Not All Publishing Venues Are Created Equal: Understanding Vanity Presses

Not All Publishing Venues Are Created Equal: Understanding Vanity Presses

Researchers who want to publish their study findings to their respective fields need to remember an important point: Not all publishing venues are created equal. Savvy scholars can negotiate the world of academic publication to ensure their work is presented in high impact venues. Learning how to publish one’s studies in quality journals or professional publications is an important part of establishing a respected reputation for research and scholarship.

Making certain that the publication venues we select contribute positively and significantly to our disciplines is central in building our reputations as researchers and scholars. Knowing a little bit about the different terms used in academic publication can help emerging and veteran researchers navigate the academic publishing environment.

Self-Publishing and Vanity Presses

Self-publishing can take several forms: through social media, such as blogging, tweeting, online conversations with academic peers, webpages like LinkedIn, or even Facebook pages on a topic or website development; or through the self-publishing of a book, monograph, or article. While some forms of self-publishing might play an important role in a scholar’s life through providing service to the public in publishing works of scholarship (i.e, controversial ideas teaching and learning, discovery, integration, and application), with vanity presses, the effort can be more troublesome.  In academia, self-publishing or vanity press publication is not a preferred path, especially for scholarly research, applications of scholarship, or academic text books. There are several reasons as to why self-publishing or vanity press is not preferred, the most important being that there is a major concern with self-publishing or vanity press publications not conducting a rigorous peer-review a confident, expert publisher. Another reason is that there are little to no proofreading or editing services connected with self-publishing, so fact checking errors or copyediting problems exist. Fact checking errors can be a source of embarrassment for a serious scholar and may impact the scholar’s reputation if serious enough.

Some vanity presses will try to take advantage of academics by marketing themselves as a reputable publisher. Examples of these are CreateSpace, Reflective Thinker, and Words of Wisdom. Vanity publishing commonly require payment up front for publication and expects that the author will market and distribute the book or monograph as well as assume publishing costs. This is a good indicator of a vanity press, which should be avoided. Policies for author royalties and book promotions should be easily accessible and clear. 

Scholarly publishers are university presses (i.e., University of Minnesota, Oxford University Press, MIT, Southern Illinois University Press, among others), as well as high-end academic publishers, such as Wiley, Routledge, W.W. Norton, Elsevier, SAGE, Basil Blackwell, and similar publishers. Many of these publishers also publish academic journals, both in standard peer-review and open access journals. These publishing venues maintain rigorous peer-review processes and publication through these presses is considered to be appropriate for scholars in an academic discipline. See the explanation of academic (scholarly) journals below for guidance.

There are some very good resources available for researchers who want to know more about publishing quality scholarly works in journals. Please refer to the Reference section to build your personal library in this area.

Academic (Scholarly) Journal

Academic journals are peer-reviewed/refereed publications dedicated to scholarship in a specific field of study. Articles that appear in academic or scholarly journals often are opportunities for researchers to advance or to offer new research ideas or areas. Criticism or critique of existing research ideas in the field is also common in academic or scholarly journals. The purpose of academic or scholarly journals is to illuminate knowledge for a discipline and not as a moneymaking venture. Top-tier academic publications may have article acceptance rates below 15%, and frequently the peer-reviewers’ responses are focused on addressing weaknesses in the submission to ensure a high-quality journal article (Joireman & Van Lange, 2015).

Altmetrics. Altmetrics is a shortened form of alternative metrics, such as article views, download counts, social media mentions or Tweet meters, reader meters, and citation analysis guides. Altmetrics provide researchers, publishers, grant funders, and librarians with information about the impact an article has on a discipline’s readership.

Impact Factor. A journal’s impact factor measures the average number of citations a paper receives in recent articles published in a specific journal. The quality of journals within a discipline is often generated by the journal’s impact factor, or how many citations of published articles in the journal were received.  Impact factor is one consideration for establishing the importance of an academic or scholarly journal in a particular discipline or field of study. Impact factors are properly used to rank a journal, not a researcher or a college or university. Like publishers, not all impact factors are created equal.  Thomson Reuter and Scientific Journal Rankings are established and credible impact factors while the Global Impact Factor does not meet standards for academic rankings. 

Open Access Scholarly Publisher

Reputable open access scholarly journals outline practices that remove certain types of barriers to academic authors, such as shorter peer review periods, shorter publication times, no-fee or low fee-based publication payments, and free access to published papers. The original intent of open access journals was to provide lower research costs and faster publication turnaround for professors on the tenure and promotion track, as well as more democratic access to knowledge.  However, in recent years, open access journals have become controversial in some academic fields. Open access scholarly publishers vary in quality, and those who are interested in pursuing open access publishing should look to PubMed, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and PLOS ONE.

Predatory Open Access publisher

Predatory open access publishers have certain characteristics that distinguish them from reputable open access publishers:

  • Not indexed in major services like Cabbell’s Directory, Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory, PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, Copernicus, SPARC Europe, and BioMed Central
  • Not a member of Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) or does not follow OASPA best practices
  • High publishing or reviewing fees
  • Absurd, false, preposterous, or hoax-like articles published
  • High acceptance rates for articles with little to no peer review
  • Similar sounding names of established journals
  • Improper use of ISSN
  • Providing a false or inaccurate location of where the journal is housed
  • Incessantly campaigning for researchers to submit articles or to serve on editorial boards
  • Large editorial board and lack of experts in the field as an editor

Additional Resources

Other external educational resources (none of these are a deciding factor for funding or awards, though they are taken into consideration):



                Belcher, W.L. (2009). Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Cummings, L.L. & Frost, P.J. (1995). Publishing in the organizational sciences. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Joireman, J. & Van Lange, P.A.M. (2015). How to publish high-quality research. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lambert, N.M. (2014). Publish and prosper: A strategy guide for students and researchers. New York: Routledge.

Liebowitz, J. (2015). A guide to publishing for academics: Inside the publish or perish phenomenon. New York: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.

Neal, E. (2013). Academic writing: Individual and collaborative strategies for success. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Norton, L.S. (2009). Action research in teaching and learning: A practical guide to conducting pedagogical research in universities. New York: Routledge.

Thyer, B.A. (1994). Successful publishing in scholarly journals. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.


Brent Duncan's picture Brent Duncan | May 5, 2016 9:12 am MST

Thank you for your informative article, Diane. This is especially important because so many practitioner faculty are unaware that publishing in questionable venues can prevent them from getting published in credible venues. As we advance toward a practitioner model to a community of practice in the scholarship of teaching and learning, practitioner faculty will need to understand what is and what is not a credible scholarly activity before they submit an honorarium request.

To self-screen professional and scholarly activities for honorarium requests, ask the following questions:

  1. Is this activity an external application?
    External application means that the activity was done outside the the University of Phoenix. For example, teaching a course or developing curriculum for an institution other than University of Phoenix would qualify as an external application and may qualify for an honorarium. While presenting a paper at a University of Phoenix scholarship event or facilitating a faculty development workshop could be scholarship for enhancing credentials, they would not qualify for an honorarium.

  2. Does the activity have external validation?
    External validation means that scholars outside of the University would consider the activity as scholarship. Clear examples of scholarship include publishing in a peer reviewed journal or presenting at a scholarly conference. Clear examples of NOT scholarship in the eyes of academics include self-publishing a book, paying to publish in a predatory publication, or giving a talk at church. Where this gets murky is when a self-published work gains recognition by external parties as a significant contribution to professional or academic knowledge. In such a case, the faculty should provide the external validation with the honorarium request.

  3. Can I provide a deliverable for verification?
    Deliverable for verification means providing documentation of the activity so it can be confirmed by others. Clear examples of documentation include a recording of a workshop, slides for a presentation with the agenda for the event, and a PDF of a published paper. Just as a reference in a paper should point to a verifiable source for further exploration, honorarium requests should provide a deliverable for edification.

 Activities that do not qualify for an honorarium may still be recognized as scholarship activities for boosting a faculty member's credentials to teach for University of Phoenix. These activities should still be entered on our faculty credentials pages, but we should not select the honorarium request option.