Spotting the ‘predatory’ publisher

FAQ: A publisher I haven’t heard of has invited me to submit a paper to their journal.  How do I know that they are reputable?

Following the publication of the Finch Report and the subsequent actions of the Research Councils, HEFCE and others, there is more pressure than ever for researchers to ensure that their published outputs are made available to all.  This has prompted publishers, both established and new, to reconsider their business models and provide new open access publishing options to researchers.

I have written before about how to find an open access journal for your article, but what happens if the publisher approaches you?

Based on the queries I’ve received from researchers, there seem to be two areas of concern.

  • Confused_Felipe croppedUpon acceptance of a manuscript, a well established scholarly publisher suddenly offers ‘gold’ open access for an additional (quite often large) fee.
  • A previously unknown publisher invites you to submit a manuscript to a relatively new fully open access journal; fees may or may not be mentioned.

The first concern is easily dealt with.  A large number of scholarly publishers have converted their regular journals into ‘hybrid’ journals where, in any given issue, there will be a mix of open access and locked down articles, depending on whether the author has paid an open access fee (sometimes known as an article processing charge or APC). If the journal is one that you have already chosen to submit to then the only decision is whether you wish (and are able) to pay the fee.  Research Councils UK now provide a block grant to some institutions to cover APCs but the University of Northampton does not receive any of these monies and, in the absence of any other source of funding for this purpose, does not maintain any central fund for the payment of APCs.

The size of APCs varies enormously between publishers and even between journals.  By way of example, Elsevier charges between $500 and $5000; Springer’s fees range from £415 to £1245 but Wiley charges a fixed £1827 ($3000).  Some publishers (e.g. PLoS) offer reduced or zero fees for those researchers who would otherwise be unable to publish and others (e.g. Taylor & Francis) offer discounted deals to institutions on payment of a fixed annual sum.  If you’d like to know more about the issues surrounding the charging of APCs then this article (open access version) and blog post make interesting reading.

The second area of concern requires a little more thought from the recipient.  If you are contacted by a previously unheard-of open access publisher, especially one that wants money from you, the temptation is often to dismiss it out of hand.  This may be the sensible response, but you could be denying yourself a golden opportunity.  There are a number of examples of successful, high impact journals that are electronic only, open access and are either free to publish in or have a business model based on APCs.   This blog post includes a list of 619 open access journals which in 2009 had impact factors in Thomson’s Journal Citation Reports.

But Thomson’s impact factor is not the only measure of journal quality.  Indeed, many newer journals won’t yet have an impact factor. So how else can you establish the quality of an unfamiliar journal?  The following checklist may help.

  • The publisher and editorial team:
    • Have you or your colleagues heard of the publisher?  If not, are they affiliated to a reputable organisation?
    • Does the publisher specialise in your subject area or are they a generalist? A new publisher which claims to publish tens or even hundreds of journals across all disciplines should be viewed with caution.
    • Have you heard of the Editor or Editorial Team?  Do you recognise the names of any members of the Editorial Board?
  • The publishing process:
    • Is the peer review process described? Some form of peer review is essential; ideally the process will be ‘double blind’ and the peer reviewers will be drawn from your specialist area.
    • What are the anticipated lead times between submission and response, or between acceptance and publication?  Are these suspiciously short?  Do they fit with your own requirements?
    • Is the rejection rate given?
    • Are any fees made clear?  Any submission fees, publication fees, page charges etc. should be clearly stated.
  • Existing content:
    • Does the journal have an archive of back issues? If so, you can check the frequency of publication, assess the quality of previously published items, search for authors that are known to you, establish any editorial bias and so on.
    • Have past papers attracted any citations? Don’t expect too many if the journal is very new, but be wary if there seem to be an abnormally high number of citations between papers in the journal.
    • Does the journal have an impact factor? Probably not if it is new, but other measures are available for assessing journal quality.
  • Indexing in databases:
    • Is the journal indexed by any of the scholarly databases in your field? Again, this is less likely for a new journal but may be a good sign for a more established one.
    • Is the journal listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals? DOAJ only indexes journals that meet its selection criteria.
    • Is the journal archived for preservation purposes? LOCKSS and Portico offer popular services for this.  It indicates commitment to the long term future of the journal.

Lastly, is the journal listed in Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers? Although controversial and probably incomplete, Jeffrey Beall’s lists are widely referred to by people wishing to identify questionable publishers and journals.

If you have any questions about any of this, or would like some help with establishing the credibility of a journal then the LLS Research Support Team or your Academic Librarian would be happy to help.

Image by FelipeIbazeta (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted on January 17, 2014, in Library and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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