A Market for Journal Articles

The current academic publishing system is slow, tedious, and error prone.  David Zetland, a clever economics graduate student at UC Davis, has a better idea.  Zetland suggests that journal publishers should buy manuscripts in an auction.  You probably already have some objections, Where would the money come from?  Why would journal editors buy what they can get for free? etc.  But wait.  Here comes the clever part:

The money paid in the auction would flow not to the author of the paper but to authors cited by the paper and their publishers.  For example, if a journal buys a paper by A.Tabarrok for $1000 which cites an article by T.Cowen published by Oxford University Press and an article by M. Friedman published by the University of Chicago Press then Cowen, Friedman and their publishers would each receive $250 (the author/publisher split could vary.)

The cleverness of the idea now becomes apparent.  Publishers will be willing and able to pay for papers because they expect to earn revenues when in turn those papers are cited.  Publishers will pay $1000 for the paper by A. Tabarrok, for example, if they expect that paper to be cited many times.

Once it gets off the ground, the market for journal articles is self-sustaining and self-fulfilling.

A market established in this way has all kinds of beneficial properties.  Publishers will have an incentive not only to seek out the best papers and pay for them but also to improve those papers in order to make them more citable.  Publishers might offer online data collection and color graphs, for example.  Similarly, if this proposal takes off we might expect a big improvement in the speed and accuracy of the refereeing process.  Who knows, editors might even edit papers!


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