Demarcating Spectrums of Predatory Publishing: Economic and Institutional Sources of Academic Legitimacy

Author : Kyle Sile

The emergence of Open Access (OA) publishing has altered incentives and opportunities for academic stakeholders and publishers. These changes have yielded a variety of new economic and academic niches, including journals with questionable peer review systems and business models, commonly dubbed ‘predatory publishing.’ Empirical analysis of the Cabell’s Journal Blacklist reveals substantial diversity in types and degrees of predatory publishing.

While some blacklisted publishers produce journals with many severe violations of academic norms, ‘grey’ journals and publishers occupy borderline or ambiguous niches between predation and legitimacy.

Predation in academic publishing is not a simple binary phenomenon and should instead be perceived as a spectrum with varying types and degrees of illegitimacy. Conceptions of predation are based on overlapping evaluations of academic and economic legitimacy.

High institutional status benefits publishers by reducing conflicts between – if not aligning – professional and market institutional logics, which are more likely to conflict and create illegitimacy concerns in downmarket niches.

High rejection rates imbue high-status journals with value and pricing power, while low-status OA journals face ‘predatory’ incentives to optimize revenue via low selectivity.

Status influences the social acceptability of profit-seeking in academic publishing, rendering lower-status publishers vulnerable to being perceived and stigmatized as illegitimate.


The Pricing of Open Access Journals: Diverse Niches and Sources of Value in Academic Publishing

Authors : Kyle Siler, Koen Frenken

Open Access (OA) publishing has created new academic and economic niches in contemporary science. OA journals offer numerous publication outlets with varying editorial philosophies and business models.

This article analyzes the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) (N=12,127) to identify characteristics of OA academic journals related to the adoption of Article Processing Charge (APC)-based business models, as well as price points of journals that charge APCs. Journal Impact Factor (JIF), language, publisher mission, DOAJ Seal, economic and geographic regions of publishers, peer review duration and journal discipline are all significantly related to the adoption and pricing of journal APCs.

Even after accounting for other journal characteristics (prestige, discipline, publisher country), journals published by for-profit publishers charge the highest APCs. Journals with status endowments (JIF, DOAJ Seal), articles written in English, published in wealthier regions, and in medical or science-based disciplines are also relatively costlier.

The OA publishing market reveals insights into forces that create economic and academic value in contemporary science. Political and institutional inequalities manifest in the varying niches occupied by different OA journals and publishers.

URL : The Pricing of Open Access Journals: Diverse Niches and Sources of Value in Academic Publishing


The diverse niches of megajournals: Specialism within generalism

Authors: Kyle Siler, Vincent Larivière, Cassidy R. Sugimoto

Over the past decade, megajournals have expanded in popularity and established a legitimate niche in academic publishing. Leveraging advantages of digital publishing, megajournals are characterized by large publication volume, broad interdisciplinary scope, and peer‐review filters that select primarily for scientific soundness as opposed to novelty or originality.

These publishing innovations are complementary and competitive vis‐à‐vis traditional journals. We analyze how megajournals (PLOS One, Scientific Reports) are represented in different fields relative to prominent generalist journals (Nature, PNAS, Science) and “quasi‐megajournals” (Nature Communications, PeerJ).

Our results show that both megajournals and prominent traditional journals have distinctive niches, despite the similar interdisciplinary scopes of such journals.

These niches—defined by publishing volume and disciplinary diversity—are dynamic and varied over the relatively brief histories of the analyzed megajournals. Although the life sciences are the predominant contributor to megajournals, there is variation in the disciplinary composition of different megajournals.

The growth trajectories and disciplinary composition of generalist journals—including megajournals—reflect changing knowledge dissemination and reward structures in science.

URL : The diverse niches of megajournals: Specialism within generalism


Is It Such a Big Deal? On the Cost of Journal Use in the Digital Era

Authors : Fei Shu, Philippe Mongeon, Stefanie Haustein, Kyle Siler, Juan Pablo Alperin, Vincent Larivière

Commercial scholarly publishers promote and sell bundles of journals—known as big deals—that provide access to entire collections rather than individual journals. Following this new model, size of serial collections in academic libraries increased almost fivefold from 1986 to 2011.

Using data on library subscriptions and references made for a sample of North American universities, this study provides evidence that, while big deal bundles do decrease the mean price per subscribed journal, academic libraries receive less value for their investment.

We find that university researchers cite only a fraction of journals purchased by their libraries, that this fraction is decreasing, and that the cost per cited journal has increased.

These findings reveal how academic publishers use product differentiation and price strategies to increase sales and profits in the digital era, often at the expense of university and scientific stakeholders.

URL : Is It Such a Big Deal? On the Cost of Journal Use in the Digital Era


Gender and international diversity improves equity in peer review

Authors : Dakota Murray, Kyle Siler, Vincent Lariviére, Wei Mun Chan, Andrew M. Collings, Jennifer Raymond, Cassidy R Sugimoto

The robustness of scholarly peer review has been challenged by evidence of disparities in publication outcomes based on author’s gender and nationality. To address this, we examine the peer review outcomes of 23,873 initial submissions and 7,192 full submissions that were submitted to the biosciences journal eLife between 2012 and 2017.

Women and authors from nations outside of North America and Europe were underrepresented both as gatekeepers (editors and peer reviewers) and last authors. We found a homophilic interaction between the demographics of the gatekeepers and authors in determining the outcome of peer review; that is, gatekeepers favor manuscripts from authors of the same gender and from the same country.

The acceptance rate for manuscripts with male last authors was significantly higher than for female last authors, and this gender inequity was greatest when the team of reviewers was all male; mixed-gender gatekeeper teams lead to more equitable peer review outcomes.

Similarly, manuscripts were more likely to be accepted when reviewed by at least one gatekeeper with the same national affiliation as the corresponding author. Our results indicated that homogeneity between author and gatekeeper gender and nationality is associated with the outcomes of scientific peer review.

We conclude with a discussion of mechanisms that could contribute to this effect, directions for future research, and policy implications. Code and anonymized data have been made available at

URL : Gender and international diversity improves equity in peer review


Vanishing industries and the rising monopoly of universities in published research

Authors : Vincent Larivière, Benoit Macaluso, Philippe Mongeon, Kyle Siler, Cassidy R. Sugimoto

Anecdotes abound regarding the decline of basic research in industrial and governmental settings, but very little empirical evidence exists about the phenomenon. This article provides a systematic and historical analysis of the contribution of various institutional sectors to knowledge production at the world and country levels across the past four decades.

It highlights a dramatic decline in the diffusion of basic research by industrial and governmental sectors across all countries—with a corresponding increase in the share from universities—as well as an increase of partnerships between universities and other sectors.

Results also shows an increase in the relative share of industries in applied research, as measured through patents. Such divergence in university and industry research activities may hinder industries’ ability to translate basic knowledge into technological innovation, and could lead to a growing misalignment between doctoral training and future job expectations.

Industries and universities must rethink strategies for partnerships and publishing to maximize scientific progress and to ensure the greatest gains for society.

URL : Vanishing industries and the rising monopoly of universities in published research


Authorial and institutional stratification in open access publishing: the case of global health research

Authors : Kyle Siler, Stefanie Haustein, Elise Smith, Vincent Larivière, Juan Pablo Alperin

Using a database of recent articles published in the field of Global Health research, we examine institutional sources of stratification in publishing access outcomes. Traditionally, the focus on inequality in scientific publishing has focused on prestige hierarchies in established print journals.

This project examines stratification in contemporary publishing with a particular focus on subscription vs. various Open Access (OA) publishing options.

Findings show that authors working at lower-ranked universities are more likely to publish in closed/paywalled outlets, and less likely to choose outlets that involve some sort of Article Processing Charge (APCs; gold or hybrid OA).

We also analyze institutional differences and stratification in the APC costs paid in various journals. Authors affiliated with higher-ranked institutions, as well as hospitals and non-profit organizations pay relatively higher APCs for gold and hybrid OA publications.

Results suggest that authors affiliated with high-ranked universities and well-funded institutions tend to have more resources to choose pay options with publishing. Our research suggests new professional hierarchies developing in contemporary publishing, where various OA publishing options are becoming increasingly prominent.

Just as there is stratification in institutional representation between different types of publishing access, there is also inequality within access types.

URL : Authorial and institutional stratification in open access publishing: the case of global health research