Can a paid model for peer review be sustainable when the author can decide whether to pay or not?
AbstractGiven how hard it is to recruit good reviewers who are aligned with authors in their functions, journal editors could consider the use of better incentives, such as paying reviewers for their time. In order to facilitate a speedy turn-around when a rapid decision is required, the peer-reviewed journal can also offer a review model in which selected peer reviewers are compensated to deliver high-quality and timely peer-review reports. In this paper, we consider a peer-reviewed journal in
... which the manuscript's evaluation consists of a necessary peer review component and an optional speedy peer review component. We model and study that journal under two different scenarios to be compared: a paid peer-reviewing scenario that is considered as the benchmark; and a hybrid peer-review scenario where the manuscript's author can decide whether to pay or not. In the benchmark scenario of paid peer-reviewing, the scholarly journal expects all authors to pay for the peer review and charges separately for the necessary and the optional speedy peer-review components. Alternatively, in a hybrid peer-review scenario, the peer-reviewed journal gives the option to the authors to not pay for the necessary peer review if they are not able to pay. This will determine an altruistic amplification of pay utility. However, the no-pay authors cannot avail of the optional speedy peer review, which determines a restriction-induced no-pay utility reduction. In this paper, we find that under the hybrid setting of compensated peer review where the author can decide whether to pay or not, the optimal price and review quality of the optional speedy peer review are always higher than under the benchmark scenario of paid peer-reviewing, due to the altruistic amplification of pay utility. Our results show that when the advantage of adopting the hybrid mode of compensated peer review is higher due to the higher difference between the altruistic author utility amplification and the restriction-induced no-pay utility reduction, the journal can increase its profitability by increasing the price for the necessary peer review above that in the benchmark scenario of paid peer review. A key insight from our results is the journal's capability to increase the number of paying authors by giving the option to the authors to not pay for the necessary peer review if they are not able to pay.