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Reviewed by: Christine Oka, Research & Instruction, Northeastern University Libraries, Boston, MA
On the home page of Collabra, the new open access journal published by the University of California Press, are the words: “Shared Knowledge, Shared Value. We think everything in the journal publishing process should be open and shared: research, recognition, reward. . . . Collabra is the mission-driven Open Access journal that shares not only the research but also the value created by the academic community.” Plans are for publishing with Editorial Boards in three subject areas: Ecology & Environmental Sciences, Life & Biomedical Sciences, and Social & Behavioral Sciences, with later publishing expansion into the areas of the humanities, computer and physical sciences.
Two major changes in the Collabra academic publishing model were reported in Science with the headline, “New Open Access Journal Plans to Pay Peer Reviewers.” The announcement stated Collabra would be “paying small sums to the reviewers and editors who decide what gets published. In a further twist, the journal will give the payees a choice of what to do with their money. They can keep the cash, donate it to a fund that helps cash-strapped scientists pay the journal’s $875 publication fee, or contribute it to their own institution’s open-access activities.” The announcement was met with controversy over the break with the academic tradition of article reviewers working for free. As Graham Steel, an open access advocate and community manager at the ContentMine, a literature mining initiative pointed out, “Paying reviewers for editing papers has been a subject of discussion for quite some time, but it’s actually never been tried.” Twitter (@CollabraOA) was abuzz with this. Neil Blair Christensen, director of digital business development at UC Press, emphasized “Collabra is not just about paying reviewers but also about directing some of the value generated back into the research community.” His twitter response to “Wait, reviewers shouldn’t be getting paid for their work-- reviewing should be a volunteer service in academia!” was “It's peer review week and publishers celebrate the profits that reviewers donate to them.”
The Collabra model has $250 of the $875 APC put into an account where the funds will be paid to editors and reviewers for their work—whether or not articles were accepted or rejected. Editors and reviewers can choose to keep their money or pay it forward to the Collabra Waiver Fund or to their library’s OA APC fund. The Collabra Waiver Fund is for authors who do not have funding to pay the APCs.
Collabra has published its first article, an original research report, “Implicit Preferences for Straight People over Lesbian Women and Gay Men Weakened from 2006 to 2013” along with the note, “The author(s) of this paper chose the Open Review option,” and the peer review comments are available online. The choice to identify the reviewers and show the editorial comments recognizes the contributions of reviewers and editors to the post submission process. Further transparency is accessible through social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, news feeds, and a blog.
The open access journal publishing model has been met by questions from the beginning: If it is freely accessible, how valuable is the content? Does open access reflect on the quality of the articles? If it is open access, why is the financial burden of publishing placed on the author with an APC (article processing charge)? Collabra is trying something new with open access and peer reviewing.