Right path, wrong journey

In his latest post, Simon Linacre reviews the book, The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Timesby Albert N. Greco, Professor of Marketing at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, recently published by Oxford University Press.

Given the current backdrop for all industries, one might say that scholarly communications is in more turmoil than most. With the threat to the commercial model of subscriptions posed by increasing use of Open Access options by authors, as well as the depressed book market and recent closures of university presses, the last thing anyone needs in this particular industry is the increased uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus epidemic.

As such, a book looking back at where the scholarly communications industry has come from and an appraisal of where it is now and how it should pivot to remain relevant in the future would seem like a worthwhile enterprise. Just such a book, The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Times, has recently been written by Albert N. Greco, a U.S. professor of marketing who aims to “turn a critical eye to the product, price, placement, promotion, and costs of scholarly books and journals with a primary emphasis on the trajectory over the last ten years.”

However, in addition to this critical eye, the book needs a more practical look at how the industry has been shaken up in the last 25 years or so. It is difficult to imagine either an experienced academic librarian or industry professional advised on the direction of the book, as it has a real blind spot when it comes to some of the major issues impacting the industry today.

The first of these historical misses is a failure to mention Robert Maxwell and his acquisition of Pergamon Press in the early 1950s. Over the next two decades the books and journals publisher saw huge increases in revenues and volumes of titles, establishing a business model of rapid growth using high year-on-year price increases for must-have titles that many argue persists to this day.

The second blind spot is around Open Access (OA). This subject is covered, although not in the detail one would like given its importance to the journal publishing industry in 2020. While one cannot blame the author for missing the evolving story around Plan S, Big Deal cancellations and other OA-related stories, one might expect more background on exactly how OA started life, what the first OA journals were, the variety of declarations around the turn of the Millennium, and how technology enabled OA to become the dominant paradigm in subject areas.

This misstep may be due to the overall slight bias towards books we find in the text, and indeed the emerging issues around OA books are well covered. There are also extremely comprehensive deep dives into publishing finances and trends since 200 that mean that the book does provide a worthy companion to any academic study of publishing from 2000 to 2016.

And this brings us to the third missing element, which is the lack of appreciation of new entrants and new forms in scholarly publishing. For example, there is no mention of F1000 and post-publication peer review, little on the establishment of preprint servers or institutional repositories, and nothing on OA-only publishers such as Frontiers and Hindawi.

As a result, the book is simply a (very) academic study of some publishing trends in the 2000s and 2010s, and like much academic research is both redundant and irrelevant for those practicing in the industry. This is typified in a promising final chapter that seeks to offer “new business strategies in scholarly publishing” by suggesting that short scholarly books, and data and library publishing programs should be examined, without acknowledging that all of these already exist.

The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Times, by Albert N. Greco  (published April 28, 2020, OUP USA) ISBN: 978-0190626235.

Cabells’ top 7 palpable points about predatory publishing practices

In his latest post, Simon Linacre looks at some new stats collated from the Cabells Predatory Reports database that should help inform and educate researchers, better equipping them to evade the clutches of predatory journals.

In recent weeks Cabells has been delighted to work with both The Economist and Nature Index to highlight some of the major issues for scholarly communication that predatory publishing practices represent. As part of the research for both pieces, a number of facts have been uncovered that not only help us understand the issues inherent in this malpractice much better, but should also point researchers away from some of the sadly typical behaviors we have come to expect.

So, for your perusing pleasure, here are Cabells’ Top 7 Palpable Points about Predatory Publishing Practices:

  1. There are now 13,500 predatory journals listed in the Predatory Reports database, which is currently growing by approximately 2,000 journals a year
  2. Over 4,300 journals claim to publish articles in the medical field (this includes multidisciplinary journals) – that’s a third of the journals in Predatory Reports. By discipline, medical and biological sciences have many more predatory journals than other disciplines
  3. Almost 700 journals in Predatory Reports start with ‘British’ (5.2%), while just 50 do on the Journalytics database (0.4%). Predatory journals often call themselves American, British or European to appear well established and legitimate, when in reality relatively few good quality journals have countries or regions in their titles
  4. There are over 5,300 journals listed in Predatory Reports with an ISSN (40%), although many of these are copied, faked, or simply made up. Having an ISSN is not a guarantee of legitimacy for journals
  5. Around 41% of Predatory Reports journals are based in the US, purport to be from the US, or are suspected of being from the US, based on information on journal websites and Cabells’ investigations. This is the highest count for any country, but only a fraction will really have their base in North America
  6. The average predatory journal publishes about 50 articles a year according to recent research from Bo-Christer Björk of the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, less than half the output of a legitimate title. Furthermore, around 60% of papers in such journals receive no future citations, compared with 10% of those in reliable ones
  7. Finally, it is worth noting that while we are in the throes of the Coronavirus pandemic, there are 41 journals listed on in Predatory Reports (0.3%) specifically focused on epidemiology and another 35 on virology (0.6% in total). There could be further growth over the next 12 months, so researchers in these areas should be particularly careful now about where they submit their papers.

Reversal of fortune

One of the most common questions Cabells is asked about its Predatory Reports database of journals is whether it has ever “changed its mind” about listing a journal. As Simon Linacre reports, it is less a question of changing the outcome of a decision, but more of a leopard changing its spots.

This week saw the annual release of Journal Impact Factors from Clarivate Analytics, and along with it the rather less august list of journals whose Impact Factors have been suppressed in Web of Science. This year there were 33 journals suspended, all of which for “anomalous citation patterns found in the 2019 citation data” which pertained to high levels of self-citation. Such a result is the worst nightmare for a publisher, as while they can be due to gaming citation levels, they can also sometimes reflect the niche nature of a subject area, or other anomalies about a journal.

Sometimes the decision can be changed, although it is often a year or two before the data can prove a journal has changed its ways. Similarly, Cabells offers a review process for every journal it lists in its Predatory Reports database, and when I arrived at the company in 2018, like many people one of the first things I asked was: has Cabells ever had a successful review to delist a journal?

Open for debate

The answer is yes, but the details of those cases are quite instructive as to why journals are included on the database in the first place, and perhaps more importantly whey they are not. Firstly, however, some context. It is three years since the Predatory Reports database was first launched, and in that time almost 13,500 journals have been included. Each journal has a link next to the violations on its report for anyone associated with that journal to view the policy and appeal the decision:


This policy clearly states:

The Cabells Review Board will consider Predatory Journal appeals with a frequency of one appeal request per year, per journal. Publications in Predatory Reports, those with unacceptable practices, are encouraged to amend their procedures to comply with accepted industry standards.

Since 2017, there have been just 20 appeals against decisions to list journals in Predatory Reports (0.15% of all listed journals), and only three have been successful (0.02%). In the first case (Journal A), the journal’s peer review processes were checked and it was determined that some peer reviews were being completed, albeit very lightly. In addition, Cabells’ investigators found a previous example of dual publication. However, following the listing, the journal dealt with the problems and retracted the article it had published as it seemed the author had submitted two identical articles simultaneously. This in turn led to Cabells revising its evaluations so that particular violation does not penalize journals for something where an author was to blame.

In the second review (Journal B), Cabells evaluated the journal’s peer review process and found that it was also not completing full peer reviews and had a number of other issues. It displayed metrics in a misleading way, lacked editorial policies on its website and did not have a process for plagiarism screening. After its listing in PR, the journal’s publisher fixed the misleading elements on its website and demonstrated improvements to its editorial processes. In this second case, it was clear that the journal’s practices were misleading and deceptive, but they chose to change and improve their practices.”

Finally, a third journal (Journal C) has just had a successful appeal completed. In this case, there were several problems that the journal was able to correct by being more transparent on its website. It added or cleared up confusion about the necessary policies and made information about its author fees available. Cabells was also able to evaluate its peer review process after it submitted peer review notes on a few articles and it was evident the journal editor was managing a good quality peer review, hence it has now been removed from the Predatory Reports database (it should be noted that, as with the other two successful appeals, journals removed from Predatory Reports are not then automatically included in the Cabells Journalytics database).

Learning curve

Cabells’ takeaway from all of these successful reviews was they were indeed successful – they showed that the original identification was correct, and they enabled improvements that identified them as better, and certainly non-predatory, journals. They also fed into the continuing improvement Cabells seeks in refining its Predatory Reports criteria, with a further update due to be published later this summer.

There are also things to learn from unsuccessful reviews. In one case a publisher appealed a number of its journals that were included on Predatory Reports. However, their appeal only highlighted how bad the journals actually were. Indeed, an in-depth review of each journal not only uncovered new violations that were subsequently added to the journals, but also led to the addition of a brand new violation that is to be included in the upcoming revision of the Predatory Reports criteria.