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Recently, a submission of mine was declined as not suitable for the journal, but with the rejection came a request to transfer the manuscript to another journal owned by the same company.

However, the other journal has a higher (four-figure vs. zero) publication charge.

Is this standard practice? How often does this happen?

I wouldn't call it fishy, but it has what a German might call a Geschmäckle to me...

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    Well, turn down the transfer then? I've never encountered an article 'processing charge' (page charges, yes) so I would find it very rude.
    – Jon Custer
    May 18 at 18:26
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    Is the second journal reputable? Has a "Geschmäckle" either way, but in a different way....
    – cag51
    May 18 at 19:18
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    Is the second journal "open access"? Such journals typically have high fees to authors.
    – Buffy
    May 18 at 20:43
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    I strongly suspect that the editor didn't consider publication charges at all when they offered this. It might be that the publisher encourages this practice or even just makes it easy for the editor but that's (a legitimate) part of the publisher's business model.
    – Roland
    May 19 at 5:18
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    This reminds me of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Signor Garamond, the proprietor of the fictional Garamond Press, frequently refers authors to another publisher, Manutius; he fails to disclose that Manutius is a vanity publisher which he also owns. The 2 companies share resources, including the building (they have entrances in parallel streets). May 19 at 7:10

3 Answers 3

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This has been a growing trend where flagship journals are creating separate open-access side-journals.

Usually, the flagship journal is very selective and publishes only research findings applicable to the broadest audience: the catchiest, trendiest, most impactful work, as judged by the editors and reviewers. Since these are very popular journals to read, the publisher can charge high fees to libraries, since every university wants their researchers to have access to the latest and greatest work. Therefore, their costs and profits mostly come from these fees, and they may not need to charge the authors anything.

The secondary journals may be no less scientifically rigorous, yet do not have the restriction of publishing only the most broadly impactful papers, so they don't need to be as selective. That also means they aren't as "must-read", and instead use an open-access model where journal costs and profits come from authors' fees rather than subscribers.

I don't think it's unethical as long as the parameters are made clear, but it is important that researchers familiarize themselves with academic publishing models. There are both benefits (public accessibility, completeness of the academic record) and drawbacks (costs to the author, conflicted incentive structures for rigor) to the paid open access model.

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    As an author I would reconsider here. It is unfortunate that the flagship journal rejected the paper, so maybe a secondary journal with a publication fee is the way to go. But whether the secondary journals of this particular company are the most suitable ones for this paper is a new question that is totally independent of the flagship journal.
    – quarague
    May 19 at 7:10
  • @quarague Certainly, but there's nothing wrong with the journal making the offer. However, at least in my field, there are going to be publication fees practically everywhere except a couple rare top journals and some special projects that are known more for their publication strategy than their paper quality. I'd be thinking more about impact and readership than fees: is there another journal where the work will be more visible/read?
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19 at 13:20
  • Something still sounds backwards. If the first journal is less selective, why are they rejecting the paper? And if the flagship is more selective, they'll have less chance of being accepted there.
    – Barmar
    May 19 at 13:33
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    @Barmar I don't understand; it's the flagship that is more selective and doing the rejecting and passing to the alternative. What is making you think otherwise?
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19 at 13:36
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    @Barmar. It is, but not to the author. May 19 at 20:13
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This is a perfectly reasonable request. It would not really be possible to transfer your manuscript to a journal not owned by the same publisher, so that is not cause for concern. I do not know how often it happens, however I have been part of submissions where we did decide "OK let's submit to Journal A, and if they bump us to Journal B, that's fine too."

You will just have to decide if the new journal is suitable. Price may be part of that decision.

The advantages of accepting the transfer is not having to create a new journal account and you probably don't have to change format.

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    Saving time would be an (important) advantage of accepting the transfer request, I guess.
    – kricheli
    May 18 at 21:05
  • @kricheli It could perhaps be faster. May 18 at 21:08
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    Formatting and creating online accounts range at the very bottom of my preoccupations when I decide on a journal for submitting my articles. I don't really see how that's a criterion for anything.
    – N.I.
    May 18 at 21:28
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    @N.I. In some fields, formatting might include completely rewriting the abstract, introduction, methods, results, and discussion to fit journal requirements for length limits or structured heading requirements, reorganizing figures and tables to meet object count limits, changing dimensions of figures to fit specific column widths, etc. Not just changing the reference format or some lines of LaTeX.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 18 at 23:23
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    @quarangue I don't think there's a meaningful difference. The rest of your comment is covered in my answer May 19 at 14:16
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This is very normal, because there's a lot of competition for papers among publishers. If you take up their offer to transfer to another journal in their stable, then the publisher keeps up their revenue (this applies even if you do not publish open access - subscription journals need papers too).

It's unlikely the publication charge factored into this decision, since the overriding one is scope: by making this transfer, they are implicitly saying that the new journal will not reject your paper as unsuitable for the journal. If they can't say this, then it doesn't matter if the new journal charges more, less, or no fees.

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