Royal Society offers publishing discounts for peer reviewers

Scientific publisher hopes new credit scheme will reward and incentivise peer review

January 13, 2023
Tennis fans wear hats featuring the cups during the Wimbledon Tennis Championships to illustrate Royal Society offers publishing discounts for peer reviewers
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Peer reviewers for a leading Royal Society journal will receive a £100 voucher for every paper they assess, which can be used to reduce future publishing costs.

Under a pilot scheme to reward peer review, contributors to Open Biology will be awarded tokens that can be redeemed against article processing charges (APCs) when they publish with the gold open access journal.

From this month, the vouchers can be used in isolation or stacked towards the £1,400 cost of publishing, with co-authors able to combine peer review credits to offset the amount charged to academics or their institutions.

The scheme represents the latest effort to recognise and reward the many hours of work spent by scholars on peer review, which is typically unpaid despite often being conducted on behalf of for-profit periodicals.

The move also hopes to address concerns over a shortage of suitable peer reviewers; according to a survey conducted by the Royal Society, 41 per cent of reviewers who had declined the chance to review in recent months said they would be more inclined to do so if discounts on open access were available.

It follows a similar scheme by the PeerJ group of open access journals, which has offered discount tokens worth $100 (£74) for every submission undertaken by reviewers since February last year.

Phil Hurst, publisher at the Royal Society, which runs two fully open access titles and nine hybrid journals, told Times Higher Education that the discount could lead to significant savings for academics not covered by institutional read-and-publish deals, which remove the need for corresponding authors to pay a fee for open access publishing.

“Publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to find reviewers these days, and this was identified as a potential way of recruiting more reviewers – it’s a small amount, but if co-authors also chip in then it could help to substantially lower the APC,” said Mr Hurst.

“It would be even better if institutions began to recognise the work of peer reviewers, which is why we established the Résumé for Researchers, which allows these contributions to be highlighted.”

The reviewer voucher scheme echoed initiatives in the pre-digital era when reviewers could claim additional copies of books or articles by assessing papers, Mr Hurst reflected.

“The days when offprints were shared are over, but this is perhaps a return to this kind of recognition,” he said.

The initiative is part of efforts by the Royal Society to become a free-to-read publisher, with more than half of its articles published open access in 2021. It has committed to flipping its hybrid journals to fully open access when they pass a 75 per cent threshold.

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