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.