Predatory publishers and journals
When publishing your work is a bad idea
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“We would be delighted to publish your thesis as an academic book.”
One of my peers read this to me just a few weeks after we had handed in our bachelor theses. She had received an email from the publisher AV AkademikerVerlag offering to publish her thesis for free. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm was dampened when I told her that I had received the same email. Apparently, someone had searched our department webpage for submitted theses and had found our names. In our guts we knew that our theses weren’t anything special but were just two of many. Neither of us responded to the email. Instead we chose to focus on our accomplishments.
But what’s the story behind emails like these?
Book publishers that focus on quantity rather than quality
The publisher AV AkademikerVerlag is part of the OmniScriptum group (AKA International Book Market Service Ltd. located in Riga, Latvia. In addition to AV AkademikerVerlag this group also includes Lambert Academic Publishing and Scholars’ Press. The publishing group contains uses many different names and has different addresses for the corresponding country.
The advantage of publishing with this publisher is that it’s free. In addition, the publisher lets you keep your intellectual property. You can publish your thesis there „quick, uncomplicated, and free“.
The big disadvantage: there is no peer review process. To be fair, the publisher does state this openly.
It’s apparent that the publisher’s focus is not on the quality of the published works, but their sheer number. For example, Lambert Publishing claims to offer over 200,000 titles.
How can these companies publish books for free? The books are only printed on demand when someone places an order. As such, the prices for the works are comparably high. The chances that a book published in this way will have much impact on the academic community are relatively small. Dr. Jonathan Sterne from McGill University in Montreal in Canada cautions students that working with such a publisher can be detrimental to an academic career. He cautions that such publications will just end up in an “academic cemetery”.
What’s the alternative if you want others to find your work? Many colleges and universities make theses and dissertations available using some form of Open Access publication – either through the institution’s own repository or publication platforms. With special meta search engines such as BASE which indexes both, your work can be easily found by academics around the world. This makes publication with a predatory publisher unnecessary.
Even if others want to read your work in print, there are other options. For example, if you submitted a printed copy of your thesis to your library, researchers around the world may be able to borrow it via InterLibrary loan.
Pseudo-academic journals are another trap. They require authors to pay fees for publication but they do not offer any services such as peer review or proofreading in exchange. Many of these journals do not adhere to other academic standards, either, and will even publish fake content.
For many years the librarian Jeffrey Beall published a list of likely predatory journals. Although “Beall’s list of predatory journals and publishers” was pulled offline in 2017, an anonymous group of users continue to provide updates to the existing entries, and the publisher Cabell’s offers an updated list with new entries as a paid service.
Often one publishing company is behind a large number of individual predatory journals. One of these companies is Omics International. In 2019 a court in Nevada fined Omics over 50 million dollars. Omics had lied about the number of editors that work for the companies’ journals; instead of 50,000, only 380 work for the publisher. In addition, many academics whose names were listed on editorial boards for various journals had no knowledge of their affiliation.
WASET is another company that has come under fire from academics. This publisher specializes in fake academic conferences and helping authors make it look as if they presented at an academic conference. To expose the publisher, the non-profit Online Privacy Foundation submitted a nonsense paper written by a software program – and it was accepted by WASET.
Who Publishes with Predatory Publishers?
Predatory publishers prey on those with little experience of the publishing process. Students may be flattered when they receive a publication offer. The desire to be a published author can easily overshadow their judgment.
However, it’s not only students that have been misled by predatory publishers. Many established academics have been fooled by predatory journals as well. The pressure to publish is so high that academics don’t always check the credibility of the journals as carefully as they should or they mistake a predatory journal for a legitimate journal with a similar name.
Of course, there are also academics that knowingly decide to publish in predatory journals. Often the aim is to add more publications to their CVs. It’s a quick solution, since publication is faster due to the lack of time-intensive peer review and proofreading. It’s a huge gamble, though, because if colleagues find out, their academic integrity and their careers could be on the line.
Many academics and researchers are now aware of the problem of predatory publishers, and some even publish gag articles in predatory journals. Their goal is to expose these journals and make others aware of the problem.
How to prevent publication in a predatory journal
The Citavi support team creates citation styles according to guidelines from academic journals or publishers. For that we require the official style guidelines from the journal. This lets us check if the publisher is legitimate. If a journal is on "Beall's list of predatory publishers & journals" and isn’t listed in the "Quality Open Access Market" list, we will let the user know and will decline the style request. If you get such a message, it’s an important clue that you should take a closer look at the journal you were thinking of publishing in.
Additional things you should check when choosing a publisher or journal are described by the initiative Think. Check. Submit. Librarians at your university can also help you evaluate whether a particular journal or book publisher is legitimate.
Have you ever been contacted by a predatory publisher or fake conference provider? Share your experiences with us on Facebook.
For further viewing:
German documentary with English subtitles: