This question is related to this question, but specifically regards the special issues by MDPI. They seem to have a quite high number of special issues for every journal per year and as far as I understand, they are only different from the regular publications by having a dedicated topic and an associated editor.

One thing that confuses me is that papers are already published before the deadlines (this special issue with the deadline in October already has 4 papers published).

Is there anything else that is special about these special issues?

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    When dealing with questionable publishers like MDPI (e.g., academia.stackexchange.com/questions/5466/…) never overlook the driving force of making money.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 4 '18 at 22:25
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    "Making money" is certainly the driving force of most publishers, even established ones.
    – koalo
    Jun 5 '18 at 7:17
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    Yup. They are also known to plagiarise text from guest editors. Jun 5 '18 at 8:16

There really isn't a fundamental difference between their special issues and other publishers' special issues—it's just a "themed" issue.

As for publishing papers before the deadline, that's a relative feature of digital publishing—there's no need to wait for a deadline if a paper is ready to go earlier. The collection can be "built" as papers are ready, rather than presenting everything as a single fait accompli.

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    Let me add that having papers appear as published as early as possible is a Good Thing; often you need that extra paper on your CV when you are applying for a position/grant/etc. Mar 16 at 7:37
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    The special issues are a way to promote the journal. Each special issue has a guest editor. The idea is that these guest editors promote the special issue using their academic network. This is then expected to result in submissions. Personally, I ignore their requests to become guest editor.
    – Roland
    Mar 16 at 8:35

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