Is 25% of the Market Predatory Now?

Cabell's crosses the 10,000 journal mark for their blacklist directory

Is 25% of the Market Predatory Now?

[Note: This article has been corrected to more accurately reflect the total number of English-language journals. I’d mistakenly used a lower number in the original version. Apologies.]

Recently, Cabell’s announced they had blacklisted their 10,000th journal, up from just north of 4,000 a year ago.

Last month, the 5th edition of “The STM Report” estimated that the market for legitimate journals is approximately 33,000 titles.

Does the market now consist of 25% predatory titles?

Even if the math is too crude to establish firm percentages — and even if there are far more articles, authors, and readers associated with legitimate journals — the fact that the market has become so confusing as to be such a mix of legitimate and illegitimate titles is significant. It speaks to a market without adequate controls around its incentives and business models (social media is another market gone out of control — more on that tomorrow).

The financial incentives for predatory publishers continue to be strong, with Gold OA the main source of these incentives. Plan S, with its proposed ban on hybrid journals and subsidy to Gold OA journals, would only increase the incentives for predatory publishers.

Seeing these two market statistics in the space of a few weeks provides a striking and informative perspective on a market that has been taken down a notch in reliability and dependability — and up many notches in uncertainty and deception — due to a business model that has had a number of negative unintended consequences.

Yet, funders continue to double-down on this same business model, as their drive to extend their patronage over the scholarly knowledge economy apparently knows no bounds. Wellcome Trust just announced a radical change to their OA funding policies, one that may lead to brinksmanship as it would, if allowed to promulgate farther, extend the damage already being done to this market of ideas and research by eliminating embargoes, increasing market concentration, and reducing incentives to bolster editorial operations and selectivity.

We are in an irrational economic space when a high proportion of the market is possibly based on malefactors and miscreants, all enabled by a business model advocated by a growing number of rich and powerful entities (large funders, governments, and large institutions) capable of distorting the market to suit their own ends. As Rick Anderson pointed out on the Scholarly Kitchen, these entities are more likely to impinge on academic freedom — and have more leverage — than any publisher or journal.

As Phil Davis pointed out in 2009 (nearly a decade ago):

The pay-to-read (aka subscription) model avoids conflicts with academic freedom.  Authors are not limited by their institution as to where they publish their work, only that there is no guarantee that their institution will provide access to that work. Librarians make choices over which titles provide good value for their institution, and through their collective choices, have moderating effects on market prices. I see no way in an author publication fund model to exert market forces and still allow authors the freedom to decide where they publish their work.

With deadlines aimed at 2020, it seems ironic that funders can’t see the damage they’re doing.

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