12/5/11

Academic Publishing Scams (Author Mills)



It is not anymore only about the Nigerian Prince asking for your bank account to deposit millions of dollars in "inheritance money." There are many more elaborated barely legal scams out there on the Internet.


About a month after I finished my dissertation, I got an e-mail from a Germany-based publishing company requesting to publish "my paper" entitled as the final title I gave to my dissertation. The acquisition editor, named Yedisen Ramasamy, said in his message that he was performing research at my university library repository, and came across my "paper" and they wanted me to publish it with them. 

I am usually weary about this kind of messages, and this one seemed like a scam right away, but they got many pieces of information from me (my name, the title of my unpublished dissertation, which they called a "paper") and I was concerned about this.  I did not even click in the address they provided me for LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing GmbH &  Co. KG. However, I wanted to learn more about the reason why they had harvested my information, and went and looked around the Internet. 


I imagined that nobody wanted to scam newly-minted academics with their theses. I was wrong! 

LAP has a Website, where it is virtually impossible to see who works there. There is no information about personnel and if you want to contact them, they offer you a form to fill out your information and ask any questions. On a Q&A page, LAP states that they do not answer telephones to "keep costs low." Then they say that they do not operate as the other publishers for the same reason, and that they have been successfully offering this publishing service to the academic market. 


There is not much information coming officially from Universities or academic discussion sites about LAP, although the Chronicle of Higher Education had a discussion about this "publisher." Most of the information I found came from other bloggers, from chat rooms and lists about people who have gotten the same message (many of them have actually responded to this publisher). There is also a wikipedia page about the history of VDM (Verlag Dr Müller) publishers, the same editorial house that created Lambert. This wikipedia entry says that VDM used to publish multiple wikipedia entries on the same topic grouped as "books" and charged for them. Apparently they are no longer doing this, and in the last few years, they have been "harvesting" University libraries for recently published Masters theses and dissertations. 

Although most of the comments on LAP agree that this is a scam (if it looks too good to be true, it probably is), and that you should not publish your Masters thesis, dissertation or other academic materials with them, there are a few testimonials of people who have published materials there, and are somewhat happy (or maybe unaware in what they got themselves into), that they got a bounded copy of their unedited dissertation, thesis, or conference paper, and the promise of 3% of the royalties (previous submission of a bank account number). I have yet to found the testimony of anybody who has received royalties. A single bounded copy of their work and a listing in Amazon is about all they got. In exchange of the exclusive rights of 20% of the content of the material submitted to them, and the possibility of publishing the remaining 80% in academic journals (this done on your own). 

If you publish with them you also get an ISBN number, and an amazon listing (this is the part that tricks some authors into giving this company partial rights to their work). I actually visited Amazon and looked for this publisher, and the search rendered me a bit more than 24,000 published "books" or materials on the site, most of them at a cost of more than one hundred dollars, others were less costly and I assumed they were smaller documents.  This "editorial" also sends "their proposals" in Spanish under the name of "Editorial Académica Española." There is an interesting post in one blog about this in Spanish too.   

The Amazon search gave me a bit more than 3,000 books in Spanish published already under that editorial. Although Editorial Académica Española is linked to Lambert and says is a Spanish-German editorial house. It is the same editorial, and they are doing this "academic material harvesting" to unaware graduate students or recent Ph Ds who desperately want to see their work published (and ruined!). 


Although some testimonials claim that this is legal, and I have no doubt about this being "barely legal" suspicion should be raised of a company that says they do not have editors to edit the thousands of books they publish "to keep costs low," but they hire multiple "acquisition editors" around the world, and in many languages to craft letters that seem legitimate, and to answer the e-mails of unaware authors eager to see their work published in record times. Their Website is also, mostly directed to authors rather than libraries or potential costumers. This alone should raise doubts. 

Although many in the discussion boards, and blogs agree that you should not publish your research with LAP (especially your dissertation), there seems to be little awareness from University administrators about this, and therefore little warning for the overall academic community. Expat Academic published in a blog entry what the University of Mass Amherst's Library have to say about this:

"Umass Amherst recommends that students who would normally publish a monograph of their thesis or dissertation for promotion and tenure purposes should rely on more traditionally accepted / peer reviewed publishers within their respective fields for publishing opportunities.  This publishing venue uses a print-on-demand model and markets dissertations and theses through Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com and other large online booksellers.  Royalties are paid to authors when sufficient sales warrant.  VDM/Lambert Academic Publishing routinely contacts authors of dissertations and theses using information they get through ProQuest, the University, library catalogs, and other sources.  Authors should note that VDM/Lambert Academic Publishing requests exclusive distribution rights for versions that they publish."

There is another warning from writer Victoria Strauss in her blog, Author beware, a publisher's industry whatchdog about VDG Verlag Dr. Muller.  Strauss has called this kind of publishers "author mills" and has defined them as a publisher relying on a large number of authors producing a small number of books. Author mills rely mostly on sales to authors themselves to keep the business model afloat. Strauss has also mentioned that this publishers share the same business model as "vanity presses" with very little or no editing and no marketing or distribution after publishing. They mainly live off the few copies that authors themselves buy for them or their friends and family.


Due to the high number of people who have actually gotten into this self-publishing scheme, and the possible damage this may cause to unaware authors, I think it is important for more universities and academic advisors to tell students and recent graduates about this. According to some testimonials, they publish dissertations and other works as they come, with no editing, arguing that is is already "peer reviewed by your committee." This kind of publishing will not be respected in academia, and may harm your possibilities of getting your dissertation turned into a book, since they retain rights for a substantial part of it, and your name will be already out there associated with them. While it is true that the publishing industry is in transition, and possibly there will be a new or at least, different model for academic publishing, proofreading, editing, and peer-reviewing a manuscript will likely remain as important components of the academic publishing of the future. Author mills should not be the model for disseminating academic knowledge. If you want to make your work available through self-publishing, you can turn it into a pdf and disseminate it through the web if you desire. 

The worrisome part is that so many people have fallen pray to this. Luckily I was suspicious enough to not even click on their link and erase the message.  I sent their messages to my spam folder the second time I received a "reminder" from Mr. Ramasamy (I do not know if this person is even real).  It seems that thousands of people have already published with Lambert Academic Publishing, giving up their rights to parts of their dissertations and other academic work. This is something that may be legal, but does not mean is not  a predatory practice. The sad part is that reputable companies such Amazon, participate on this scheming. I do not know how they obtain the ISBN numbers, as I said this may be legal, but it is certainly not recognized as legitimate academic publishing, as the U of Mass Amherst' library message warns. 

New Ph Ds and authors be aware!



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