Notice how journals seem to proliferate like bunnies? And that more and more journals implement a desk reject policy? Why would editors not even bother sending a paper to referees? Probably because the paper is an obvious misfit, for example because of a topic mismatch. It makes you really wonder why authors would that ill-informed about the topic of the journals they are submitting to. But the rise of desk rejection policies and the increasing number of journals be linked?
Damien Besancenot, Kim Huynh and Radu Vranceanu address this with tools from the labor search literature. The key variable in the matching function is the ratio of editors (journals) to authors. In particular, as the cost of publishing has dramatically decreased, the number of editors increases, thus making publishing easier for authors. However, a consequence of this is that submission fees must increase to maintain surplus sharing, as the authors put it but I fail to understand. I would have expected the reduction in costs and the increased competition to result in lower submission fees. It can only be because authors value more publication than before, and there is evidence for that as more and more universities reward published research.
Obviously, the model is a simplification of the true editorial process. But the fact that an editor can be handling only one paper at a time is a serious drawback. A rejection or a revise/resubmit becomes then very costly, while high rejection rates are generally regarded as contributing to the value of a journal. The observed crowding of some journals seems to me to be a more important determinant of the adoption of a desk rejection policy. But in the end, the model does not have an endogenous desk reject, and thus fails to answer the question initially posed.