Richard Smith: Why not auction your paper?

Richard SmithThe idea has long been around that instead of submitting your paper to one journal you should auction it to the highest bidder. Today I did it.

As we all know, getting published in high impact journals is crucial for academics. It shouldn’t be that way, and it’s wholly unscientific to use the impact factor of the journal as a surrogate for the impact of one study, but for now that’s the way it is. Soon, I suspect, it will change. Authors thus estimate the highest impact journal in which they might reasonably get published, and, recognising that the whole game is largely a lottery, they aim high initially. This is where the rot sets in. They might wait months only for their paper to be rejected. High impact journals have high rejection rates (over 90%) and are proud of it. Who else apart from editors boast about how many customers they reject? The authors then start their descent down the escalator of journals, often being neglected and abused the whole way.

Unfortunately the journals have the power. The authors are supplicants. But, of course, the journals, even the swankiest of them, need authors. No authors, no journal, no readers, no prestige, no fat salaries. Why not reverse the power gradient and auction your paper? Let the journals chase the authors rather than the other way round.

I’m lucky. I’m old, clapped out, and in no need of brownie points from journals. I’m a yesterday’s man, not a tomorrow’s man. But I co-author papers with people for whom getting published in high impact journals does matter. So we jump through the hoops set for us by journals. I blogged about the misery of being an author after being an editor, and the bad experiences I described in that blog have got worse. But I’m still not naming names.

So today I’ve auctioned my paper. I’m the only author, and it’s 7500 words (far longer than most high impact journals accept). It’s a paper that is a personal (self indulgent) account of my journey into evidence and out the other side. It’s based on a talk I gave years ago and was supposed to be in a theme issue of a journal. Because I didn’t think anybody would ever read the paper (my usual experience with books and themed issues of journals), I indulged and enjoyed myself in writing the article. Unfortunately I got stuck adding the references (always the most tedious part of writing a paper), was diverted, and forgot about the paper. Now I’ve missed the deadline for submission to the theme issue.

But I don’t want to forget the paper. I’d be grateful for even one reader. It’s much too long for a blog. I wondered about submitting it to F1000 Research, which would have meant that it would be posted (which is published) within 24 hours—and I still might do that. But first I offered the paper through Twitter. Eight hours after posting the Tweet I’ve had four offers. I’ve sent the paper to one editor and had a positive response if not a commitment.

This looks like the future to me. Let’s us authors turn the tables.

Richard Smith was the editor of the BMJ until 2004 and is director of the United Health Group’s chronic disease initiative.

  • Mike Taylor

    “I’ve sent the paper to one author and had a positive response if not a commitment”

    Do you mean sent it to one publisher?

  • JDobson

    Dear Mike,
    Yes you are right, it should have said “editor” rather than “author.” I have updated this in the blog.
    Best wishes,
    Juliet, BMJ blogs editor

  • susanne stevens

    Would it matter if you published it in an open forum which anybody could access? News spreads fast so it would be picked up..or is it that authors need the payment for their publications?.seems though that the hoops they have to pass through must amount to at least a lot of time and therefore potentially wasted money

  • susanne stevens

    Another idea……..if it’s not realistic to publish totally for free…there are still altruistic academics and others around.would it work to ask for donations for an open access publication. I bet some authors would get a good reponse.

  • Sorry about that mistake and thanks for pointing it out. I was drinking a good Beaujolais when writing this piece.

  • Increasingly all an author needs to do is to get a piece up on the web somewhere and then promote it through Twitter, listserves, etc. I find that I usually get no responses to something published in a book, a few to something published in a journal (although with many journals it’s none), and many to something posted on the web and Tweeted.
    Have you read the excellent blog in the BMJ by George Alleyne? He’s 80 and has no need of publications, but he writes excellent talks. He simply can’t face the hassle of going through the tedious processes of getting published in a journal. So I suggested he ask the BMJ to post his talk as a blog. They did, and there it is all for all to see.

  • This story has a happy ending in that my article will be published in three partsin the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

  • I wish I could agree with you that measuring a researcher’s acumen by the impact factor of the journal they publish in will soon stop. It’s a bad system and it leads to all sorts of problems and bad behaviour, but I see no sign of it disappearing — in fact, developing countries seem to be picking up this very bad habit from developed countries and the problem may be getting worse. But I hope you are right and I’m wrong!

  • Excellent disruption comming from the this side as well. Thank you for that. Was just discussing the (r)evolution going on in HC with a reporter for an article, when your post came in. Another sign that shift is happening, allthough it’ll might take longer then expected. Classical towers start to lose their power due to new initiatives, requiering new models, while keeping the good things of the ‘past’.

    Putting in our own 2 cents we’re launching patients-designed research with our latest initiative of our Radboud REshape & Innovation Center, based on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding :
    Will be talking about that on the April BMJ/IHI Forum in London.

    Every journey starts with the first step, thank you for that !