50 shades of questionable – predatory publishing redux.

I’ve been supporting a group of postgraduates who edit a long lived New Zealand Journal, NZ Natural Sciences We are talking about moving it onto our ‘lightweight journal publishing model’ platform in due course, more of which later.

I’m really proud to support the current editors, Katie and Brendon.   This is a journal that has run since the 70’s, edited by a few postgrads, who then enter academia and mentor others in running it.  As well as being an outlet for new research, it gives postgrads a taste of reviewing, editing and soliciting new work, which must be invaluable for their skills as research authors.

We have traversed some really interesting territory as we prepare to migrate the journal.  Applying modern licensing retrospectively (CC-BY, o’course), talking about preservation, and wondering what the hell to do with a statement from copyright New Zealand.  (Answer: its not a bill.  Its money.  Not that you could easily tell from the statement).

I laid out the options to the ed. team.  You could use something like Hindawi or Scholastica to host the journal, but you’d need a revenue stream.  And it was that, the way to get funds to support the publication, which is currently free as its just a bunch of files on a departmental web server at the moment and a google site, that caused a level of complexity they didn’t want to deal with.  And quite right too: adding a treasurer, accounts, tax, and all that stuff detracts from the aims of this exercise.  Editors change from year to year, and keeping commercial relationships with service providers is a big part of what journals do now.

So it was fascinating when they forwarded me an email from Exelely.  It was a cold-call to the editors asking if they would be interested in letting them host the journal, for a fee, which would be paid for with Article Processing Charges (APCs).  Its a pretty standard business model: the heart of so called Gold Open Access.  Exeley have an interesting offering, providing a lot of the commercial services you’d expect.

The question that bugged me though, as up front and open as Exeley appeared, is what seperates them from a ‘predatory’ publisher?  I’d rather call the phenomenon  ‘questionable’ publishing, as its never really clear cut who qualifies as predatory. What level of service from a publisher qualifies them to make profit from scholarly communications?  There are obvious lines you can cross: for example, hijacking, where a journal that emulates another so closely you can’t tell the ‘real’ one from the predator.  How about double dipping, where a journal collects APCs and charges journal subscriptions at the same time?  The IEEE make it really clear that they reduce subs for organisations that contribute APCs.  Elsevier, not so much.  Then there is Exeley.

I have an opinion that any profit made from the work that government pays for (and occasionally industry) is wastage in the system.  An inefficiency when improved with allow more money for the actual research, the stuff that makes our world progress.  Money taken away from creating new knowledge.  I realise that this could be carried reductio ad absurdum, especially when you start thinking about equipment, but consider that in NZ, at least, universities don’t pay goods and services taxes.  Why would the government collect its own money back?  Now that the nominal cost of reproducing data is approaching zero, and storing it is becoming cheaper [1] making a profit from this seems questionable.

After a few night sleeping on it I realise what my problem is with Exeley.  Its for-profit.  That, in my mind, makes it questionable.  Not predatory, as they don’t seem to be profiteering, but I’ve recommended to Katie and Brandon that they don’t follow up on their offer. Its entirely up to them of course.  if Exeley was a non-profit and belonged to the Open Access Scholarly Publisher’s Association,  and its code of conduct, then I’d be far more likely to tell them to take a closer look.  As it is, we have a good solution for the NZ Natural Sciences journal that will meet most of their needs, and we can provide it for free.


[1] Dear archivists, yeah, I know.  Disk and maintenance ain’t free.  But I’m making a point!


7 Replies to “50 shades of questionable – predatory publishing redux.”

  1. Dear Mr. Anton Angelo,

    My name is Dawid Cecuła. I’m the CEO of Exeley, a publisher of Open Access journals based in New York. I have personally contacted the editors of NZ Natural Sciences journal and I would like to address the arguments in this post.

    First of all, I would like to clarify that we do not charge authors any Article Processing Charges. The publishing contract is made exclusively between the society (journal owner) and Exeley. It is the society that covers the publication costs. Whether or not the journal itself charges APCs is based on journal’s own discretion. We currently cooperate with such respected societies as Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania), Operations Research Society of Taiwan, or Silesian University of Technology (Poland).

    Secondly, the technology that NZ Natural Sciences presently uses if far from modern. In today’s fast moving world only those publications that follow current trends and are able to offer more services and advanced technology than everyone else have the chance to develop. Science is not free from expectations or prevailing movements. Every international publisher (whether it be subscriptions or open access journals) provides advanced solutions that help both editors and readers to get access to the latest research in a fast and hassle-free way.

    Exeley provides at least a few solutions that NZ Natural Sciences presently does not provide:

    – XML format – PDFs are thing of the past. Modern scientific publication offer the content to be read directly on the page, without the need to download the file.

    – Automatic transfer of data – visibility is key for any journal that aims to develop and attract authors and readers from around the globe. One of the most important methods to creating this visibility is by indexing the journal in as many abstracting and indexing services as possible. Exeley cooperates with a large number of such services, and delivers the content automatically each time new articles are published. The website that hosts NZ Natural Sciences can provide neither. In your own words, “the publication…is currently a bunch of files on a departmental web server”. In my personal opinion, this is the very argument that shows how gravely the journal needs advanced technology and professional publishing solutions.

    – Responsive web design – reading content on the go via the use of mobile devices is the future of scientific publishing. At Exeley, we are aware of the changing times and we offer technology that adjusts to different screen sizes of various mobile devices. If a journal does not provide this option, sooner or later it will be left behind.

    In addition to the above, I would like to add that we cooperate with the following leaders in the industry:

    MPS Limited – a provider of technology services to global academic publishers;

    Aries Systems Corporation – a company that delivers an internationally acclaimed peer-review system; and

    Plum Analytics – which works in collaboration with EBSCO and provides us with the most advanced altmetrics tracking product currently available on the market.

    Our membership with Crossref allows us to issue and register DOI numbers (you may find us on their member list at this link – http://www.crossref.org/06members/50go-live.html) We also work closely with Ex Libris – ProQuest, the globally reknowned provider of library automation solutions.

    You have mentioned that your problem with Exeley is that we are a for-profit organization. I’d like to point out that every publisher is for-profit; whether it is Exeley, Wiley, Springer or Elsevier. Even if a journal claims to be entirely free of charge, it is never the case as there must be always somebody who pays for the technology and services, even if editors volunteer their work. The more advanced the technology, the bigger the cost. What is more, editors or journal owners are seldom able to take care of proper dissemination of the content, indexation in databases or statistics’ tracking due to lack of time, knowledge or technology. This is where Exeley steps is. What differentiates us from other big commercial publishers? The platform and solutions that we deliver are designed for societies, universities and other research organizations. We don’t push our customers towards APCs. Instead, we let them pick services that they are interested in. Exeley strives to be very flexible and innovative.

    I have contacted Katie and Brendon because I believe that NZ Natural Sciences has great potential that is currently being underutilized. I am saddened to see that you appear to have done little or no research on Exeley’s service offering and have hence made incorrect and disrespectful claims. I am also disappointed to see that you have not given NZ Natural Sciences the credit that they deserve, and the opportunity to show their strengths and capabilities.

    Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding our services. I will be happy to clarify any questions or concerns.

    Sincere Regards,,
    Dawid Cecula
    CEO & Founder
    Exeley, Inc.

    1. Thank you so much for your response Dawid. The only way that this particular publication would be able to pay your service fees would be to charge APCs, and considering most of the authors are post graduate students, they would not be able to raise sufficient funds to cover them in the current local economic climate, rendering the journal unviable. To think they could raise funds any other way is a little disingenuous.

      I’m sure your service is excellent – I’m very impressed with the technological approach you have taken. You’re certainly right that PDFs are a thing of the past! We provide a service for those who cannot afford yours.

      Please also note that not all publishers are for profit. I guide you to the examples of databases run by Ithaka, and to PLoS, one of the largest and fastest growing players in the academic publishing field. I am not naive enough to think there is no role for profit driven organisations in the scholarly publication space. However the current profiteering that is occurring by some of the players you have mentioned is unsustainable, and the efforts of librarians, academics, researchers and governments, especially in Europe and Australasia, are to encourage a change of economic model to one that allows research to distributed as efficiently as possible.

      I’d recommend you look closely at your business model in the context of the OA2020 initiative. There are real opportunities here for the introduction of scalable technological solutions, especially those that embrace the dissemination of datasets.

      Thanks again for responding to the original post, and I will make sure the editors of the NZ Natural Sciences are aware of this discussion. How much do you charge. again?

  2. Dear Mr. Anton Angelo,
    Thank you for your reply. I would like to provide some further clarification in order to address your points and concerns.
    Collecting APCs is just one of the funding methods for a journal, and I agree that in the case of NZ Natural Sciences it would not be an ideal solution due to the nature of this publication. As I already mentioned, APC charges are based on each journal’s discretion. We do not influence editors’ decisions in this regard, nor are we pro or against APCs. As with anything else, this funding solution must be well thought out and applied only in those cases where there is a possibility of attracting authors who are willing to pay.
    The most common way of financing Open Access journals is through their affiliated universities, as most of them designate resources towards Open Access. The first step would be to check whether or not the University of Canterbury is interested in assigning funds to develop this publication. If that proves unsuccessful, there are a lot of other possibilities available to finance the journal. Some examples include government subsidies and scholarships (available for both journal owners and authors who decide to publish in an Open Access model), sponsoring consortiums (i.e. academic libraries and funding agencies) or individual organizations (i.e. Max Planck society in Germany).
    The journal may also check the SHERPA/JULIET database, which has a “Research Funding by Country” section that lists the organizations that adopted Open Access policies (these organizations require their researchers to provide unrestricted access to their research output), as well as information on the currently available funding on the webpages of UNESCO’s Global Open Access Portal (GOAP). What is more, it is always a good idea to consult country-specific lists of institutions supporting Open Access, such as the list published by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (that is for the US only).
    I do understand your point with regard to non-for-profit publishing, but I’m afraid that such a thing does not actually exist. Even if an organization that runs the journal is a non-profit, it does not necessarily mean that the journal does not charge APCs. Quite the contrary – sometimes non-profit organizations actually charge three or four times higher APCs than the leading commercial journal publishers. When it comes to libraries and universities, it is also a false belief that their services for society journals are free of charge. Research databases and domains, such as open source publishing for example, require funding for maintenance and hosting. The money for these costs must come from somewhere – nothing in life is completely free of charge. If the university is government-sponsored then that mystery money comes from people like you and me in the form of taxes. In private universities, that money comes in the form of tuition from students. For us, the most important question is how this money is distributed; it can be spend on less satisfying publishing solutions or on professional services offered by publishers such as Exeley. The idea is to move the costs from less profitable solution to more impactful platforms. Our mission is to offer market-leading technology that is continuously upgraded and hosted on high-capacity servers. Innovation and safety are our top priorities.
    The pricing depends on many factors – the number of publications, number of articles, number of pages or number of selected services, so I cannot provide just one definite cost estimate. We prefer to discuss that individually with journal editors and society boards and shape the offer according to each of the journals’ specific needs.

    1. Dear David, you seem to be conflating charging APCs with being a ‘for profit’ organisation – a non-profit can charge and APC and still be a non-profit (even non-profits need income to operate!). I am not sure why you appear to take the position that APC charging seems to be incompatible with being a non-profit organisation, Perhaps I am misunderstanding your position. The Public Library of Science, for example, is a publisher which charges APC but is also a non-profit (https://www.plos.org/who-we-are).

      1. Dear Kubke,

        At Exeley website you can find information that we are a corporation and we are for-profit. And in my text above I meant that all commercial publishers (like Exeley) are for-profit.

        If it comes to nonprofit publishers – of course they generate revenues, more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marty-zwilling/nonprofit-business_b_1155988.html
        “Yet even a nonprofit has to make a profit on everything it sells, in order to cover operating expenses (salaries, offices, equipment, research, travel, etc.), unless it relies wholly on donations.”
        Nonprofit publishers (mentioned above) are not charity organizations.

        In other words – you pay for services in both cases.

  3. Just briefly joining this thread to say that the assertion that all publishers are for profit is incorrect. I used to work for PLOS and I now work for Annual Reviews, both are 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations.

    1. Dear Liz,

      At Exeley website you can find information that we are a corporation and we are for-profit. And in my text above I meant that all commercial publishers (like Exeley) are for-profit.

      If it comes to nonprofit publishers – of course they generate revenues, more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marty-zwilling/nonprofit-business_b_1155988.html
      “Yet even a nonprofit has to make a profit on everything it sells, in order to cover operating expenses (salaries, offices, equipment, research, travel, etc.), unless it relies wholly on donations.”
      Nonprofit publishers (mentioned above) are not charity organizations.

      In other words – you pay for services in both cases.

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