The Slowdown in First-Response Times of Economics Journals: Can It Be Beneficial?

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Academic publishing has been the subject of several studies recently. Some studies considered the pricing of academic journals, for example, Bergstrom (2001) and McCabe (2002), while others focused on various aspects of the review process. Blank (1991), for example, studies the use of single-blind versus double-blind review. Chang and Lai (2001) and Engers and Gans (1998) examine the issue of payment to referees. Laband (1990) discusses the value added from the review process, and Azar (2006) considers how the review process can be improved. Finally, Azar (forthcoming) presents a model of social norm evolution and uses it to analyze changes in the norm about how quickly referees should write their reports. Indeed, research on the academic review process is not only interesting for most academics but also very important because of the insights it might suggest about how the review process can be improved, enhancing the productivity of economists and scholars in other disciplines.

Two of the main criticisms about the review process are the long time that it takes overall and the long time that it takes to get a first response on a submitted manuscript (first-response time, henceforth FRT). The overall review time is often measured by the submit-accept time, the time from first submission of the article to the journal that eventually publishes it until its acceptance. The overall review time has received some attention recently: Ellison (2002a) documents a slowdown in submit-accept times in economics over the last three decades and Ellison (2002b) suggests that several additional disciplines also experienced a similar slowdown. The major cause of this slowdown is that authors are required to revise their papers more times and more extensively than in the past. Earlier studies of the publication delay include Trivedi (1993) and Yohe (1980).

As opposed to the submit-accept time, however, the FRT has not received any systematic analysis recently. The FRT is particularly important because it often delays the publication of an article more than once (as opposed to other parts of the submit-accept time) when the paper is rejected from one or more journals prior to being accepted in a different journal. Azar (2004), for example, estimates that papers are submitted on average three to six times prior to publication. In what follows, I discuss the FRT in economics, and in particular, I address three questions: what is the FRT in economics today, how has it changed over the last few decades, and can the change be beneficial?

II. THE SLOWDOWN IN THE FRT OF ECONOMICS JOURNALS

FRTs Today

While many economics journals publish with each article its acceptance date or the dates in which the initial and final versions were received, no economics journal I encountered publishes information about the FRT of each article published. Going over dozens of journals, however, I found several journals that publish aggregate FRT statistics; Ellison (2002a) and Web sites of various journals provided me some more data. Table 1 presents the FRT in various journals. The table includes also FRT in journals in accounting and finance; the difference in the FRT between these fields and economics is puzzling, and explaining why it exists is an intriguing topic for future research. (1)

A few interesting outliers in the table are the journals of the Berkeley Electronic Press. Those are electronic journals that were established in recent years with the purpose "to address the inefficiencies that characterize the current scholarly publishing model." (2) If we look at the more established print journals in the table, however, we can see that the FRT in economics journals is generally between 3 and 6 months. From the author's perspective, the FRT is a little longer (for snail mail submissions) because the FRT reported by the journal does not include the mailing time from the author to the journal and back. …

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