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Understanding Predatory Publishers

Learn what they are, how to spot them, and ways to protect yourself.

What is a predatory publisher?

A predatory publisher is an opportunistic publishing venue that exploits the academic need to publish but offers little reward for those using their services.

The academic "publish or perish" scenario combined with the relative ease of website creation has inadvertently created a market ripe for the exploitation of academic authors. Some of these publishers are predatory on purpose, while others may just be making mistakes due to neglect, mismanagement, or inexperience. While the motivations and methods vary they have common 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.

How the scam works

Online predatory publishers take advantage of the "author-pays" open access publication model. In this model, publication charges provide a publisher with income instead of subscriptions (for more information see our Open Access Guide).

It's important to realize that publishing open access does not make a publisher predatory, their bad behavior does.

Predatory publishers exploit new publishing models by claiming to be legitimate open-access publishing operations. They make false claims (such as quick peer-review) to lure unwary authors into submitting papers. While sending a predatory publisher a manuscript may see it "published" there is no guarantee that it underwent peer review, is included in indexes like Web of Science and Scopus, or that it will be available in a month much less in five years.

What's the harm?

Predatory publishers do authors a disservice by claiming to be a full-service publisher. Remember, as an author you are providing a valuable product and legitimate publishers provide valuable services to protect your work. Some of the dangers of publishing with 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 plan to seek 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

One of the advantages of publishing with a responsible publisher is that they make commitments 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. Since Iowa State University subscribes to hundreds of databases, including the two mentioned, 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.

About this guide

This guide is just that, a guide. Ultimately it is up to each author to make the final decision on where to publish and to decide what they expect from their publishers.

Megan N O'Donnell authored this guide. She would like to give special thanks to Eastern Michigan University Library's Guide on Predatory Publishers which served as a starting point. The graphic icons used on this guide are from icons8. Reuse of the icons requires a link back to icons8.

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