Background Free and open access to primary biodiversity data is essential for informed decision-making to achieve conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development. However, primary biodiversity data are neither easily accessible nor discoverable. Among several impediments, one is a lack of incentives to data publishers for publishing of their data resources. One such mechanism currently lacking is recognition through conventional scholarly publication of enriched metadata, which should ensure rapid discovery of 'fit-for-use' biodiversity data resources. Discussion We review the state of the art of data discovery options and the mechanisms in place for incentivizing data publishers efforts towards easy, efficient and enhanced publishing, dissemination, sharing and re-use of biodiversity data. We propose the establishment of the 'biodiversity data paper' as one possible mechanism to offer scholarly recognition for efforts and investment by data publishers in authoring rich metadata and publishing them as citable academic papers. While detailing the benefits to data publishers, we describe the objectives, work flow and outcomes of the pilot project commissioned by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility in collaboration with scholarly publishers and pioneered by Pensoft Publishers through its journals Zookeys, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, BioRisk, NeoBiota, Nature Conservation and the forthcoming Biodiversity Data Journal. We then debate further enhancements of the data paper beyond the pilot project and attempt to forecast the future uptake of data papers as an incentivization mechanism by the stakeholder communities. Conclusions We believe that in addition to recognition for those involved in the data publishing enterprise, data papers will also expedite publishing of fit-for-use biodiversity data resources. However, uptake and establishment of the data paper as a potential mechanism of scholarly recognition requires a high degree of commitment and investment by the cross-sectional stakeholder communities.