So now, after that interlude, back to the second half of that post about journals and publishing, the part to which I originally wanted to get. Geoffrey Tobin put his finger on the heart of the matter, as have so many, when he pointed out in a comment to the previous one that scholars don’t usually get paid for publishing. We do the research as part of our salaries, usually, or from whatever grant pays our salaries while we don’t do our jobs so as to get some research done; we have to publish the outcomes of it for professional recognition and advancement; we are what you’d call a captive market. At the other end, the publishers have to stay in business and ideally make a profit, and so they have the interest in capturing revenue that we don’t. But the messy bit is the middle ground, and most especially peer review, which has to be done by academics, but traditionally at least is neither recompensed or of much professional use to us. It’s good for institutional or departmental prestige if we can say that we act as referees for presses people have heard of, I imagine, but our employers would probably rather at least that we do it on our own time (in as much as academics can calculate such boundaries) or that we didn’t do it at all, so as to deliver the maximum for our institution. Nonetheless, academic publishing couldn’t go on in its current model without peer review, and we all want to get published so like to help publishers when they ask, and so it struggles on. The same kind of things can be said about actually editing journals or book series and so forth; it’s vital work, but it’s not usually for our employers so it largely goes unrewarded.
Well, in Australia at least people have started making a noise about this, demanding review work be recognised in their national research assessment, as reported by Alice Meadows on the Wiley blog (them again) here. That would be one way, and a good one I think, though it will still surprise me if it’s adopted, and still more so here in England (unless it’s review work for England-based journals; but almost all journal publishers are multinationals now…). But there has also lately emerged another way that might actually be a way forward. I think it has come out of automated journal submission systems like ScholarOne or Open Journal Systems, but we now have two organisations who are trying to actually turn academic labour like this into a marketable service. The first is ORCID, which is a service offering something like a DOI for researchers, rather than research, so that links to projects and manuscript submissions and so on can all be aggregated. They say:
“ORCID is an open, non-profit, community-driven effort to create and maintain a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers. ORCID is unique in its ability to reach across disciplines, research sectors and national boundaries. It is a hub that connects researchers and research through the embedding of ORCID identifiers in key workflows, such as research profile maintenance, manuscript submissions, grant applications, and patent applications.”
Well, I’m pretty sure our names worked for this already, but ORCID is interested in tracking things that our institutions have generally not been, and it is also tracking the work we do in the industry at large, not just our institutions.
And then, more interestingly in some ways, there is also Rubriq, a portal that manages peer review of manuscripts by maintaining as large a database of potential reviewers as possible, thus exceeding the personal networks that usually limit the effective ‘blindness’ of peer review in the humanities, and actually paying those reviewers for prompt review, even if not very much. This has caused some controversy, but apparently it does get the reviews in on time. It’s not an economically viable payment, really, for the work involved, less than we’d get for contract teaching, but it does at least signify that the work is worth something. Rubriq, in turn, then charges the journals it serves for access to their reviewing service.
Now this is an inversion of the usual revenue flow in academic publishing, which is of course all to the publishers. Instead, here while the publishers are still the point where money enters the system, there is a trickle-down to the academy. It’s tiny, of course, if ideologically significant, but together with ORCID it offers the possibility of an outside assessment of our service work, usually unrecognised, in terms of quality and value that we might present to our employers, or through them to our funders, in England of course usually somehow the state. Of course the cynical maxim, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” applies to both these models. ORCID may be a non-profit but its operating revenues are still earned by the participation of recognition-hungry academics who don’t themselves expect to get paid, and it’s those academics who give ORCID anything to offer. Rubriq likewise only has something to offer if it genuinely has lots of people on board from all over the place, and they are getting paid but without them Rubriq has no product.
But still, maybe this works? If we wind up working on a commission basis for new third-parties who enable peer review (which would become better and faster), whom the publishers pay in turn, and then subscribers continue to pay the publishers, that seems to me potentially to break the current squeeze in which the only way we can meet expectations is to do more that we don’t have time for for free. Our service work could be quantified, valued even, and counted into our assessments. It would be, after all, a form of outside consultancy. Meanwhile the publishers, whose costs would now be higher, would maybe make less per unit but might well have more units and could compete for quality in new ways. It still wouldn’t balance but it would balance better. Only thing is, I’m still not sure how we pay for open access…