Special issues of journals mean big money for gold (author-pays) OA publishers. It’s a type of affinity marketing. The special issue guest editor typically invites his contacts and colleagues to contribute papers for a special issue on a topic, and they all have to pay author fees to the publisher.
In this way, the guest editor acts as an uncompensated agent for the publisher, and the publisher benefits financially from the guest editor’s professional and personal relationships.
Recently, many people have been forwarding me spam invitations they have received from publishers inviting them to serve as guest editors. Some graduate students have received these invitations. Many originate from Hindawi Publishing Corporation (based in Egypt) and MDPI (based in China and Switzerland).
Competition among gold (author pays) OA publishers is becoming more intense; special issues are an effective way to increase article submissions and therefore revenue. They also serve to reduce the revenue of a publisher’s competitors.
In the two cases below, I imagine the guest editor has supplied a bunch of names/email addresses to the publisher and they have handled the spam invitations for him.
Is it ethical for publishers to exploit a researcher’s professional contacts this way?
Open Access Membership Schemes
Another trick that some open-access publishers use is the “free membership scheme.” Open-access memberships operate at the institution level, providing discounts on OA fees to all researchers demonstrating institutional affiliation.
Most OA publishers charge for their membership plans. Some tricky OA publishers have figured out a way to exploit the schemes however. They offer membership plans for free to respected universities, granting authors affiliated with the universities a small discount, generally 5-10%.
But then the publishers use the name of the university in their advertising, proclaiming that the university is a “member” and then using the university’s reputation to attract other paid memberships and paper submissions.
Here is an example of a MDPI spam membership solicitation for a “free” membership scheme sent to an American university.
When companies like MDPI offer anything for “free,” I think universities need to be wary.