Predatory publishing is the name given to a parasitic form of open access publishing that asks authors to pay the costs of publication often associated with open access (read more about these fees in the Pathways to Open module), but doesn’t adhere to the rigorous ethical standards expected by authors and readers. As a result of this strategy, predatory publishers are often accused of having high acceptance rates and not conducting thorough peer review. Predatory publishers typically have greater profit margins, as they accept a higher number of articles and collect more fees yet do not spend these fees on the publication process (peer review, copy editing, etc.).

Who are the prey?

For many active scholars, predatory publishing is nothing more than a nuisance, as easily ignored as the unsolicited emails they receive inviting them to submit a manuscript in a discipline far outside their area of expertise. Unfortunately not all scholars are able to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate publishers with graduate students and early-career scholars being particularly vulnerable to predatory publishers.

There is also evidence beginning to emerge that suggests that some scholars are knowingly publishing in predatory journals in response to mounting pressure to publish their research as quickly as possible. While traditional publication timelines can stretch into months or years, predatory publishers often advertise turnaround times of only a few weeks.

Nuisance or threat?

There is growing concern that predatory publishing is having a cumulative negative effect on the value of and trust in academic research by the public, especially given that this potentially low quality research is easily available to a public audience that still cannot access much of the “gold standard” research made available in the prestigious paywalled journals.

While it is beneficial to make research available to a public audience, many in the general population are not able to easily distinguish between high quality and low quality research. They expect that the research they find online in scholarly journals can be trusted because it has been vetted by other experts in the field. This implicit trust in scientific research has built up over hundreds of years, but ultimately rests on assurances from publishers (the peer review process is rarely made available to readers). As a result, academic publishing is particularly vulnerable to bad faith actors.

Scenario – Quality control

Let’s consider this scenario: A graduate student you are supervising has recently completed an interdisciplinary research project and is looking to publish her research in an open access journal. Due to the nature of the project she is looking for publication venues outside those you typically recommend.

  • What guidance would you give this student to help them find a legitimate place to publish?

Signs of a predatory journal

Identifying predatory journals is an important skill set for authors and readers to hone. Think. Check. Submit., a cross-industry initiative to educate authors on how to identify potentially predatory journals provides useful resources to help guide decision making.

Watch the below video for a brief overview.

Think. Check. Submit. (2016). Licensed under CC-BY.

Refer to the Gold Open Access section of the Pathways to Open module to find information on selecting an appropriate open access journal.

Tarnishing the reputation of open access

Predatory publishing also does a disservice to the larger open access movement, as some scholars do not distinguish between high quality open access journals and predatory ones. Additionally, there is concern among open access advocates that emerging and global south publishers are unfairly accused of being predatory and that this conflation stems from global north bias in using things like English proficiency as a shortcut for assessing journal quality.

The distinction between predatory and not becomes even more muddied when we consider that some previously labeled predatory publishers respond to criticism and institute policies and workflows more consistent with other reputable publishers. At what point should these publishers be deemed legitimate, and who has the authority to decide? If we take alone the academic community’s willingness to publish somewhere, then all publication channels are valid.

Dig Deeper

To learn more about the challenges of the term ‘predatory’ publishing, review: Anderson, Rick (2015). Should We Retire the Term “Predatory Publishing”?.


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