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A new model for open access: the pyramid scheme

4 July, 2008

Yesterday I got an e-mail from a company that seems to specialize in coming up with new open-access journals:

Dear Dr. Wynn,

In recognition of your outstanding reputation and contribution in the field of Demography ,we are pleased to propose your name as the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Open Demography Journal’. After the selection your role as the Editor-in-Chief will not be an onerous one. You will not be expected to process any submitted manuscripts to the journal nor referee them (unless you choose to do so). What we would expect from you is that you would arrange to solicit and submit a minimum of ten manuscripts to the journal each year. Moreover, from time to time we would hope that you would offer advice on how best to develop the journal in order to maintain and improve on its success in the field. You would also be free to invite new editorial board members to the journal who wish to take an active editorial role. For all manuscripts that you submit to the journal, from above ten that are published, we will pay you annual royalty of 5% of all fees received on these manuscripts.

Since the launch of the new open access journal entitled “The Open Demography Journal” there has been a lot of interest in the journal from both authors and readers. The journal is freely available at no costs to readers via the journal’s website at www.todemoj.org. We expect that this year the number of submitted manuscripts to the journal will rapidly increase and that the journal will establish itself internationally.

Your term as the Editor-in-Chief would be initially for two years which is renewable by mutual agreement. We hope you will consider this offer and look forward to receiving your positive reply. Please could you reply to me by return email at email: editor@benthamopen.org within 24 hours after receipt of this offer along with your detailed CV and list of publications so that it can be sent to the Advisory Board for review.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

With kind regards,
Yours sincerely,
BENTHAM OPEN

[This message has been sent to you because of your eminence in the field. If, however, you do not want to receive any email/offer/invitation in future from Bentham Open, then please click here.]

Hmm. I know that open access publishing requires a different funding model than the traditional subscriber-pays, and perhaps that will entail a different approach to soliciting and rewarding academic labor. Yet I hadn’t quite imagined my way to the model outlined in this letter, which is almost a pyramid scheme. It does explain all the e-mails I’ve gotten this year from the editors of obscure open-access journals, inviting me to contribute. They’re all looking for their 5%, I guess.

Perhaps I would be more inclined to take the funding model seriously if it weren’t obviously spam. Not only am I not a demographer, I’ve only ever published one article in a demography journal (which I assume is where they got my name). I’m about the furthest thing from “eminence in the field.” What’s uncanny is that just last month I also got invited to be the editor-in-chief of a new medical journal devoted to women’s health. (Ditto as with the demography business: I’m not a physician, though I do publish in medical journals and write about reproductive health policy.)

Is anyone else getting stuff like this?

–L.L. Wynn

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 July, 2008 5:04 pm

    There is also an “Open Anthropology” journal, which I only discovered after I named my blog Open Anthropology as well. It’s pretty embarrassing actually. Yes, it is open access, and it is entirely funded by contributors. Unless universities provide us with “permanent” web space to host our own journals (and mine does not), and offer them for free, funding is going to be a source of awkwardness almost no matter the funding solution you choose. The other option is for the journal to be funded by the editors, or the editor, and then senses of ownership come into play. But what I have noticed is that the author-funded open access journals seem to be requiring vast amounts of over funding — it only takes about $160 US per year (even much less, or much more) to have a site hosted and pay annual charges for a domain name…how that necessitates what in some cases is $1,500 US from each author is quite beyond me, and calling it a pyramid scheme is putting it nicely perhaps. I would love to see the proposed budgets of applicants for Canada’s Aid to Open Access Journals grants competition, when some are getting $25,000 for the year. After my annual $160, I can’t think of how else one would spend so much money…although I suppose one could pay for two centuries worth of web hosting :-). Cheers.

  2. 4 July, 2008 5:16 pm

    What I want to know is why I get invited to be the editor in chief of obscure medical and demography journals, and not of obscure anthropology journals!! ;)

    As for spending money, ooooph, don’t get me started. I have seen an organization (and I can’t name names, unfortunately) spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single year to redesign a perfectly functional website (they just made it look more corporate, I’m afraid — the website was perfectly functional to begin with). I wonder if one of those ubiquitous website optimization companies is where some of the money disappears.

    But back to this particular scheme: somehow I feel like it would make more sense if the $1500 per author went to fund teaching relief for the editors and peer reviewers, but when it gets paid as a commission to the editor based on number of articles solicited, it seems sketchy to me. I don’t know why that should bother me but it does! And I swear just five minutes ago I got yet another invitation to contribute to another obscure medical open access journal published by an unknown publisher. I seem to get one a week. But now I know why: the editors are working on a commission system.

  3. 5 July, 2008 1:17 am

    You may be interested in an interview I did in April with a Bentham director:
    http://poynder.blogspot.com/2008/04/open-access-interviews-matthew-honan.html

  4. Eugene R permalink
    5 July, 2008 1:27 am

    Hi Lisa,

    Wow. I just had a look at Bentham’s website. Your story would actually be less bizarre and disturbing if this company didn’t already have nearly a hundred journals up and running — including Anthropology — all with real editors and enormous editorial boards of something like sixty members. Given that they’re inviting people to become editors using this spam-like form letter, I’m surprised that they have managed to get so many people on board. I guess everyone wants their 5%!

    Since refereeing the articles is not part of the editor’s job, whose is it? Is that also done in house or are these journals simply not peer-reviewed at all?

  5. 5 July, 2008 9:32 pm

    Thanks, Richard, that’s very informative. Eugene, hi! I don’t know anything about Bentham beyond the silly e-mail I received, but check out Richard’s article that he links to above, it is very interesting. (How is Montreal?)
    Lisa

  6. 16 July, 2008 4:17 pm

    I’m now doing some research on another Open Access publisher — Scientific Journals International — and would welcome the assistance of the research community. Details at: http://www.library.yale.edu/~llicense/ListArchives/0807/msg00050.html
    Richard

  7. 5 August, 2008 8:59 pm

    I’ve been got many of that e-mails from so many company that seems to specialize in coming up with new open-access journals. but much of theme are not real or useful.

  8. 5 January, 2009 11:29 pm

    Hi,
    I am also receiving from time to time similar invitations from Bentham.
    The last one I received today is from the open journal of Anatomy.
    I am a fish Endocrinologist and certainly do not have any “eminent contributions in the field of Anatomy” as the email says.
    Thank you all for enlightening us, the researchers, and sharing wiht us this disturbing experience.
    Bruria

  9. DR. ADEBAYO OLUWOLE permalink
    9 October, 2009 2:50 pm

    I also got a mail from Open Bentham and it read thus:
    Dear Dr.Oluwole

    In recognition of your outstanding reputation and contribution in the field of communication sciences and communication studies. We are pleased to propose your name as the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Open Communication Journal’. After the selection your role as the journal’s Editor-in-Chief will be to solicit and submit a minimum number of ten manuscripts to the journal each year. Moreover, from time to time we would hope that you would offer your advice on how best to develop the journal reputation in order to maintain and improve its success in its field. You would also be free to invite new editorial board members for the journal who wish to play an active editorial role. For all the manuscripts that you submit to the journal, for the first ten that are published, we will pay you an annual royalty of 5% of all fees received on these manuscripts.

    We expect that Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editors, Co-Editors in an Open Access Journal will submit at least one article per year which will be published ABSOLUTELY FREE OF CHARGE. Beside, each and every submission from Editor-in-Chief will be published free of cost. Of course, the submissions will not be a guarantee for publication but these submissions will also be processed through normal peer review process.

    Since the launch of the new open access journal entitled “The Open Communication Journal” there has been a lot of interest in the journal from both authors and readers. The journal is freely available at no cost to the readers via the journal’s website http://www.tocommj.org. We expect that this year the number of submitted manuscripts to the journal will rapidly increase and that the journal will establish itself internationally.

    Your term as the Editor-in-Chief would be initially for two years which is renewable by mutual agreement. We hope you will consider this offer and look forward to receive your positive reply. Could you please reply to me by return email at email: editor@benthamopen.org within 24 hours after receipt of this offer along with your detailed CV and list of publications so that it can be sent to the Advisory Board for evaluation?

    We look forward to hearing from you soon.

    With kind regards,

    Yours sincerely,

    BENTHAM OPEN

    I consider the mail disturbing. Scholars must be very careful with this kind of message.

  10. 12 October, 2009 8:24 pm

    There could also be another logic at work here. Now that academic worldwide are getting evaluated based on their peer-reviewed publications (including in China and India), new peer-reviewed publications will necessarily spring into existence to accommodate the need to publish. These journals are not to be read, but to be published in. They must not have a rigorous review procedure and they must make money somehow.

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