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Understanding Predatory Publishers

The objective of this guide is to help VDOT personnel learn what "predatory publishers" are, how to evaluate publisher integrity and ways to protect yourself, your rights and your professional reputation.

Predators vs. Low Quality

Before we get too deep, a distinction should be made between predatory open access publishing practices and journals that are simply of low quality.

Low-quality journals may meet all the criteria of scholarly publishing (peer-review, editorial feedback, indexed for library access, etc.) without being predatory. By the same token, high-quality journals can require payment to defray the cost of publishing without being predatory.

What Is a Predatory Publisher?

A predatory publisher is an opportunistic publishing venue that exploits the academic need to publish but offers little reward for those using their services.

The academic "publish or perish" scenario combined with the relative ease of website creation has inadvertently created a market ripe for the exploitation of academic authors. Some of these publishers are predatory on purpose, whereas others may just be making mistakes because of neglect, mismanagement, or inexperience. Although the motivations and methods vary predatory publishers exhibit common characteristics:

  • Their primary goal is to make money.
  • They do not care about the quality of the work published.
  • They make false claims or promises.
  • They engage in unethical business practices.
  • They fail to follow accepted standards or best practices of scholarly publishing.

How the Scam Works

Online predatory publishers take advantage of the "author-pays" open access publication model. In this model publication charges in stead of subscription charges provide a publisher with income (for more information see our Open Access Guide).

It's important to realize that publishing through an "open access" model does not make a publisher predatory – their bad behavior does.

Predatory publishers exploit new publishing models by claiming to be legitimate open access publishing operations. They make false claims (such as quick peer review) to lure unwary authors into submitting papers. Although sending a predatory publisher a manuscript may result in it being "published," there is no guarantee that it underwent peer review, is included in indexes such as Web of Science and Scopus, or will be available in a month, much less in five years.

What's the Harm?

Predatory publishers do authors a disservice by claiming to be a full-service publisher. Remember, as an author you're providing a valuable product and legitimate publishers provide valuable services to protect your work. Some of the dangers of publishing with a predatory publisher are outlined here:

Your work may be subject to sub-par peer-review

The peer review system isn't perfect, but there is a consensus that papers that undergo peer review are better for it. If you plan to seek promotion or tenure, you want to make sure you're publishing in a place that values your work and is willing to devote time and resources to improving it.

Your work could "disappear"

One benefit of publishing with responsible publishers is that they make commitments to preserve your work. Predatory publishers looking to make a quick buck probably don't care if your paper is still available in 5 years, much less tomorrow. This situation is the stuff of nightmares for all those interested in promotions and tenure. 

Your work could be hard to find

Some predatory publishers advertise that their articles are included in well-known research databases such as Web of Science or Scopus when in reality they are not. If you need help checking, please contact the VDOT Research Library. We'll help you determine which databases index a journal. Although most predatory journals will probably be covered by Google Scholar your work won't be as visible if it's missing from other research databases.


Finding out you've been the victim of a scam is never fun. Although the repercussions of publishing with questionable publishers are still largely unknown, there have been a few documented cases where it has negatively affected scholarly careers.

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