“I’m pretty sure peer-reviewing is a pretty negligible cost of publishing. All the editor has to do is select a few names and send them the submitted paper. Like the research itself, its a pretty sweet set-up in that most referees are providing free labour.”
I wish it were as simple as Aqua Regia makes out… !
Rather than rant about how editors have a love/hate relationship with the process of peer review, I’d like to offer up three things you should know—or remember—about peer review, and how that relates to the cost of academic books. Here’s the first; items two and three will follow next week.
Editors often ask authors for the names of 2 to 4 readers who would be qualified to review your manuscript.
Certainly not because your editor intends to pick two names from the list and send out the manuscript unannounced! (Think about it: if a random manuscript landed on your desk, would you give it more than a passing glance?).
Your editor asks so she can compare your list of potential referees with her own, to ensure that she’s targeting the right people. She may call some of the people you recommended—but she knows there’s a very good chance none of the people on either of your initial lists will say yes.
Most of the time, she’ll talk to 5 or 8 or 10 people—with one name leading to the next—before she speaks with the right reviewer, the one possessing the winning combination of an applicable research agenda, compatible leanings both theoretical and methodological, and time to read and thoughtfully respond to the manuscript.
It is a time-consuming process—and the publisher is paying for your editor’s time here, not to mention all the related overhead (think internet and phone service charges, the cost of photocopying, postage/shipping, rent on the office, health insurance for your editor…)
As an aside: this dynamic of one name leading to another and yet another is one of the main reasons why you shouldn’t assume, without very strong evidence or confirmation from your editor, that you know who your peer reviewers are.