Academic Publishing : 2a. Avoid predatory publishers

This guide will provide you with information, suggestions, and resources for preparing your written work for publication, including information on open access publishing.

Avoid predatory publishers

"Predatory open-access publishers are those that unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit. That is to say, they operate as scholarly vanity presses and publish articles in exchange for the author fee. They are characterized by various levels of deception and lack of transparency in their operations.  For example, some publishers may misrepresent their location, stating New York instead of Nigeria, or they may claim a stringent peer-review where none really exists". (Source: Jeffrey Beall, "On predatory publishers")

When you're evaluating a journal to determine if your article is a good fit for the publication, don't forget to spend some time evaluating the publisher to make sure that the goal of the publication is to share knowledge versus solely to make a profit. 

See below for some tips on how to assess publisher quality:

Communications practices

  • Is their website competently designed and functional? If not, assume a scammer (caveat: many open journal systems sites are remarkably ugly, but still belong to reputable efforts).
  • Are they sending out mass emails asking for editors and submissions? Often a sign of a scammer (though, it must be said, a couple of legitimate OA publishers have done this, though they shouldn’t). Is the subject matter of the journal(s) advertised in the email appropriate to the recipient? If not, assume a scammer.
  • Are they sending out mass emails asking for links to their journal website? Usually this indicates a scammer.
  • Are they in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)? If they are, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re legitimate; the DOAJ doesn’t check closely. If they’re not, it’s worrisome.
  • Does the publisher offer usage statistics or any other sort of metric, alternative or otherwise? 

The publisher is stable

  • Is the journal stable in a coherent discipline or set of disciplines? If not—if the journal focus ranges all over the map, and this is a young/unknown publisher—assume a scammer. PLoS, BMC, Hindawi—the legits tend to start disciplinarily small and expand (if they expand) outward. (The likes of PLoS ONE are an exception, of course, but the Loon has yet to see a scammy publisher try a PLoS ONE clone.)
  • Anything set your alarm bells ringing, such as misspelled journal titles or ludicrous journal mission statements? 
  • Check journal-launch dates. Did the publisher launch a flock of journals at once? This is logistically near-impossible to do well (or indeed at all), no matter what the underlying business model; assume a scammer.
  • Likewise, are many of the journals empty shells, with no or very few published articles? 
  • How many of the journals publish regularly? The lower the number (that is, the more irregular the journal schedules), the likelier this publisher is to be a scammer.
  • A particularly dangerous warning sign: the publisher issues a lot of “edited volumes” rather than actual journals. This is really only a somewhat more advanced case of rot than the irregularly-published journal. The scammer has given up on collecting enough victims to publish something that looks even vaguely like a journal.

Often, the above criteria combine into a fairly strong hunch about the publisher’s scamminess. Those still unsure about a particular publisher may wish to proceed to:

Production values

  • Download a journal article or two. Assess the writing quality. Assess the copyediting. Assess the typesetting quality. If any of these is markedly lacking, spot-check a few more articles, varying the journals you look at. This isn’t an infallible sign, because goodness knows plenty of publishers on all sides of the business-model question let howling typographic and content horrors pass, and a few scammers fix  their typography and layout, but a pronounced lack is still indicative.
  • If you have the disciplinary background, skim some tables of contents to check articles for currency, interest, and worth. 
  • Does this publisher have anything on its site about its digital-preservation practices? Are they a LOCKSS, CLOCKSS, or Portico member? Do they participate in the DOAJ’s OA-journal preservation program? Are they partnering with a library for preservation? This is a basic scholarly responsibility.

People

  • Are editorial boards listed? If not, assume a scammer. If so, have you heard of any of these people? You may need to defer to others’ disciplinary knowledge for help on identifying the people on the board.
  • This is a tricky and often misleading one, but: do editorial and author slates consist mostly or entirely of scholars from developing nations? Richard Poynder explains astutely why this is a scamminess indicator: the developing educational/research infrastructure in these countries often privileges the appearance of scholarly publishing over the actual quality thereof, leaving a huge market for scammy pay-to-play “publishing” outfits. Do not use this criterion by itself! Not a few developing nations are building wholly legitimate open-access journal stables, in part because developed-world scholarly publishers often can’t be asked to publish knowledge local to developing nations or work with non-native speakers of English on their prose—and more shame to them for it.

Business model

  • Has the publisher ever had any financial support at all other than author fees? Grants (including grants that have run their course; several reputable OA publishers have gotten their seed money via startup grants), an existing reputable publisher applying capital, a membership program, an institutional or library or grant-funder backstop? If not, that’s a worrisome sign.
  • If there’s advertising, is it reputable and relevant to the journals?
  • Does the publisher run conferences? Are they exclusively in exotic locations? Are the conference fees exorbitant, compared to other conferences in the field? Do they publish proceedings, and if they do, are those proceedings any good? Just as there are scammy journals, there are scammy conferences that are pure excuses for expensive vacations and profitmongering.

(Adapted from "Assessing the scamminess of a purported open-access publisher" by the Library Loon. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this information is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.)

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