Zetland suggests that journal publishers should buy manuscripts in an auction. You probably already have some objections, Where would the money come from? Why would journal editors buy what they can get for free? etc. But wait. Here comes the clever part:
The money paid in the auction would flow not to the author of the paper but to authors cited by the paper and their publishers. For example, if a journal buys a paper by A.Tabarrok for $1000 which cites an article by T.Cowen published by Oxford University Press and an article by M. Friedman published by the University of Chicago Press then Cowen, Friedman and their publishers would each receive $250 (the author/publisher split could vary.)
First, let me say this is a cool idea. Zetland acknowledges the potential for citation gaming in the paper. Perhaps more important is an issue he alludes to in the introduction:
Gans and Shepherd (1994) asked some famous economists if they ever had trouble getting their seminal articles published. Tales of woe poured forth from wounds never healed. 3 Although these economists did get published in the end, many do not. The process of publishing a journal article is often frustrating— misplacement, delay, overburdened editors and dense reviewers inhabit our worst nightmares. Since articles are the primary tool in academic discourse, improving this process is important.
It is clear that editors and reviewers do a poor job of selecting articles. I see the core problem as reviewers want to select papers that doen’t shake the boat (and ideally, cites their work). Editors are unable to tell a good article from a bad one, and rely on reviewers to do that. So perhaps pay reviewers who praise articles that later are well-cited? (This of course relates to Keynes’ beauty contest.)