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Scholarly Communications & Open Access

Predatory Publishing

What is a predatory publisher?

Predatory publishing is an exploitive business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals (both open and closed-access). Under the pressure to "publish or perish," authors are often targeted by these types of publishers, whose motivations and methods have these characteristics: 

  • Their primary goal is to make money
  • They do not care about the quality of the work published
  • They make false claims or promises
  • They engage in unethical business practices
  • They fail to follow accepted standards or best practices of scholarly publishing 

But I thought charging author fees is a legitimate open access business model. How does the scam work?

Yes, some open access journals rely on author fees. In this business model, the OA journal charges the author(s) a one-time fee for production and publishing costs, and then makes the work permanently free to access for readers. Legitimate open access journals are transparent about business practices, have subject experts on the editorial or peer-reviewed boards, and offer copyediting and proofreading services, among other criteria. Predatory publishers make false claims (like quick peer-review) and fail to deliver these services. 

Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers, written by Jeffrey Beall, provides a framework for identifying predatory publishers. Beall's List is a regularly updated list of potential, possible, and probable predatory publishers, based on Beall's criteria.

What's the harm?

By claiming to be a full-service publisher, predatory publishers are doing authors a disservice. As an author, you are providing a valuable product, and legitimate publishers will provide valuable services to disseminate and protect your work. Some of the dangers of using a predatory publisher are outlined below. 

Your work may be subject to sub-par peer-review

The peer-review system isn't perfect, but there is general consensus that papers that undergo peer-review are better for it. If you are seeking promotion or tenure, you want to make sure you are publishing in a place that values your work and is willing to devote time and resources to improving it.

Your work could disappear

Responsible publishers make a commitment to preserve your work. Opportunists looking to make a quick buck are not going to care if your paper is still available in 5 years, much less tomorrow. This situation is the stuff of nightmares if you plan to go up for tenure or promotion.

Your work will be hard to find

Some predatory publishers advertise that they are included in well-known databases like Web of Science or Scopus when they are not. This is easy to check. While most predatory journals will probably be covered by Google Scholar your work won't be as visible if it's missing from other research databases.

Embarrassment

Finding out you've been the victim of a scam is never fun. While the repercussions of publishing with questionable publishers is still largely unknown there have been a few documented cases where it has hurt careers: 

Types of predatory publishers

Phisher

Lures you in with promises then charges large fees after your paper has been "accepted." Publication fees are usually not openly disclosed and after acceptance phishers may demand payment even though no paperwork has been signed.

Impostor/Hijacker

Poses as a well-established journal or as a publication associated with a well-known brand or society. Often these journals tack on an extra word to an existing journal name such as "Advances", "Review" or " Reports" or create websites that appear to be affiliated with another publication.

Trojan Horse

Has a legitimate looking website, often with impressive lists of publications, but upon closer inspection nothing is what it seems. The journals are empty shells or worse, populated by stolen or plagiarized articles.

Unicorn

Too good to be true! These publishers may in fact be legitimate businesses who attempt, but fail, to provide good products or customer support and service. Common problems may include: no archiving policy (meaning your publication could disappear at any time); missing or ill defined peer-review criteria; and possible publishing ethics violations.

Acknowledgments

The content for the Predatory Publishers section of this guide was written by Megan O'Donnell at Iowa State University. Licensed under CC-BY. The graphic icons used on this guide are from icons8.