Not all black and white

Two recently published articles by Cabells highlight the problems facing scholarly publishing. Their author, Simon Linacre, summarizes the articles and explains why publishing services are likely to see an increase in demand


Why do people go to a coffee shop? These institutions seem to have been doing a roaring trade in recent years, fueling the growth of multinationals such as Starbucks as well as local stores specializing in artisan coffee. But people going to these places are not there to drink coffee – they are there to meet friends, do some work, read a book or 101 other different things in addition to having a coffee. The success or otherwise of coffee shops is not necessarily down to the quality of the drinks available, but how well they facilitate the needs of their customers.

And in the digital world, those needs are changing fast, as they are for academic libraries the world over. People no longer visit the library to find information, but to do almost everything coffee shop customers also do. Which is why you will often find the best coffee places inside libraries, where 30 years ago you would run the risk of being thrown out for daring to drink the brown stuff.

Changing places

If libraries must adapt quickly, then so do publishers, and simply putting books and journals online doesn’t quite cut it in the brave new digital world. In 2019, the scholarly publishing press has been awash with stories of cancellations and so-called ‘read & publish’ deals that mark the transition from predominantly subscription deals to open access agreements between libraries (and the consortia/governments that represent them) and academic journal publishers. However, this is not the beginning of the end of academic publishing, more likely it is the end of the beginning of the second phase of scholarly communication development.

The first phase was subscriptions themselves and their dominance and growth during the 20th century; the second phase began with the Big Deal which almost inevitably has ended with the move to free access and open access to research. The next phase is likely to focus on a shift towards the taxonomizing and facilitation of research, so that the huge boom in available content will in some way be more manageable for researchers. This is why they will likely want to use the library as a resource – as well as for getting a decent coffee while they do so.

User case

In two articles recently published in EON, the journal of the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE), I have set out how the Cabells Whitelist and Blacklist are geared up for this third age of publishing in supporting academic libraries to meet the challenges currently facing them. In the case of the Whitelist, it helps academics understand the myriad of options they have where once they had a relatively simple choice of which journal they should choose to submit their research articles. Now they have a much more complex picture before them. Depending on where they are based as a scholar, there may be Open Access mandates in place directing you to choose Open Access-only journals, or lists of designated journals from your Dean in given subject areas, or repositories or platform-based outlets that do not operate like traditional journals at all.

So, for the user of journals or any kind of research platform, the picture is a complex one. However, in addition, there are risks inherent in this complexity as predatory publishers prey on uncertainty and lack of knowledge of this new, changing publishing environment. In this respect, the Blacklist also supports the work of librarians, research managers and authors themselves by providing a reliable, curated list of 11,000+ predatory publishers that researchers should steer well clear of.

Combined, use of the Whitelist and Blacklist can act as a safety net for those involved in the decision-making process for article publishing. This process will never be a black and white process, but it hopefully adds at least some clarity to the blurred lines that have rapidly emerged in recent years.


References

Linacre, Simon (2019) ‘Life Without Journals? Platforms, Preprints, and Peer Review in Scholarly Communications’, Eon (March 2019) https://doi.org/10.18243/eon/2019.12.2.2

Linacre, Simon (2019) ‘Hiding in Plain Sight: The Sinister Threat of Predatory Publishing Practices’, Eon (April 2019) https://doi.org/10.18243/eon/2019.12.3.1

Blacklist Journals Overtake Whitelist

What’s in a number? Well, when the number of bad journals overtakes the number of good journals, we may have something to worry about. Simon Linacre takes a brief look behind the figures and shares some insight into the current dynamics of scholarly publishing.


Right up there with ‘How many grains of sand are there in the world?’, ‘Is Santa Claus real?’ and ‘Where do babies come from?’, one of the questions you do not want to be asked as a member of the scholarly communications industry is ‘How many journals are there?’. This is because, like grains of sand there is no finite answer as the numbers will change from one day to the next, but also there is no way to even approximate an educated guess. You could, perhaps, as a fall back look at the numbers of journals where someone has actually counted and updated the number. For example:

  • Cabells Journal Whitelist: 11,048
  • Clarivate Analytics Master Journal List: 11,727
  • Directory of Open Access Journals: 12,728
  • Scopus: 36,377
  • Ullrichs Periodicals Directory: 300,000+ (periodicals)

However, all of the above have criteria that either limit the number of journals they count or include most journals plus other forms of publication. And another journal list that adds further complexity is this one:

Now, the more eagle-eyed among you will have seen that the Cabells Blacklist now lists more journals than are indexed in the Whitelist. How can this be? Are we saying there are more predatory journals than legitimate titles out there? Well, not quite. While Cabells has a growing Blacklist thanks to the ever-expanding activities of predatory publishers, the Whitelist is limited to journals of evident quality according to specific criteria and is yet to include medical and engineering journals. When both databases were launched in 2017, the Whitelist was based on Cabells Directories that went back decades, while the Blacklist was newly developed with 4,000 journals. That has now grown to over 11,000 in nearly two years, with many journals coming through the pipeline for assessment.

Due to the rigorous process Cabells administers for the Whitelist, it was inevitable that such a list where many titles are rejected would be superseded by the Blacklist where sadly ever more titles are acceptable for inclusion, due to the proliferation of predatory publishing practices.

So, if you do get asked the dreaded question, the answer is that there are a LOT of journals out there. Some are good, some are bad, and some are in-between. But arm yourself with a trusted index and some relevant criteria, and you won’t need to play the numbers game.