“Predatory open-access” and anime/manga studies

The growth of (free, online) “open-access” to academic publications has made a significant impact on how scholarship is produced, packaged/published, and presented to readers. And it is perhaps inevitable that the open-access model has given rise to actors who work to take advantage of it to generate profits for themselves. These actors – “predatory open-access publishers” – already have a significant effect on scholarly publishing in many fields – primarily in science, technology, and mathematics, but increasingly, in social sciences and the humanities. What are the implications of predatory open-access for anime and manga studies?Publishing of any kind, including scholarly/academic publishing, costs money. No, the process of writing itself doesn’t cost money, but it does cost money to bridge the gap between words on paper or a computer screen, and a book or a journal article that is delivered to a reader. At the very minimum, producing (i.e. publishing) a book or journal requires some expenses, and any publisher has to be able to pay for those expenses in some way.

The “traditional” model of scholarly publishing as it has existed through all of the 20th century and into the 21st has been based around the idea of a publisher as either a corporate entity that published books or journals intended to be sold to readers at a profit, or a non-profit educational institution like a college/university or an academic society that was committed to disseminating knowledge through various channels, including publications. Publishing cost money, but publishing also either made money, or, as in the case the publishing activities of a university press or another non-profit, was not intended to make money, and the publisher could rely on income from other sources.

As with so many other areas of education, the emergence of online access to information has upended what readers/audiences expect of academic publishing. If you the reader can get unlimited online access to your daily newspaper or to an online magazine like Salon or Slate, then why can’t you the reader also get the same kind of access to Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, or the Journal of Popular Culture? It is certainly a fair question to ask – even if one of the answers to it is obvious: a popular publication like Slate can depend on advertising revenue to make itself free-to-read; a scholarly journal, defined as it is by a narrow and specialized audience almost certainly cannot. Nonetheless, the idea of free access to scholarly publications is something that has now firmly moved outside the realm of the theoretical, and is also something that authors – and readers – have to be aware of.

The standard term for free access to scholarly publications (primarily journals) is “open access” – and from the reader’s perspective, it means simply that they are able to locate a particular article that is published in a peer-reviewed journal somewhere online, and read it without having to for for access or log in through a third-party website such as one maintained by a public or academic library. Good examples of open-access journals that publish work on anime/manga include Animation Studies, the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, and Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media. And one thing these three journals have in common is that they are free to read – and free to publish in. Yes, publishing these journals costs some money, even if the costs are significantly lower than what it would cost to publish a “traditional” print journal. But each of these journals is sponsored by a university or a non-profit organization of some kind, and its sponsor/parent is able to absorb those costs without passing them on to a reader.

However, this is only one possible publishing model for open-access scholarly publishing. And another one – that has received a lot of attention in the literature of scholarly communication – is “author pays”, which is exactly what it sounds like – a publisher makes journals available for free to readers, but requires any author who wants to submit an article to a particular journal to pay a fee, usually or the order of several hundred dollars. The benefits, challenges, and various other issues – ethical, economical, logistical – that this kind of model implies have been discussed in the literature extensively. And one particular issue that has come up to the front is the problem of “predatory open access” – where publishers solicit articles for publication in journals that are notionally scholarly, charge processing or publication fees, and publish the articles with minimal peer review, or with no peer review at all. The unsurprising outcome is journals and articles that “look” scholarly at first glance, but make a mockery of what scholarly publishing and academic writing is supposed to be.

This practice has been highlighted by Jeffrey Beall in “Predatory” open-access scholarly publishers, The Charleston Advisor, 11(4), 10-17 and Unethical practices in scholarly open-access publishingJournal of Information Ethics22(1), 11-20, and covered in numerous blog posts, such as “Predatory” open access publishers – The natural extreme of an author-pays model (The Scholarly Kitchen, March 6, 2012). Beall, probably the leading current authority on the topic, continues tracking it on his Scholarly Open Access; Critical Analysis of Scholarly Open-Access Publishing blog.

Most predatory open access publishers pursue the “STM” (science, technology, and medicine) field. Probably the easiest explanation for this is that STM emphasizes “measurable” scholarly output – i.e. experimental or laboratory research resulting in publication, while in the humanities, research is only one of the components of what is expected of an academic, and in fact, plenty of academics in the humanities are primarily teachers, not scholars or writers. So, all that the predatory open access publishers are doing is identifying a particular niche or need, and stepping up to fill it. Nonetheless, over the last couple of years, I have started coming across more and more articles in the humanities that are published by what Beall defines as predatory open-access publishers – and now, I am starting to see articles on Japanese animation appear in these kinds of journals.

The first example that I became aware of is a paper entitled “The case of Bangladesh government banning Japanese manga cartoon show Doraemon: The antecedents of consumers’ avoidance”, published in a “Global Journal of Management and Business Research: E – Marketing” and appearing online on two different websites – JournalOfBusiness.org and GlobalJournals.org (I have not been able to locate a direct link to the article anywhere on the site, but the full issue that it appears in can be accessed as a PDF). Browsing through either site reveals two things:

  • At least this particular publisher does not charge any kind of processing or publication fees. However, the publisher is quite aggressive with offering meaningless titles (“Fellow of Association of Research Society in Business Administration”) for sale – first come, first served, at only $1,000 for three years and $600 for renewals.
  • On the other hand, the website itself does an excellent job of meeting the criteria that Beall uses “for determining predatory open access publishers”, especially in regard to confusing design, lack of transparency, and overall poor maintenance (“dead links, prominent misspellings and grammatical errors on the website”).

The second example is straight-forward: “Tracing the Japanese gothic in Madoka Magica with Blood: The estrangement, abjection, and sublime erasure of the spectralized maho shojo exemplum”, published in the November 2014 issue of the Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“Guidelines for Authors:

The publication fee is USD100 for article with maximum 4000 words. Fee for each additional word is 0.04USD. Publication fee excludes taxes and other potential fees such as transfer charges.”

Well, at least they are being honest…

What does an author gain from working with a predatory open-access publisher? Well, as an answer to a pure yes-or-no question, yes, they can honestly say that their work has been published.

…what does an author lose?

At the very least, the purpose of the entire mechanism of publishing is not merely to disseminate research, but to disseminate GOOD research – to evaluate, then adjust and correct, then finally publish. Publication is supposed to be an endorsement and a stamp of approval; publication through a predatory open-access publisher by definition cannot be that.

Even if a paper that a particular author submits to a publisher that is known to be predatory is actually perfectly acceptable, especially now that more and more readers are becoming aware of the issue of predatory open-access publishing, the paper may be judged based on where it is published – in the same way that a paper that appears in an established and well-regarded journal is considered right away based on the reputation of that journal.

And, of course, there is the pure cost factor. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of journals out there already that are willing to consider a new paper on Japanese animation or Japanese comics. Yes, a paper that it submitted to one of these journals will most likely not be accepted right away, it will have to undergo revision, it will be edited, the whole process will inevitably take time and require additional effort on the part of the author. But at the end, what the author will get will be the satisfaction of sharing their work and knowledge with the “world” or at least with other scholars, in a format and through a source that they can rightly feel comfortable with.

Ultimately, if you, the author, have no problem with paying several hundred dollars (or more) to have your paper appear in a “journal”, hey, who am I to stop you.

But, come on, I’m sure you can think of much better ways of spending those several hundred dollars!



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