I receive 300 requests a year to review research papers. Each takes 3–4 hours to complete, equivalent to roughly 1–2 days per week if I did them all. Should I win 'reviewer of the year' award, however, I suspect my colleagues would see my efforts as a foolish waste of time.
Reviewers are crucial to the success of prestigious and profitable journals, traditionally receiving no monetary or other recognition. As journals proliferate and scientists get ever busier, our appetite for reviewing wanes (see, for example, M. Arns Nature 515, 467; 2014). One way to revive this activity would be to consider it a business transaction — with modest remuneration of, say, US$50 per hour (see also S. Ott and D. Hebenstreit Nature 506, 295; 2014).
Publishing in an open-access journal costs around $1,000–$2,000, so paying $200 to a reviewer does not seem excessive. The authors and the journal could split the cost equally.
Prospective reviewers would be more inclined to do a speedy and thorough job. Retired scientists with extensive expertise and plenty of free time would be keen to participate. Editors would be spared the hunt for willing referees.
We could then use our reviewing fees to buy back some pleasure — I might go for a billiards table, a pinball machine or even a fancy treadmill.