Open Access Publishing: Evaluating Publication Outlets

Open Access Publishing - overview

Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, describes open-access as:

"Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions."

The Budapest Open Access Initiative describes open-access as follows:

"The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment. Primarily, this category encompasses their peer-reviewed journal articles, but it also includes any unreviewed preprints that they might wish to put online for comment or to alert colleagues to important research findings. There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to this literature. By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself."


  • Open-access journals are not free to produce, nor is publishing in them necessarily free of charge for the author.  Open-access journals use a variety of business models, and not all journals that charge authors a fee are predatory.  For example PLOS ONE, a highly-cited open-access science journal, currently charges a publication fee of $1,495 as of Jan 2017. When evaluating a potential publication outlet, prospective authors must thoroughly investigate the journal and publisher, and not simply rely on the presence or absence of a publication fee. 
  • Many traditional subscription journal publishers also offer open-access journals or "hybrid" journals, where authors have the option to make their articles available via open-access, via the payment of a publication fee.  For example, Taylor and Francis offers "Open Select" journals - traditional subscription journals where authors have the option to pay a fee to make their articles available open-access with no restrictions.  The current standard fee charged by T&F is $2,950 as of Jan 2017.
  • In addition to full ("Gold") open-access, many journal publishers allow a modified ("Green") form of open-access, which allows authors to self-archive their research via an institutional or other online repository.  Publisher permissions for self-archiving can vary, and embargoes sometimes may apply.  SHERPA/ROMEO is a service that allows users to search for the copyright and open-access policies of academic journals.
  • Times Higher Education has an interesting article about the debate between gold and green open-access: Gold or green: which is the best shade of open access?

What is Predatory Publishing?

Jeffrey Beall, academic librarian and well-known open access watchdog, defines predatory open-access publishing as follows:

"Predatory open-access publishers are those that unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit. That is to say, they operate as scholarly vanity presses and publish articles in exchange for the author fee. They are characterized by various level of deception and lack of transparency in their operations.  For example, some publishers may misrepresent their location, stating New York instead of Nigeria, or they may claim a stringent peer-review where none really exists."

Elliott, C. (2012, June 5). On Predatory Publishers: a Q&A With Jeffrey Beall. Retrieved from


Identifying Predatory Publishers

Beall's List of Predatory Open-Access Publishers
Jeffrey Beall is an academic librarian from the University of Colorado who maintains a blog with an updated list of questionable/predatory open-access publishers and journals:
**NOTE: Beall's List is no longer available online - it has been removed by the author for unknown reasons.  The links below point to archived versions of his list.

Beall's questionable publisher list

Beall's questionable individual journal list

Open-Access Journal Quality Indicators (from Grand Valley State University Library)
Provides an overview of positive and negative indicators to consider when analyzing an open-access journal for quality.  You can read about the development of the indicators in this article.

Related Articles
Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature, 489(7415), 179–179.
Elliott, C. (2012, June 5). On Predatory Publishers: a Q&A With Jeffrey Beall. Retrieved from
Kolata, G. (2013, April 7). For Scientists, an Exploding World of Pseudo-Academia. The New York Times. Retrieved from


What To Look For

With the proliferation of online-only, open-access journals, it is very important for faculty and researchers to investigate potential publishing outlets.  There have been increasing numbers of fake/scam publications which falsely promote themselves as scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.  Many solicit articles directly via email inquiries.  These publications are often vanity presses in disguise.  They usually require the author to pay a fee for publication, and often have very low or nonexistent quality standards.

The following checklist, reprinted from Nature, may be helpful:

Buyer beware: A checklist to identify reputable publishers
by Declan Butler

How to perform due diligence before submitting to a journal or publisher.

  • Check that the publisher provides full, verifiable contact information, including address, on the journal site. Be cautious of those that provide only web contact forms.
  • Check that a journal's editorial board lists recognized experts with full affiliations. Contact some of them and ask about their experience with the journal or publisher.
  • Check that the journal prominently displays its policy for author fees.
  • Be wary of e-mail invitations to submit to journals or to become editorial board members.
  • Read some of the journal's published articles and assess their quality. Contact past authors to ask about their experience.
  • Check that a journal's peer-review process is clearly described and try to confirm that a claimed impact factor is correct.
  • Find out whether the journal is a member of an industry association that vets its members, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals ( or the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (
  • Use common sense, as you would when shopping online: if something looks fishy, proceed with caution.
Butler, D. (2013). Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing. Nature, 495(7442), 433–435.


Journal Information and Rankings

SHERPA/ROMEO - Service that allows users to search for the copyright, self-archiving, and open-access policies of academic journals.

Journal Citation Reports (Impact Factor) - the JCR examines citation patterns for academic journals as a means for measuring the influence of a particular journal in its field.  The JCR uses a formula called the impact factor to measure how frequently the typical article from a journal is cited in a given year.  The JCR is a subscription database.  For more information please contact Dennis Schaub at

SCImago Journal Rank - The SCImago journal rank (SJR indicator) is a free online journal ranking service that aims to take into account not only the number of citations per article, but the relative prestige of the journals where those citations come from.  It uses an algorithm similar to Google's PageRank to attempt to differentiate the relative value of one citation vs. another.

Eigenfactor Metrics - The Eigenfactor score is another alternative method for ranking journal influence.  Similarly to the SCImago rank, Eigenfactor scores are based on both the number of citations, and the relative prestige of the journals from which the citations come. 

Cabell's Directory - Cabell's provides basic information and data on scholarly journals including acceptance rates, turnaround time, mission and scope, submission guidelines, etc. Cabell's is a subscription database.  For more information contact Dennis Schaub at

Predatory Publishing in the News

Recent news items of interest regarding open-access publishing and predatory publishers

No More 'Beall's List': Librarian removes controversial list of "predatory" journals and publishers, reportedly in response to "threats and politics."  Reports on the sudden removal of Beall's List of predatory journals and publishers.  From Inside Higher Education, Jan 18 2017.

A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia.  Discusses the universe of fake conferences and journals, and its effect on those working in academia.  From the NY Times, Dec 29 2016.

iOS Just Got A Paper On Nuclear Physics Accepted At A Scientific Conference.  Interesting case study of a professor from New Zealand who used auto-complete to randomly generate a nonsense paper, which then was accepted in 3 hours by a conference on nuclear physics.  From blog of Christoph Bartneck, PhD., Oct 20 2016. 

A Scholarly Sting Operation Shines a Light on ‘Predatory’ Journals.  Discusses a sting operation conducted by researchers, where a fake scholar with fake credentials was offered an editor position by several predatory journal publishers.  From the NY Times, Mar 22 2017.  Additional details about their sting operation can be found in the authors' report published in Nature

Who's Afraid of Peer Review?  Dozens of open-access journals targeted in an elaborate Science sting accepted a spoof research article, raising questions about peer-review practices in much of the open-access world. From Science, Oct 2013.


Dennis Schaub

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Dennis Schaub
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