In science, we “match” manuscripts to journals by submitting to them one at a time. If the journal declines the ms, we resubmit elsewhere. This is arguably an inefficient system. Leading journals like Oikos decline the vast majority of mss they receive, and it is not uncommon for authors to resubmit the same ms to several journals before it is finally accepted. That’s a lot of rejections per “match” (accepted ms). What if there were a way to achieve roughly the same (or even a better) “match” between mss and journals without all the rejections and associated effort on the part of authors, reviewers, and editors?
There are various ways in which the efficiency of the system might be improved. Here’s a particularly radical one: let journals “bid” on mss. The basic idea is that mss would be submitted to many journals at once, and any journal that wanted to could “bid” on the ms by offering to accept it. The author would then choose among the “bids”.
Before you start in with all of the objections that I’m sure immediately occurred to you (and to me, too), know this: this is already how legal journals (law reviews) operate. ExpressO is a service in which more than 750 law reviews participate. It began a few years ago; before that law journals operated the way science journals do (except I think many law journals still were taking paper submissions). Now, authors upload their mss to ExpressO, which submits the mss to whichever participating journals the author wishes. Any journal that wants to accept the ms uses ExpressO to notify the author, who chooses among these “bids”. The service is free to journals. Authors either pay a small fee ($2.20 USD per journal to which they want their ms submitted), or their institution pays on their behalf via an institutional subscription. If you’re curious about other details (and there are many–ExpressO seems to be quite a sophisticated and refined service), click the link.
Neither I nor Oikos endorses ExpressO. I don’t know enough about it to endorse it or even argue for it, and I don’t speak for the Oikos board. But I do find it intriguing, and so wanted to bring it to your attention. It appears to solve a problem that many legal authors and journals wanted solved. In contrast, many proposed reforms of the scientific peer review system, including one I’ve stumped for, aim to solve problems that many argue don’t even exist. And ExpressO seems to be narrowly tailored to solve the problems it solves, which should reduce the risk of unintended negative side effects. And it seems to take advantage of, rather than ignore, the incentives that authors, journals, and employers face. Food for thought.