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Predatory Publishing

Guide to the basics of predatory publishers and how to avoid them.

What is Predatory Publishing?

Predatory publishing is when an entity, such as an academic journal or publisher, uses an author's work for personal profit with no regard to legitimacy and accuracy.  It is an exploitative model where a publisher charges an author fees to publish their work without any sort of quality control.  This means that the publisher does not check the works for accuracy, plagiarism, and legitimacy (Elmore and Weston, 2020).  The publisher does not provide any editorial services to the authors either, so scholars are deceived into thinking that the publisher is a safe platform for their work.  By providing an unsafe publishing platform, it is a cheap model for predatory publishers to profit off others' works.

Most predatory publishers incorporate the "open access model" to their business, which allows work to be distributed to the public for free or with few access barriers (Elmore and Weston, 2020).  This makes it easy for predatory publishers to profit because they make authors pay to publish their work.

How were predatory publishers created?

According to Beall (2017), the rise of predatory publishing began in 1998, when the Internet and World Wide Web became gained popularity in modern society.  Before the Internet, most academic journals were printed and ordered by subscription.  The process of publishing was simple and low quality journals were easily avoided.  In the 1990s, subscription prices for journals increased drastically, so many academic libraries cancelled their subscriptions.  These factors led to the open access movement, placing blame for the high subscription prices on "greedy" publishers who did not support the "open access" model.  Open access journals were founded as a result, with little regard for publishing ethics or policies.  This lead to the establishment of predatory publishers, who care more about making money than they do about ethical publishing (Beall, 2017).

While the Internet benefits the academic community greatly, you can see that it has allowed predatory publishers to bypass publishing ethics and policies.  However, there are ways to determine whether an academic journal is "predatory."

Why should I avoid predatory publishers?

Predatory publishers do not seek to help you and your research.  Their main goal is to make a profit off other people's work and ignoring all other aspects of the publishing business.  As long as they receive their money, it does not matter to them what happens to the work you published.  Not only can you hurt your reputation as a researcher, but you can even lose the right to your own research if you are not careful (Elmore and Weston, 2020).  There are several consequences of publishing with a predatory journal, which can be viewed here.

How to Spot Predatory Publishers

There are signs that can indicate predatory publishers.  If a publisher has or does any of these things, it is a good indicator of a predatory publisher.


Characteristics of Predatory Publishers


  • Deceptive practices/fraud: Articles are not retrievable or the website displays errors.  If an author unknowingly published their work in a predatory journal, it also lowers the legitimacy and authority of the author in the academic world.  This is unfortunate for the author because it taints their reputation in their field.  On the other hand, the publisher benefits from their publication (Ferris and Winker, 2017).


  • Lack of archived material: Predatory journals do not archive their materials, which make them harder to access over time (Ferris and Winker, 2017).


  • Lack of quality control standards: There is no indication of peer review or editorial services for authors to improve their work.  The publisher may not monitor what type of work gets published and whether it is accurate (Elmore and Weston, 2020).


  • Lack of transparency: If a publisher does not clearly state their publishing policies on their website, then it could be predatory.  This is because they do not want potential clients to be aware of their lack of quality control.  Alternatively, they might have an unrealistic timeline for submitting work for publication (Elmore and Weston, 2020).


  • Open access journals/publications: While this does not automatically deem a publisher predatory, it can be a red flag.  Open access means that articles and works in a journal are available to the public for free or with few access barriers.  This model is common among predatory publishers because they charge authors a fee to publish their work (Elmore and Weston, 2020).


  • Poorly designed or written studies: If sources provided by the publisher are poorly written and unorganized, then it is a good indicator of a predatory publisher.  Professional publishers would not include poorly conducted studies in their collections.  Peer review and editorial standards would have filtered out poor works.  This includes scanning works for plagiarism and copyright infringement (Ferris and Winker, 2017).


  • Profit driven model: Authors must "pay to participate" to get their work published with little given in return.  In some cases, fees are unclear or are too high for what they may offer (Gordon, 2020).


  • Spam Emails: Have you received an email from a company trying to convince you to submit your work to a newly launched journal?  If the email sounds too good to be true, it probably is (Elmore and Weston, 2020).


  • Waiving copyright: Some predatory journals make authors sign away the copyright to their work in the publishing contract.  This allows the publisher to own the work, making it illegal for the original author to submit to another publisher (Elmore and Weston, 2020).

Characteristics of Professional Publishers

According to Arzole (2020) and Elmore and Weston (2020), the following traits are qualities of scholarly journals.  In many cases, the characteristics of scholarly journals are the exact opposite of predatory journals.  Thinking about the characteristics in this way may help you distinguish journals when assessing them for quality.


Characteristics of Professional Journals


  • Archived materials: Scholarly journals will archive their materials for future access.


  • Peer-reviewed articles: All scholarly journals have some sort of review or editorial process.  Peer review is a common editorial practice and journals will indicate this in their publications.  Traits of a peer-reviewed article are having an abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, references, and a multiple-copy submission requirement (Arzola, 2020).


  • Transparency: Does the journal clearly post their publishing policies on their website?


  • Original studies: The articles are original research and are unique to the field of study.  They contribute to the field in a meaningful way.


  • Minimal advertising: The journal does not send spam emails to potential clients or heavily advertise their services.


  • Abstract/introductory paragraphs: Do the articles include an abstract or brief introduction describing their contents?


  • Keywords: The works include keywords that are commonly used in the discipline of study (everyday language).

Considering a Journal

According to Elmore and Weston (2020), there are several questions to ask yourself when evaluating a publisher or academic journal:

  • Is the publisher's work peer reviewed?
  • Have other scholars distributed their work with this publisher?
  • Does the journal or business have a clear publishing policy?
  • Are their grammatical errors in emails you receive from the publisher?
  • Can you easily locate the publishing fees on the website?
  • Is the journal accessible or indexed in databases you have used?
  • Can you contact the publisher?
  • Is the publisher/journal a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) or listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOA)?

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) outlines the Principles of Transparency and best practices in scholarly publishing to assist authors in assessing the legitimacy of publishers.  You can access the principles and their website here.