When is a publisher not a publisher?

July 30, 2015

We’ve put out warnings in the past about the perils of predatory scholarly publishing and if you are still unsure what this means the Wikipedia entry sums it up pretty well. The rise of open access publishing has been great for both authors and readers but unfortunately it has also given rise to an underbelly of unscrupulous operators taking money from authors in return for putting low standard work into the public domain with little or no quality control. For readers this means that time is wasted on worthless junk and for authors it can lead to loss of reputation with no assurance that their work will continue to be available “in perpetuity” – although many of them possibly wish that their articles would just go away after they realise just what a poor context they have been placed in. The unsinkable Jeffrey Beall maintains a list of predatory publishers and journals that you should check out if you are in any doubt, but here are a few signs that the journal you are looking at is dodgy –

  • If they have emailed you asking you to submit an article – that’s honestly not how it works. Unless you are frightfully eminent, good journals don’t solicit articles in this way.
  • If they offer really quick peer review.
  • If the journal has a “generic title” like International Journal of Scholarly Studies and claims to cover a very wide range of subjects. What likelihood is there that they can link your article with a skilled peer reviewer? Or are they just trying to make as much money as possible from article processing charges?
  • If they publish a very (suspiciously?) large number of articles per year. Again, what are the chances these have been subject to expert review and editing?

If in doubt have a look at an issue of the journal online and have a look at a few of the articles. Do they look like the sort of work you would like yours to appear alongside? Do their lists of references contain recent works and do they conform to a common style? This would suggest that at least some minimal peer review has taken place. And don’t be fooled by the appearance of notable names on editorial boards because these publishers often resort to identity theft.

There is at least one publisher that doesn’t appear on the Beall list because they have seem to have resorted to a particularly cunning ruse – he deals with predatory open access publishers so they have dodged his bullet by not being open access. What they do is to take your money and then publish your article in a journal that is available only to subscribers or to those willing to pay a charge to view your article. This is a really unusual practice. Many journals charge subscriptions to libraries and then offer an (optional) additional service whereby articles can be made open access on payment of an article processing charge – these are so-called hybrid journals. And some subscription journals will levy “page charges” for an article with illustrations or one that exceeds the standard length. But for a supposedly subscription-funded and pay-per-view journal to also charge authors is unusual and rather suspect.

I personally doubt that many libraries subscribe to any of this publisher’s journals and I also doubt that many people pay to view the articles. Some of the journals have been indexed by Scopus and other databases for brief periods but they have generally been dropped and few of the articles they published have ever been cited. The purpose of the subscription and the pay-per-view charge is probably not to raise money but rather to keep the articles away from prying eyes once the author charge has been collected. Given that the definition of publishing is to make something public, or at least widely available, this publisher probably falls short of that definition and you are not getting what you pay for. Buyer beware.

Bruce White

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