Phishing in Open Access Waters

January 31, 2013
By | 8 Comments

1. “As an American academic publishing group, we wish to become your friends”

Today, I received one email which claimed that the university administrator had suspended my email and that I needed to click on a dodgy looking link to reset my account, and another email which invited me to publish in Journalism and Mass Communication. I quote:

This is Journalism and Mass Communication (ISSN 2160-6579), an academic journal published across the United States by David Publishing Company, 9460 Telstar Ave Suite 5, EL Monte, CA 91731, USA.

We have learnt your paper “Conjuring Aura in the Age of Digital Reproduction: The Discursive Work of DVD Bonus Materials” in Society For Cinema and Media conference 2010 .

We are very interested in your paper and would like to publish your paper in Journalism and Mass Communication. If you have the idea of making our journal a vehicle for your research interests, please send electronic version of your papers or books (MS Word Format and APA Style) to us via email. Attachment is the sample of the journal. More detailed information, please visit at

Hope that we can keep in touch by email and publish some papers or books for you and your friends. As an American academic publishing group, we wish to become your friends. If you are interested in our journal, we also want to invite you to be our reviewers or editorial board members.

Both, of course, are phishing. The grammar in the first email was even better than in the one supposedly from a comm scholar. I followed the link, and it looks to be a journal, to be clear, but many of the titles have bad grammar, its board members include grad students, and the abstracts mostly fall into the category of papers I’d reject on contact.

Welcome to the world of predatory open access.

To be clear, I have no beef with open access (OA) in and of itself. Many smart people have put a lot of careful thought into how to make OA work ethically, and how it could beat our current system (see here for a great resource). But a lot of unscrupulous people have also put careful thought into how to exploit OA and the sentiment and concerns that led to it. As the wave of OA and the rhetoric of it being the ultimate Good Thing in publishing – a wonderful new monetary structure that will save academia, finally allow non-academics to read my much-anticipated latest paper on paratexts, and bring balance to the Force – rises, it’s worth stopping to think about the dangers in these waters. (Others have done this better than I — see the links above — but not in Antenna).


2. “the authors should pay some fee to us”

As I play the role of Roy Scheider in Jaws, let me offer a few thoughts along these lines, most of which are directed at predatory OA (POA?), but that apply to OA in general:

First, let’s be clear that journals needn’t cost much money. Editors don’t get paid much. Nobody who writes for journals gets paid to do so. Nobody who reviews for them gets paid. And if the journal is online-only, its only real costs are servers, and perhaps proofing and typesetting. So any model that requires big dollars coming from anyone is one of which we should be intensely suspicious, and one away from which we should be moving. We may not like to see universities charged crazy sums, but nor should we accept any model that simply shifts those crazy sums to others: if a corner store charged $1000 for a stick of gum, the problem wouldn’t be solved simply by finding someone else to pay the $1000. “Green” OA journals such as International Journal of Communication are much closer to the answer: largely clean-running journals that pay little but cost little.

Any monetary structure that charges article writers worries me. A lot. Maybe I don’t deserve to be paid for my work, but it strikes me as absolutely illogical that I should be the one needing to pay. It’s deficit financing in a world without reruns, a model that would rightfully be scoffed at by any other content industry (we may not like to think of ourselves as a content industry, but that just makes us even more naïve marks for the likes of David Publishing Company and its friends). Hopefully I could get UW to defray those costs. But (a) why should they? and (b) how about academics who don’t have grants or research funds to pay these (aka those in the humanities)? And when many of those who most need to publish are getting paid a pittance, if at all, charging them is simply wrong (the submission fee at many places is approximately a month’s salary for some lecturers or adjuncts, and more for grad students, who you can bet aren’t being paid by their unis to publish).

It’s also worth slowing down to analyze whether OA journals even are “open” to all. I would love for my work to be more accessible to anyone. But building an open access structure and imagining that this is enough, that the readers will come, is naïve. Kevin Costner was wrong. Take Antenna as an example: we’re free, we’re available to all, and we’re even written more accessibly than most journal articles, but most of the readership still comes from academia. We’d need to put a lot more work into making this truly bridge an academic-lay divide. (But we’re all busy, and that’s why we don’t, alas). So too with many OA journals – when I hear the excited rhetoric about making everything accessible, I worry that too many people are patting themselves on the back for building baseball diamonds in Iowa, but when many publishers are profiting immensely from selling us the sod to build these diamonds, we should be sure they’re for more than just ghosts.

Finally, if somewhat an aside, it’s worth nothing that in media studies, much of our work is already accessible. Much of the best work in our field is in books. There are some wonderful edited collections out there, filled with material that is every bit as rigorous, every bit as cutting-edge, as that which you find in journals. So in our field, as part of the OA movement, I’d like to see a concerted push to respect edited collections and chapters in them, and then see those books as the vanguard of open access. Make sure Personnel and Tenure committees hear this. Make sure hiring committees hear it.

To reiterate, I’m not opposed to OA, but if emails like the one above are a sign of the open access waters ahead, clearly we need continual scanning of these waters before swimming in them.


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8 Responses to “ Phishing in Open Access Waters ”

  1. Kristina Busse on January 31, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    Jonathan, interesting post that addresses some of the pitfalls of OA, though I’m not sure that we won’t be able to sort out the good from the bad. (As coeditor of a Gold Open Access peer-reviewed journal, keeping our standards high is pretty much our number 1 priority other than getting things out on time 🙂

    And I’m certainly not sure moving to books is the answer. For one, they also cost money, which is exactly what was the problem in the first place. Academic books aren’t cheap, and especially with essay collections, many of the articles might not even be relevant. And the quality control is not necessarily guaranteed. We can certainly discuss the merits and problems of peer review, but it is at least one form of attempting to guarantee a level of quality. How many academic books have you read recently that looked like they weren’t even copyedited? (Last collection I did, the publisher had SKIPPED the copyedit entirely!)

    As for reaching a community beyond academia with your essays–I know that TWC ( has it easier than many journals on other subjects, but we certainly are read, cited, and discussed outside of a mere academic audience. So, it is possible. But as you note, it takes time and effort.

    • Jonathan Gray on January 31, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      I’ve benefited WAY more from reviews I’ve received from my books than from ones I’ve received from my articles, so I want to defend the level of peer review there. Granted, not all publishers are the same, as with OA, but the better ones do a better job. Same with pricing. An NYU Press book costs about $20-25, which is a really good deal. Besides, book publishers put more effort into getting one’s work out there — sometimes anemically, but sometimes more impressively — which strikes me as part of access (availability is only part of the issue, after all: knowing it’s there and being directed to it is the other part). I don’t think this should be the all and end all of an access strategy, but I think it’s part of it

  2. Kristina Busse on January 31, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Sorry to leave a second comment, but…the phishing email that you shared here doesn’t go to an OA journal, does it? It has little checkout carts next to articles, which suggests that it’s not OA.

    • Jonathan Gray on January 31, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      the carts cost nothing, though, so yeah, I think it is. It said it was, and who am I to trust their integrity, given what a good show they make of it in their business practices? 😉

      • Kristina Busse on January 31, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        You are right. They have subscription fees, but when you access the essay, it’s accessible. Kinda wish it hadn’t been… 😀

  3. Jonathan Sterne on January 31, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Jonathan — I agree that for-profit open access is a corruption of a basically good idea, but I disagree that open access journals cost almost nothing. I don’t know much about IJoC’s finances, but I do know they have (or had) a managing editor paid off an endowment (someone has to contact reviewers and shepherd things through the publication process), and they also pay for copyediting and layout work. On top of that, they either have to pay or their institution pays for server space, bandwidth, support, etc., and presumably the design and layout of the journal cost money. The latter could be obviated by something like an OJS template, but then do we want all journals to look the same?

    Journals and books are very much supported by academics “free” labor, but they have traditionally also depended on crucial forms of paid labor, which make them difficult if not impossible to maintain in a revenue-free context, even if you subtract the cost and labor associated with producing a physical edition mailed to readers for a fee. If you don’t believe me, look at the trouble a journal like Dancecult is having right now.

    In a climate where universities are doing less than ever to support journal editorship, this is a real problem. It used to be a journal editor got at least a half time assistantship (either from the school or the journal) as well as a course release for their work. Now, that’s harder to come by. . . .

    Finally, a word on paying to publish. Again, I would never give money to a for-profit journal, but in some sciences and medicine, where work is supported off grants, researchers routinely pay a publication fee (off the grant) after an article is accepted via the peer review process. It has the potential to corrupt, but a nonprofit status and a high ratio of submitted to accepted papers ameliorates that somewhat. I realize that’s unlikely to happen in the US humanities, but that’s how it works in other contexts, and it’s one way to insure open access journals are able to be run properly.

    What I really want to know is how much an organization like ICA collects per journal, and how that figure relates to the costs involved in producing a purely digital edition if you got rid of subscription revenue (valuable to the press, but not necessarily to the association)

  4. Kyle Conway on January 31, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    This is an interesting post, and I agree about the value of a good edited collection. (For what it’s worth, I’m at a university where an edited collection and a monograph count the same for tenure and promotion, but for reasons that aren’t necessarily as forward-looking as what you suggest.)

    But I don’t think I’m quite tracking what you mean when you describe books as a model for open access — the fee to access them, per se, is their purchase price, although that fee is lower than, say, the $37 Taylor and Francis would charge me for electronic access to a single article, or the $165 it would charge me for access to a full issue. Are you just talking about degrees of openness, or am I missing something?

    There’s also the question of publication subsidies. As a Canadian, you might know that university presses in Canada follow a different model than in the U.S. Whereas in the U.S., as I understand it, presses are subsidized by the universities that house them, in Canada, authors must apply for a subsidy (about $8000) either from the Aid to Scholarly Publications Program run by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada or from their home universities. (Non-Canadians have to find other sources — back before Harper cut funding to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, it ran a program to funnel money through national Canadian studies scholarly organizations.) This is true even of the top presses — McGill-Queen’s, U of Toronto, etc. — and adds an extra layer of peer review and an additional barrier to publication.

    On a related note, for a good list of predatory journals, see, which is run by Jeffrey Beall at the University of Colorado, Denver.

    • Jonathan Gray on January 31, 2013 at 9:08 PM

      Kyle, I realize my aside got muddled. My point about books, though, is that much of the excitement about OA comes from a spirit of wanting one’s work to be something that “regular people” can get a hold of … and books can deliver along those lines. I don’t see them as a “model” per se, and my suggestion isn’t that journals should be priced in line with books: it’s just that we might realize that, say, choosing to publish one’s work in a $25 NYU Press book might make it as or even way more “accessible” than publishing it in many otherwise fine OA sites.