Keeping Up With... Predatory Publishing


This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Karen Burton.

Karen Burton is an Assistant Librarian at Clemson University, email:


Predatory%20Publishing%20Illustration%201_Marie_600Predatory publishing is an issue that all academic librarians will encounter in some capacity during their career, whether being through interactions with our faculty and students or through strange sounding emails asking us to submit a paper to a journal completely outside our scope of expertise. With the number of peer-reviewed active scholarly journals increasing by 2.3% each year and the number of articles published increasing by 5% each year, academic publishing is a big business currently worth over $28 billion.[1] In an era where anyone can claim a website domain and build a webpage, creating your very own predatory publisher with a portfolio of journals is a relatively easy process, allowing predatory publishing to grow along with academic publishing.

To understand predatory publishing, one first needs to understand how open access (OA) publishing works. OA means that articles are freely available online instead of being behind a paywall, but publishers often require Article Processing Charges (APC) to cover publication costs because there is no subscription or other fee to read an article. These APCs can range from less than $100 to more than $11,000[2] with the average range being $2,000-$4,000 per article. Reputable academic publishers often charge an APC but also have a detailed peer review process, clear copyright policies, and plans for long-term preservation and archiving. Predatory publishers have none of these and will publish whatever they are sent, often dangling the carrot of quick publication times and advertising deceptive impact metrics.

As of 2021, an estimated $393 million has been paid in APCs to predatory publishers resulting in more than 787,000 articles[3] and the numbers are only increasing. The consequences of predatory publishing are felt far beyond simply losing money and include the negative impact on the careers of graduate students and faculty who unknowingly publish in a predatory journal. Getting an article published in a predatory journal retracted is nearly impossible and often requires a lengthy and expensive legal battle. Since predatory journals publish manuscripts with no peer review, this practice encourages bad science and contributes to the miasma of misinformation and disinformation. As librarians we are often asked to comment on the credibility of a journal our faculty and students are considering submitting an article to, and we need to know where to look and what to look for to ensure we are giving our patrons accurate information.

Predatory Publishing Red Flags

Predatory publishers often send aggressive email solicitations to early career faculty and graduate students. They are full of bad grammar, odd-looking characters, and suspiciously named publishers. The emails are usually sent from a personal email domain, and the journal’s scope is often completely outside the person’s expertise. For example, I routinely receive predatory publishing solicitations for the areas of health care, fashion design, and linguistics. You can see many of those red flags in the example below of an email solicitation I received. Solicitations are not just confined to the virtual world either; many faculty and graduate students have been subject to aggressive phone call campaigns from predatory publishers.


Evaluating Journals

There are many resources you can consult to determine a journal’s legitimacy, but unfortunately there is no one comprehensive source. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is an excellent place to start because it has stringent criteria for including a journal in its listings. To verify impact factor claims, go to Journal Citation Reports, to verify a CiteScore go to Scopus. Cabell’s Scholarly Analytics allows you to look up a journal by title and provides journalytics and predatory reports. Although predatory journals can be listed in Ulrich’s Serial Solutions, it is still a useful tool. You can use it to verify the claimed ISSN matches the actual ISSN listed for a journal, check claims of indexing via the “Online Availability” and “Abstracting and Indexing” tabs, and visit the journal’s website. However, even these trusted sources can occasionally have incorrect information. For example, I recently found a listing for a legitimate journal in which the website link went to a similarly named predatory journal (the problem was quickly resolved and the link corrected).

Evaluating Publishers

Predatory%20Publishing%20Illustration%202_Marie_300The Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA) and Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) membership pages are a good place to start when evaluating publishers. However, just because a publisher is not listed does not mean they are automatically predatory because many small society or university press publishers may not be members. In those scenarios, you may get a better picture by looking at the journals published by the society as a whole using the journal criteria previously mentioned. Predatory publisher’s websites usually look as unprofessional as their emails and contain the same bad grammar and poor-quality images. The journal pages often have submission forms that ask you to attach your article as a PDF or Word Doc, have questionable payment methods, minimal article formatting instructions, no clear copyright policies, no digital preservation strategy, and advertise fast publication times. Checking the physical address provided by the publisher to see if the business is actually located there is also a good idea as many predatory publisher addresses turn out to be private residences, fictional locations, or the priciest real estate in New York City.


Librarians are uniquely positioned to help educate about predatory publishing and ways to avoid it through their everyday interactions with students and faculty. We can even focus our efforts on populations that may not be aware of predatory publishing, such as graduate students and early career faculty, who are often targeted. By leveraging our knowledge and skills to provide education and resources, we can provide our faculty and students with the tools they need to keep from being ensnared by a predatory publisher.


[1] International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers. “STM Global Brief 2021 – Economics & Market Size.” International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers, August 24, 2022.

[2] “Publishing Options | Nature.” Accessed November 29, 2023.

[3] Natalie Marquez and April Sheppard. “All About the Money: LILi Presentation.” Presented at the Lifelong Information Literacy Conference, January 11, 2023.

Additional Resources

Think Check Submit - This free resource provides a checklist of things to look for when evaluating a journal.

Think Check Attend - Predatory conferences also exist; this resource provides tools to evaluate conferences you were invited to present at or attend.

Ask your colleagues! Human resources are often the most valuable, so don’t be afraid to encourage people to talk to their colleagues about their experiences with publishing in journals.