Studies have shown that the academic publishing industry achieved impressive revenue levels of approximately USD5,000 per published article in 2011.

In this multi-billion dollar business, the profit of each article was estimated to be between USD3,500 and USD4,000. Even for open-access publishers which charge a much lower fee, the average price per article still hovered around USD660 in the same year.

However, the world of academic publishing is not as blissful as many aspiring academicians and researchers would like to believe. In reality, the business of scientific publishing is extremely lucrative.

Predatory publisher

In general, most of the criticism focuses on open-access publishing, where many of such exploitations occur.

Professor Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, defined predatory publishers as “... 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".

The term “predatory open-access” was first conceived by Beall as a response towards the progressively rampant abuse of scientific publishing. Many of these predatory publishers are very aggressive in their marketing campaign. Often, they make promises, which are frequently not true, to lure unsuspecting authors to submit their manuscripts. Junior academicians and inexperienced researchers are the most vulnerable to these deceptions.

"They [predatory open-access publishers] are characterised by various levels 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," said Beall.

List of predatory publishers

To combat the foul practice by predatory publishers, Beall performed a rather remarkable feat: He single-handedly compiled a list of publishers of which he believes are "predatory".

The list was first created in 2010 and includes hundreds of potential, possible or probable publishers that are deemed "predatory" according to the criteria set forth by Beall. His list of predatory publishers has grown tremendously over the past few years and has become an authoritative reference source for many researchers.

There is a three-person advisory board which functions to evaluate if a publisher or journal is considered predatory, therefore, should be featured on the list. The criteria for such assessment were also publicly available to ensure transparency over the review process.

Controversy over Beall's list

Although Beall's list of predatory publishers had been widely received by the scientific community, such popularity also attracted many criticisms, and perhaps, unwanted attention. On 15 January 2017, Beall unpublished his popular list and closed down his personal blog.

Prof Beall did not comment on the reason for his action. A spokesperson for the University of Colorado Denver said the decision to take down the website was a personal decision made by Beall.

However, the vice president of business development for Cabell's International, Lacey Earle, said on Twitter that the decision was "due to threats and politics". The cache copies of the list are still accessible online, but it is not known if the famous Beall's List will see the light of day again. MIMS

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Van Noorden R. Open access: The true cost of science publishing. Nature. 2013 Mar 27;495(7442):426–9.
Butler D. Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing. Nature. 2013 Mar 27;495(7442):433–5.
Silver A. Controversial website that lists “predatory” publishers shuts down. Nature. 2017 Jan 18;