12 May 2016

The worst type of predatory publisher?

When I finished writing my PhD Dissertation in 2008, I was given three options for its mandatory publication into a public record by ProQuest, the monopolist holder of those publishing obligations rights. I could give them a digital version that they would sell for $38/copy to anyone who wanted to read it, could pay them $95 to make my dissertation open access,1 or submit merely an abstract, which would "reduce the reach" of my work.

I took the third choice, gave them an abstract, and posted my dissertation on SSRN.2 This move was a triple win, as it gave readers access for free, allowed me to format it (two colums, double sided) as I wanted, and gave me many more readers (1,600+ downloads so far!)

A few months later, I got a letter from VDM Verlag (now Akademiker Verlag3), a German firm that offered to publish my dissertation at no cost to me (they even sent me two copies). What's to lose, I wondered? Maybe I could even make some of that phat royalty money off their €63 price? I sent them the PDF, got two (print on demand) copies of my "book," and forgot about it.

Yesterday, I got an annual royalty statement, which revealed an even funnier pattern of rip offs.

If my book sells, I get €3.81 (6%) of the cover price, but that's not how it works.
  • In 2009, one copy sold. The royalty was lower than the monthly minimum of €10, so no payment.
  • In 2010, no copies sold, but my 2009 royalty disappeared... "as described in the publishing agreement."
  • In 2011, one copy sold, but the royalty was kept as before.
  • In 2012, the monthly minimum was reduced to €0.01 but no sales.
  • In 2013, one copy sold! But my royalty came as a voucher for VDM books. Great.
I've sold no copies since then, and you can see why I don't care. I'm sad that three people have wasted €63 on my dissertation when 1,600+ people got it for free on SSRN, but I'm glad to have a priceless lesson in how publishers screw authors as they make money off garbage content (sorry, but they didn't even care about what my PDF contained).

Bottom Line: The academic world has scams just like everywhere else.

  1. Those are current prices. I think they were higher back in 2008.
  2. Conflict and Cooperation within an Organization: A Case Study of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California should be required reading for anyone interested in California water development, subsidies to sprawl, and political fighting over water and money, but that's perhaps a based opinion ;)
  3. Their website, curiously, is only in German, but author logins are in English. I think they are hiding from English speakers who may want to know more about this scummy company.


  1. What you’ve described is mostly standard throughout the publishing industry, including academic publishing. The voucher thing is not standard, but it was undoubtedly in the contract and open to negotiation in advance.

    And was it really a “rip-off” for that publisher to retain the money from those few sales? They had actual out-of-pocket expenses in person-hours and materials and shipping for those sales (assuming hard-copies were involved) and for the related record-keeping.

    1. No, it's not a rip off in terms of costs and revenues. It's a rip off that they kept my tiny share (6%) via "indirect" means. I wouldn't have bothered, otherwise. Oh, and the publishing industry? I think it's dying in the same way as the music publishing industry, which will be good for readers and -- eventually (if not sooner) -- for writers.

  2. I am completing my dissertation on water utility marketing and am using self-publishing through Amazon's createspace. High royalties, wide distribution and full power over content and design.


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