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Publications for Money: What Creates the Market for Paid Academic Journals?
March 18, 2012 - 7:06pm

According to a survey of university faculty at Russian universities, conducted by National Research University - Higher School of Economics in November 2011, a substantial proportion of them pay for their texts (research papers and conference proceedings) to be published. In particular, about 40 percent of 2800 respondents reported that they made payments in a range of USD 30-800 related to the publication process within last year, and about a third among those who pay, spent more than USD 150. One might say that these numbers are not big. However, compared to low faculty salaries these expenditures are not that small.


Rationale

The fact that people have incentives to pay for their work to be published might be explained by the fact that publications are necessary for promotion, contract extension, and salary bonuses. Universities, in turn, also report annually on research productivity to the Ministry of Education and Science (even though the majority of higher education institutions don’t get any money from State for research support). So, even teachers who have teaching loads so demanding as to make any reasonable research effort possible are still required to have publications.

As a result a market for paid publications has emerged. Many local Russian journals take money for different components and features of the publication process. These could include, among others, payments for:

• the fact of publication itself (price is charged by page, normally USD 5-7 per page) or by paper (around USD 200-300);

• reviews;

• urgent publications (often used by PhD students who are required to have publications at the moment of PhD defense);

• annual subscription, made obligatory for authors

• editorial, proofreading and other publishing services;

In some cases journals set lower (or zero) fees for PhD students of faculty from the university where this journal is published. Quite often these are university journals and publish mostly their own university faculty members. Needless to say that these journals do not have many readers.


Paid publications: Can we say they are all bad?

Does that mean that all these publications are of low quality just because their authors had to pay for them to be published? No, not necessarily. As we all know, there are a number of highly-ranked international academic journals, that charge a substantial fee for paper just to be considered by editors and anonymous reviewers. A number of international peer-reviewed biology and medical journals charge fees to the authors after articles are accepted to publish color photos or other visual materials. Why, then, should we doubt the quality of paid publications in Russian journals? The reason is that an important feature of the publication process—peer review and selection for publication on the basis of their quality—is not necessarily followed. Many journals do not check the research quality but rather publish all material presented in proper formatting and paid for. As journal editors put it, “We have a fair policy— if we take your money, your paper will be published.” Some for-profit journals, responding to the requirement to have papers reviewed, even ask prospective authors to submit reviews together with the text.

There is a stereotype (that many teachers from regional universities share) that the best nation-wide journals will not publish them, no matter how good their article might have been. For many people this is confirmed by the negative experience of getting one or two rejections. These rejections are likely caused by the low quality of the submitted papers. However, university teachers, used to local university practices where peer review and peer discussion of research results are not common, normally don’t trust the process.

Since publications are seen by many people only as a means of fulfilling obligations or simply as reporting, for many departments and chairs it is common practice to submit a paper for publication without any related presentations at conferences or sharing the results with colleagues prior to submission.


What's next?

According to the survey mentioned above the practice of paid publications is no more or less common for young faculty members (those under 35) than with university community in a whole. So we should not expect that the situation will automatically improve over time. For a situation to change, a peer review mechanism should be integrated into institutional practices in order for universities to integrate themselves into a global academic market. Otherwise, such factors as social networks, work experience at the university and the administrative status will continue to play a dominant role in faculty policies, and publications will remain just a means for reporting, rather than the mechanism of research communication, promotion of new ideas and a true measure of academic performance.

 

 

 

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