Assessing "Predatory" Publishers


What are "Predatory" Publishers?

There have always been unscrupulous publishers who do not follow acceptable standards of scholarly publishing, and provide little to no peer review or editorial services. With the explosion of online publishing and increasing use of pre-publication Article Processing Charges (APCs) levied against authors, "predatory publishers" has become a common term to identify publishers of low quality, but often high charges. These low quality publishers are becoming more sophisticated, often targeting less established researchers.

Attempts to conclusively identify what makes a publisher "predatory" are difficult, as many traditional publishers display many of the same traits as "predatory" publishers, including quickly progressing through peer review and receiving different tiers of service depending on what you pay.  

Predatory publishers exploit a scholarly publishing system that increasingly focuses on pay-to-publish models. They may claim to have higher academic standards than they do. They may also list people on their editorial board who are not affiliated with the publisher, outline a peer review process that does not exist, or claim to be indexed in databases that they do not actually appear in.

Low vs High Quality Publishers

In exchange for your (often free) academic labour, publishers are providing you with a service. Before signing an agreement, you should consider the services you are looking for from an academic publisher.

Traits of High Quality Publishing

  • Professionally edited and reviewed by experts in the field for errors
  • Considered trustworthy by researchers
  • Indexed and archived so it is discoverable by others in the field
  • Research is alongside similarly high quality research

Traits of Low Quality Publishing

  • Editors who do not exist/ work for them
  • Lower than average APCs (note that scholarly societies also often charge lower than average rates compared to commercial publishers, this in and of itself is not a warning sign)
  • High/ guaranteed acceptance rates
  • Peer review practices designed to increase acceptance, rather than screen for quality, and often with short turnaround
  • Often offer no editing/ peer review services, or indexing, quality control, licensing (though many say they do)
  • Charges for quick acceptance and other ways to circumvent the review process
  • May use intentionally familiar sounding names, or copy existing journal titles

A Long, Non-Exhaustive List of Warning Signs

There are a number of factors which, individually, do not necessarily indicate a low quality publishing venture, but can give you red flags to look for. You can find more at the University of Toronto Deceptive Publishing page

  • Websites that target authors, rather than readers
  • Aggressive, over-flattering, unsolicited invitations to submit work
  • Guaranteed publication
  • Unclear or touched-up images
  • No description of publishing process
  • Promises quick turnaround and publication, possibly by sacrificing academic standards
  • No information on how content will be preserved
  • No information about the Editorial Board
  • Payment is required before publication

Evaluation Tips/ Tools

If you are invited to submit to journals or to become an editorial board member, critically evaluate the publisher's legitimacy. You can contact John Dobson, Scholarly Communications Specialist, or Brianne Selman, Scholarly Communications and Copyright Librarian for advice.

You can also try the following steps:

White Lists

Verify that the journal meets certain levels of acceptable standards, and/ or is indexed in scholarly resources.  Please be aware that very new journals - regardless of their quality - may not yet appear in search results.

Publisher Practices

  • Check if the publisher has a large fleet of journals that contain very little content. Be particularly wary if archived lists of back issues are not accessible (e.g. due to repeated website crashes and redirects).
  • Verify a journal's claims to be indexed by a reputable database (e.g. ones from EBSCO, ProQuest, Thompson Reuters, etc.) by checking the database.
  • Check to see that the journal displays its author fee policy on its website. Informing you of fees only after your manuscript has been accepted is a sign of a predatory publisher.
  • Check that the publisher provides full, verifiable contact information on the journal site. Be cautious of publishers that only provide web contact forms.
  • Verify that the journal's peer review process is clearly described.
  • Evaluate the quality of the articles previously published.

Ask Around

  • Look at the members of the editorial board in terms of their affiliations, and contact one.
  • Contact an author you may know who has published in the journal to get their feedback.
  • Verify claims of membership in industry associations like the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the Committee on Publication Ethics
  • Contact Brianne Selman, Scholarly Communications & Copyright Librarian, or John Dobson, Scholarly Communications Specialist.

Use common sense: if something appears suspicious, proceed with caution.

(Adapted from

Related Pages

Open Access Publishing

How to comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications

Research Impact

WinnSpace Institutional Repository

Author's Rights