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Understanding Predatory Publishers

This guide introduces the concept of predatory publishing and provides advice on how to identify a potential predatory publisher.

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 scholarly authors. Some publishers are predatory on purpose, they're in it to make money, while others may be predatory through neglect, mismanagement, or inexperience. While the motivations and methods vary, what defines a predatory publisher is their failure to deliver products and services that meet author expectations and scholarly publishing requirements.

This guide has been updated to no longer include language and "warning signs" that reinforce global and academic inequities. But, mistakes happen. If you find language or a phrase that should be corrected or improved please contact the author.

How the scam works decorative

Open Access publication is sustained by charging authors a publication or “open access” fee. This fee helps publishers sustain their business and infrastructure over time ensuring that publications continue to be available online. This business model is an alternative to a subscription model where readers pay not authors.

Predatory publishers exploit the author-pays model to collect money from authors while delivering a poor product. decorativeThey often use deceptive tactics to attract authors. Claims of “quick peer review”, fake editorial boards, hidden charges, and fake Journal Impact Factors are all examples of unethical behavior practiced by predatory publishers.

Facts to remember:

  1. Open access publishing is not predatory. 
  2. There are different publication standards and practices across disciplines and around the world. 
  3. Claims of predatory practice may be grounded in bias or racism. For example, the publisher's country is not a good indicator of quality or ethical practices.
  4. Proxy measures of quality, such as Journal Impact Factor, are often selective in nature and biased toward established publishers. Lacking these metrics doesn't indicate that a publisher or journal is predatory.

What's the harm?decorative

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 promote and 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. Having a paper disappear is something no one should have to deal with.

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. Iowa State University subscribes to hundreds of databases, including the two mentioned above making it easy to validate these claims. While most journals are covered by Google Scholar your work won't be as visible if it's missing from other research databases relevant to your field.


Finding out you've been the victim of a scam is never fun. While the long-term repercussions of publishing with predatory publishers is still largely unknown there have been a few documented cases where it has hurt careers so it is better to be safe than sorry.

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 publisher.

Creative Commons LicenseMegan N. O'Donnell authored this guide. Last updated on 2023-01-04. First published in 2016, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The graphic icons from icons8 and can be reused as long as attribution is retained.

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Megan O'Donnell
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