Predatory Publishing: What Is It and How to Avoid It?

The research community today is flooded with scholarly work of varying quality, a trend which has been accelerated by the development of open-access journal publishing (Haug, 2013). Such open-access publishing has become a prominent business model since the early 2000s. Its objective is to make academic papers free to the public, as an alternative way of achieving wider access to research, in lieu of the traditional subscription-based journal publishing (McVeigh, 2004). The business model of open-access shifts the cost of journal publishing from the readers to the authors, with the authors of accepted articles (or their funders or institutions) paying article-processing charges (APCs) for the publication of their papers in print or its electronic equivalent (Joint, 2006).

It is crucial to note that not all open-access journals are following the same standard of publishing requirements. Some of them have questionable publishing operations aimed solely at earning fees. Publishers of this kind are commonly called ‘predatory publishers’. They levy APCs on authors for publishing their articles and claim to provide peer review and other editorial services, but their practices are to a large extent questionable. Very often, a predatory publisher uses spam e-mails – some of which are personalized and targeted to the recipients’ needs and interests – to solicit papers, posing as legitimate publishers. As they seem to offer a very quick publishing process, this can be tempting for authors who are often burdened by the complex scholarly publishing processes that involve a robust and rigorous peer review, multiple revisions and copy editing, before publication (Hays, 2010). Predatory publishers have been criticized as corrupting the scholarly publication system by misusing the open-access model (Beall, 2012).

The proliferation of predatory publishers should not be ignored. Authors should be reminded that everything published will be searchable on the Internet and different databases. While having one’s paper accepted quickly and easily is undoubtedly attractive and may be a short-term strategy to boost one’s publication record, publishing in a predatory journal can be detrimental to authors in the long-term course of their academic careers. Bearing this in mind, one should avoid the lure to publish hastily and easily in predatory journals and should seek out and publish work in the best possible sources. Authors who are looking for credible open access journals to publish in may ask several questions, such as the following:

Is the journal indexed?

There are useful resources on the legitimacy of journals to which authors can make reference. In particular, Jeffery Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, provides an exhaustive list of predatory academic publishers and a list of possible/probable predatory journals, which help authors to avoid problematic publication sources. It is helpful to check whether a publisher or a journal is on the list before sending off a manuscript. There are also ‘whitelists’, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which help researchers to identify quality open-access journals.

Who publishes the journal?

It is important to find out whether the publisher is a member of recognized professional organizations that commit to best practices in publishing. Examples include the Committee on Publication Ethics, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers.

What copyright issues are involved in publishing in open-access journals?

Authors usually release their articles under a Creative Commons licence when publishing in open-access journals (MacCallum, 2007), to give the publisher a non-exclusive right to publish their work. This means that the authors still retain the copyright on their work. Authors should be cautious when an open-access publisher demands that they transfer copyright of their work to it. It is contradictory to pay a publisher to publish your work and, at the same time, sign over your copyright to the company.

The above points are not an exhaustive list of potential questions to ask when planning to submit a manuscript to an open-access publisher, but they touch on a number of the main issues associated with one’s publishing plan.

We recommend that you visit the Onsite e-Resources section of this issue, where you can find out more on predatory publishing to safeguard your interests.

Bailey, C. W., Jr. (2006). What is open access? In N. Jacobs (Ed.), Open access: Key strategic, technical and economic aspects (pp. 13–26). Oxford: Chandos Publishing. Retrieved from

Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature, 489(7415), 179.

Haug, C. (2013). The downside of open-access publishing. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(9), 791–793.

Hays, J. (2010). Writing for publication in nursing. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Joint, N. (2006). Institutional repositories, self-archiving and the role of the library. Library Review, 55(2), 81–84.

MacCallum, C. J. (2007). When is open access not open access? PLoS Biology, 5(10), e285, 2095–2097.

McVeigh, M. E. (2004). Open access journals in the ISI citation databases: analysis of impact factors and citation patterns: a citation study from Thomson Scientific. New York, NY: Thomson Scientific. Retrieved 24 August 2015, from



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