On February 23, Axios Review, the independent peer review service, announced on Twitter that the company plans to shut down and will stop accepting further requests for peer review from March 1. Tim Vines, founder and Managing Editor of Axios Review said that although the company had been receiving a healthy number of submissions, sustaining the volumes was proving to be difficult.
Since its inception in 2013, Axios Review was gaining prominence as one of the startups that had the potential to drive innovative change in the existing publishing system. In 2016, it also announced a relaunch as a not-for-profit organization. The service the company provided was based on the concept of paid, independent peer review – authors would submit their papers to Axios for a peer review before they submitted them to their target journals. Axios would then perform a rigorous review of authors’ papers and judge the extent to which they met the scope and requirements of their target journals. Following this, Axios would approach suitable journals with the paper to see if they would be interested in considering the papers for publication. The system was set up to deal with the tedious processes of journal selection and submission/re-submission, where authors have to reinvent the submission wheel every time their manuscript is rejected by a journal. The Axios editorial board and their peer reviewers would add more value, eliminate the possibility of rejection due to lack of novelty or mismatch with the journal’s scope, and achieve shorter time to journal decision and publication.
In an interview with Phil Davis (The Scholarly Kitchen), Tim Vines named three factors that led to the decision to close the society. Often, even after papers were reviewed by Axios, journal editors would queue them up for a round of review. Some authors were frustrated with the additional review and didn’t understand the need for it. According to Vines, authors may not have realized that it is normal for journal editors to exercise caution and get papers reviewed by known experts. He feels that it should have been made clear to authors that journal editors would make their own decisions despite an Axios referral. Second, after Axios introduced a $250 reviewing fee, they witnessed a slowdown in growth. It appeared as though authors were becoming price-sensitive and were hesitant to pay the fees. Vines was admittedly surprised by this, given that open access publication fees for the fields of ecology and evolution, for example, are much higher than the Axios fees. Axios also had an arrangement with BioMed Central journals, whereby the $250 Axios fee could be deducted from authors’ article processing charge (APC). Finally, Vines feels that the academic community is not active when it comes to adapting to change, i.e., newer publication models as those introduced by Axios: “Friends that moved into the business world find our failure bemusing, as their companies always evaluate purchasing a service in terms of how much time/effort they’ll save against how much it costs. The fact that academics won’t pay $250, even if it saves them months of fruitless submitting and resubmitting, strongly implies that they place very little value on their own time, or on the time of their students.” Incidentally, a year ago, in an interview with Editage Insights, Vines had said, “We very much hope that the community eventually sees independent peer review as a standard route to journal publication.”
A couple of other names in the independent peer review area are Peerage of Science and Rubriq. The former introduces a workflow where authors determine the timelines for the stages of submission and review, review of peer review, manuscript revision/upload, and final manuscript evaluation. The latter is a group of researchers from a range of disciplines who perform peer reviews within two weeks. The workflows of both are different from that of Axios and whether they would face similar problems or how they will develop in the future remains to be seen.
However, Axios' decision throws into focus the key question of whether, as a concept, independent, or portable, peer reviews are sustainable in the long run. This also highlights the possibility that the current/conventional academic publishing workflow is too deeply entrenched and academics are resilient to change or adapting newer publication workflows. For example, it might be difficult for authors to pay a third party like Axios that does not directly publish their paper, or journals may not be able to trust independent peer review referrals. Another aspect to this is the fact that, traditionally, peer review is perhaps viewed by many as a pro bono service that is offered by individuals who are passionate about the field, and commercialization of the peer review process might not be trusted as much as the conventional system. While the closure of Axios Review may not indicate a completely gloomy scenario for similar developments in peer review, it certainly warrants serious thought and discussions about which workflow might succeed and sustain in the long run and how the publishing community can support the implementation of such a workflow.
- Wither Portable Peer Review
- Axios Review: Solving the submit-reject-resubmit problem for authors (An interview with Tim Vines)
- Wither Portable Peer Review?
- Axios Review relaunches as a non-profit
- Peer-review 'heroes' do lion's share of the work
What are your thoughts on alternate models of peer review? Are you satisfied with the conventional peer review system? Would you like to discuss any of your own thoughts on the issue? Please share your thoughts below.