Another week, another rejection letter. Am I writing bad papers, or is it getting harder to publish?
I can think of several reasons why it might be getting harder to publish.
1. Many new faculty members were hired in the last five to ten years. All of those people are trying to get tenure. In order to get tenure, they need to publish - so there are more and more people chasing the available journal slots.
2. The technology of research has changed. Many data sets are readily available on-line. Stata makes erstwhile complicated procedures, for example, calculating marginal effects on a probit model, as easy as typing mfx and hitting enter. So it's easier to generate research findings.
3. The technology of submitting articles to journals has changed. Back in the day, submitting an article to a journal took hours - to go to the library and find out the submission information from the hard copy of the journal, print out four copies of the article, plus cover letter, and mail it all out. Now it's just a matter of pressing a few buttons: "attach file" "submit."
But on the other hand:
4. The technology of publishing has changed. If typesetting is outsourced to low wage destinations and everything is distributed electronically, per page costs may have decreased in real terms (I don't know, I'm just speculating here), which would allow journals to accept more articles.
What's the evidence? Each year, the Canadian Journal of Economics provides data on acceptance rates and the number of articles submitted to the journal (it's at the end of the November issue under "News of the Association").
There is an upwards trend in the number of submissions, providing some support for the hypotheses one through three above.
There is perhaps some suggestion of a downwards trend in acceptance rates. The News of the Association in the early 1990s reported acceptance rates of 25 percent and noted that these were "roughly the historical norm." Acceptance rates now are about 18 percent. But as the diagram shows, acceptance rates jump up and down a bit. The current low rates could just represent random variation.
A journal's acceptance rate is determined in part by the editor of the journal and in part by whoever decides the page budget (that is, the number of pages in each volume of the journal). There is some danger, therefore, in attempting to explain acceptance rates in terms of big demographic/technological trends - they might simply reflect the whims of the editor.
And now...find another journal, press "attach" and "submit" one more time...