What is Predatory Publishing?

Predatory publishers are publishers whose main goal is to collect fees for promised publications. Jeffrey Beall, a former librarian and research at the University of Colorado, coined the term in 2010 and defined predatory publishing the following way:

“These predatory publishers are dishonest and lack transparency. They aim to dupe researchers, especially those inexperienced with scholarly communication. They set up websites that closely resemble those of legitimate online publishers, and publish journals of questionable and downright low quality.”

From Beall's "Predatory publishers are corrupting open access" published in Nature in 2012

Quick Checks

Is the journal indexed?

Check if the journal is indexed in library databases or in other journal indexes.

Is the journal listed on a predatory publisher list?

There are two main places that you can look for a list of predatory publishers.

Does the journal have an ISSN?

Many predatory publishers will not list an ISSN for their journals or say things like their ISSN is "pending." A journal may list a fake ISSN. However, this isn't a perfect indicator because predatory journals CAN obtain ISSNs if they are willing to go through the process.

ISSNs should be two groups of four digits divided by a hypen: 1234-1234

If a journal lists an ISSN that does not follow this format, it is probably fake.

You can also check the ISSN in the ISSN portal to see if it is listed:

Characteristics of Predatory Publishers

The presence of one of these characteristics does not necessarily mean that the publisher is predatory, but they can be red flags. The more of these characteristics you see the more you should doubt whether the publication is legitimate.

  • Quick and guaranteed acceptance
  • Fast publication timeline despite promising rounds of peer review (days to weeks)
  • Use of flattery and aggressive campaigns for submissions
    • Usually this takes place in the form of unsolicited emails from so-called editors or editoral boards of a publication
  • Suspicious website
    • Look for misspellings, incorrect grammar or wording, blank pages or circular linking (bringing you back and forth between pages or to pages that do not have the information promised). Careful though, nowadays it is quite easy to create a very professional and polished looking website.
  • Fees
    • Fees are not necessarily indicative of a predatory publisher. On its own, it is not enough to prove that a journal is predatory. Many reputable Open Access journals require fees because they do not get funding from traditional publishing subscription fees. Things you can consider to see if there are red flags:
      • Are they clear about what the fee will be and what it will cover?
      • Are they up front about the fees or do they only notify you of it after your article has been "accepted"?
      • Fees should cover publication costs like levels of access (green vs. gold open access) rather than something like your country of origin.
      • Does their payment system seem suspicious?

You can investigate a lot of this information through the publisher/journal website but it is important to remember that Google can be your friend! Look up the publisher or journal online. What does the Wikipedia page say? Do you find accusations of predatory behavior? This can help you know what to look further into or confirm your suspicions. 

Helpful Resources