free responses, and respondents took the time to give thoughtful, complete answers. The reactions to the idea were mixed, to say the least, with some people initially hesitant about the idea but then seeing the advantages, others wondering how authors in certain regions could afford a submission fee, and others adamantly against the idea.
The idea and results were presented to the Mathematical Sciences Advisory Council and in the end we decided that there is not sufficient support for the idea to pursue it. However, we learned from the exercise and one item that stood out in the survey responses is the issue of recognizing the contributions that referees make to journals. When asked how proceeds of the submission fees should be used for the community, it was clear that many people felt referees were underappreciated and under-recognized. Though we won't be taking action on the new business model, we will be taking this feedback into development of new programs focused on referees later this year.