Sunday, August 26, 2007

Heather's peer review rates: from free to $5,000 per article

As Tom Wilson points out, if publishers are claiming to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year on peer review, perhaps it is about time that we academics, so long accustomed to providing these services for free, should be receiving our fair share of all this revenue.

Here are my rates:
Open access journals: free.
Rationale: My reviewing for scholarly journals for the purposes of disseminating knowledge fits within my professional (work and personal) obligations to service to the profession.
Toll-access, for-profit journals: $5,000 per article.
Rationale: As Tom Wilson points out, The University and College Union in the UK...has a recommended daily rate for consultancy and similar work - or at least the Association of University Teachers had such a rate and, when I last looked, it was £650. This translates into $1,300 Canadian.

So, how did I come up with $5,000 per article? Academia, as all academics know, is more a labour of love, an avocation, than a job. We academics work very hard, and we work long hours; it takes many years of study and proving oneself to even become qualified. We work at below-market rates for people with our talent, because what we do, expanding knowledge, is a public good. Our rewards are generally less about money, and more about prestige and the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing that what we do makes a difference. Academic librarians often overlook positions at other library types and the private for-profit sector, even though benefits may be better and salaries higher. Universities have limited funds, which come from the public purse and student tuitions. We understand, and gladly overlook the other possibilities in order to contribute to the research and educational goals of our institutions which are so dear to us.

When it comes to the private, for-profit sector (especially the highly profitable for-profit sector), there is no reason why we should settle for less than we are worth. The U.K.'s Association of University Teachers has probably recommended a consultancy rate for the types of consultancy we academics are likely to do, often for other not-for-profit groups.

What should other academics charge when working for highly profitable publishers, for example publishers who count their net profits in the hundreds of millions per year? Let's look at the market. The for-profit publishing industry is one of what some are calling the "copyright" industries, just like movie and music producers.

How much does a movie star make?
How much does a pop star make?
How much should a star researcher make?

Hmmm..what about our employers, the universities? When we academics provide free peer review to not-for-profits whose goal is dissemination of knowledge as part of the service component of our work, it makes sense that our employers provide the equipment, offices, and occasionally a bit of work time, for free. If we're working for a highly profitable for-profit company, though, it seems to me that there are other rules that apply...

This is just peer review, of course. What about the writing and editing I currently do for free? Again, for the open access journal, if it is all about dissemination of our work, free is just fine. For the highly profitable publisher, that is a different story.