After reading yet another news article about predatory journals/conferences and how they weigh on the finances of labs in some countries, I started to wonder the following. Were they widespread before publishers of reputable journals started introducing the model where the author pays to have their paper open-access, the so-called "gold open access" (a name I dislike very much, but that's not the point)?

Indeed, I would expect that before that (which seems to be a relatively recent development, maybe less than 10-15 years ago...?), labs would have been much more reluctant to pay for the publication in a predatory journal, because that would have been a surefire way of telling that the journal was junk. And if a researcher had to pay from their own pocket, then I would expect the practice to be much less common, simply because fewer people could afford it.

  • Here is the news article in question, though it's in French, behind a paywall, and probably doesn't contain anything new for someone acquainted with academic publishing. It's part of a big collaboration with other international journals, so you may find other articles about the same subject in your language.
    – user9646
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 7:30
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    Don't know what kind of answer you're hoping for. There is no such thing as a predatory subscription journal. So either the first open access journals were predatory and reputable publishers followed, or vice versa ... it should be obvious which it is.
    – Allure
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 8:01
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    @Allure I am looking for answers from academics on whether 10-15 years ago, predatory journals were such a big deal, and whether the timeline coincided with the introduction of "author pays" by big publishers. If you have nothing but a condescending "it should be obvious" to contribute, please abstain. Moreover, I believe that in such discussions, it would be unethical for you not to reveal your affiliation with publishers (yes, I remember who you are now).
    – user9646
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 8:07
  • I think No, becuase they were bind with Scopus or ISI
    – user94263
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 11:06
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    Decades ago, in mathematics, there were usually "page charges" paid by authors, or by authors' grants, or by authors' departments. This was for reputable journals with good refereeing... The cessation of page charges in those journals is perhaps 20 years old. Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


Anecdotally, a significant proportion of journals on post-Soviet space in 90s were quite happy to publish literally anything as long as author covers the "publication costs". The peer-review was either very light or non-existent (e.g. authors could invite their friends to act as a referee). This was used by some high-rank officials to secure the publications required for their academic degree, which gives a bearer a certain level of prestige even if they never practice science.

This happened before any OA was introduced in Europe/USA and it is still happening now. The existence of predatory journals is probably more driven by the publish or perish principle, than by OA.

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    I think the last sentence is exactly right and should be writ large in neon letters or shouted through megaphones
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 11:45
  • I don't doubt that "publish or perish" is certainly the main driving factor. My question is rather about the scale, and the how. Some of the numbers quoted in the article sound crazy (50% of all published papers in Kazakhstan in 2013, 32% in Indonesia in 2017...). This doesn't sound possible if the researchers have to pay for all of this from their own pocket, but maybe I'm wrong about that. (And the article says this is weighing on lab's finances. Though maybe not as much as journal subscriptions.)
    – user9646
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 12:24
  • “authors could invite their friends to act as a referee” — cough PNAS cough. Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 9:27

What you’re essentially asking is what happened before the digital publishing revolution that started around 2000. Before then, it was hard to be a “predatory” journal, because you would still be expected to produce a physical volume that could be deposited in a library. If you just took the authors’ fees and didn’t produce, you’d be exposed much more quickly as fraudulent.

So while there might be some that tried it, the opportunity cost was too large relative to the potential profits to make it as lucrative as it is now.

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    A predatory journal isn't necessarily fraudulent in the sense that it doesn't produce a product; Printing some magazines doesn't make a journal non-predatory.
    – Cubic
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 14:57
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    @Cubic My guess is that aeismail is saying that producing the actual physical volumes would cut so much into the margins of the predatory journal that there would be little point in running the scam. That's how I understand it anyway.
    – user9646
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 18:54
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    I don't understand why they are called "predatory journals". Academia has a publish/perish mentality. Some under-performing academics are destined to "perish" because of low publications. Some business creates a journal to solve the problem. The academic puts a few publications in "The Journal of Crappy Research" into his/her tenure file. The University grants tenure b/c ultimately they don't have enough money to retain a productive researcher. (1) Who cares if the "Journal of Crappy Research" actually produces a paper volume. (2) Who is the victim of the "Journal of Crappy Research"?
    – emory
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 19:20
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    @emory Academic publishing has the ostensible goal of advancing knowledge. "Predatory journals" are predatory as they don't care and are only out for money. If they were up front about being pay-to-play, it would be one thing, as people would ignore it (including during tenure review) as vanity publishing. The problem is they deliberately pretend to have editorial control and peer review while not bothering. The victim of the Journal of Crappy Research are the naive readers, submitters, and tenure committees (and university funders) who are deliberately mislead about it being peer-reviewed.
    – R.M.
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 22:17
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    @emory That's not really directly relevant to the question/answer, though -- feel free to post it as a new question. If we don't already have it, "What makes 'predatory journals' predatory?" would be an excellent addition to the site.
    – R.M.
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 22:18

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