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March 24, 2014 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I Sold My Undergraduate Thesis to a Print Content Farm: A trip through the shadowy, surreal world of an academic book mill.
posted by Horace Rumpole (46 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
More signal; much more noise. Overall - degradation of the scholarly record. It's almost as if we need a....filter?
posted by lalochezia at 6:34 AM on March 24


It's just a vanity press. The gloomy tone of the piece seems pretty unwarranted.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 7:13 AM on March 24


Yes, clearly a vanity press (though with no upfront money required) and with what sounds like a lot of the business coming from people who need a "publication" as part of a degree process, quality unimportant.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:16 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Just read about this other vanity press (previously) on the blue and wikipedia a few days ago (on a big Allen Steele kick right now). The story of PublishAmerica and their predatory tactics regarding South American, African, and Indian authors saddens me.
posted by GrapeApiary at 7:21 AM on March 24


yeah, I don't know what the big deal is here?

Interesting story nonetheless

I mean why not get your undergraduate thesis published!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:35 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


From the article:
"My thesis had been transformed into a mass-produced commodity."

Actually it sounds like that's precisely what didn't happen. Commoditized yes, but not mass-produced.
That said, I do find this business model very interesting despite how unethical it is. It is just shy of clever.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 7:57 AM on March 24


I mean why not get your undergraduate thesis published!

The process undertaken upon this particular thesis wasn't "publication". It was "printing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on March 24 [5 favorites]


I remember being contacted by one of these publishers for my m.sc. thesis. I'd never even heard of this happening but it seemed like it was too good to be true... and therefore a scam. Especially when I wasn't proud enough of the work to consider pursuing publication (it amounted to an effort to salvage meaning out of a bunch of failed experiments). I felt if they had actually read it, they'd realize as such. If they were publishing it, it'd have been as some kind of money grab for all those online academic search engines where you pay for articles. And it was published within our university archives, if someone was actually interested in finding it and paying for a library membership. We did publish an actual scientific peer-reviewed article on the worthy parts. So thanks for posting this, seems my gut feeling was right after all.
posted by lizbunny at 8:18 AM on March 24


The process undertaken upon this particular thesis wasn't "publication". It was "printing".

True enough, but that just reframes the question: "why not get your undergraduate thesis printed"? It's not entirely clear to me who is the 'victim' in any of this. It's not as if anyone is going to get an academic job on the strength of one of these "publications."
posted by yoink at 8:36 AM on March 24


"It's not entirely clear to me who is the 'victim' in any of this. It's not as if anyone is going to get an academic job on the strength of one of these 'publications.'"

No, but they might miss out on the chance to publish with a real publisher if they don't do their due diligence, or are otherwise misled, since they sign away the copyright.
posted by sudasana at 8:42 AM on March 24 [3 favorites]


No, but they might miss out on the chance to publish with a real publisher if they don't do their due diligence, or are otherwise misled, since they sign away the copyright.

I really really can't feel sorry for these people. Academic publishing is all about where you publish. If you are an undergrad who doesn't know any better, then you probably aren't publishing work that is good enough to be in a respectable outlet. You may have a kernel of a good idea that you can develop later on, and in that case it would most likely be substantially different and not subject to copyright infringement.

If it is your job to be an academic, then submitting an article/paper/thesis to a publisher, without googling their name or having a conversation with someone about it, is extremely foolish and quite frankly you are not doing your job.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:46 AM on March 24


You may have a kernel of a good idea that you can develop later on, and in that case it would most likely be substantially different and not subject to copyright infringement.

Something tells me these guys aren't expending much effort enforcing their copyrights, something probably wouldn't need much rework to fly under their radar.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:52 AM on March 24


The sketchy part is not offering to publish undergraduate theses, but rather the other company mentioned which is publishing and selling copy/pastes of wikipedia articles for $100.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:58 AM on March 24


As long as they don't take away the honor of my inclusion in the Who's Who of American High School Students. I will cherish that $99 volume forever.
posted by Nelson at 9:03 AM on March 24 [4 favorites]


No, but they might miss out on the chance to publish with a real publisher if they don't do their due diligence

Yes, but that's a bit like saying that the problem with people who sell ice-creams is that if you stop and buy an ice-cream you might be hit by an meteorite that crashes into the ice-cream store. I mean, you're hypothesizing an undergraduate student whose undergraduate thesis is good enough to publish and yet is so fantastically clueless that they think this is how academic work gets published and so cripplingly shy that they can't even email their professor to say "is this a good idea?"
posted by yoink at 9:06 AM on March 24


AskMe was onto this issue as long ago as 2007. Take that, Slate!
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:11 AM on March 24


The sketchy part is not offering to publish undergraduate theses, but rather the other company mentioned which is publishing and selling copy/pastes of wikipedia articles for $100.

Stromberg links to the publisher's listing pages for three examples of such books, and the book descriptions clearly state that fact. Not buried somewhere deep in the description, either. It's the very first sentence: "Please note that the content of this book primarily consists of articles available from Wikipedia or other free sources online."

I doubt that anyone is deceived as to their content. As long as they're complying with Wikipedia's terms I don't have a problem with this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:18 AM on March 24


Academic publishing is all about where you publish.

Though in Germany you have to publish your PhD thesis to graduate, so it's no surprise that this company is German. It's really frustrating when people insist you have to read this book in your area and it turns out that they're referring to a thesis which hasn't been revised at all to be suitable as an academic book, for which you have vastly different expectations than for a thesis, no matter how good the thesis is. I am particularly bitter about this as my German is not as good as it should be and you still have to wade through the entire thing, despite the fact that the work really, really needs editing.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:46 AM on March 24


lesbiassparrow: Though in Germany you have to publish your PhD thesis to graduate, so it's no surprise that this company is German.

I'm surprised it's necessary. At least in the US, in the sciences, you'd really have to botch your thesis badly to not get anything publishable out of it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:54 AM on March 24


At least in the US, in the sciences, you'd really have to botch your thesis badly to not get anything publishable out of it.

The majority of Ph.D. theses in the Humanities go unpublished. Getting your thesis published is 80% of getting tenure.
posted by yoink at 9:55 AM on March 24


Guys guys guys, if you want to get published the easy way have your article printed in conference proceeds after going to present. Send enough abstracts and you'll get invited onto a panel, I promise. Come on.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:57 AM on March 24


yoink: The majority of Ph.D. theses in the Humanities go unpublished. Getting your thesis published is 80% of getting tenure.

That's really surprising to me. Most of the master's degree graduates I know got at least one publication out of their thesis, and sometimes multiple publications. The few doctoral students I've worked with generally got at least one major publication, plus a few minor ones. Is it just harder to publish in the Humanities? Is the thesis less of a focus?
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:59 AM on March 24


I think yoink is talking about monograph publications there ... i.e. turning the thesis in toto into a book.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:02 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


The few doctoral students I've worked with generally got at least one major publication, plus a few minor ones. Is it just harder to publish in the Humanities? Is the thesis less of a focus?

I'd say the thesis is more of a focus. It's just really hard to convince a publisher to publish the thing. And Sonny Jim is right, I'm talking about publishing a monograph, not getting a journal article or two published (and, of course, publishing the whole thing is what these vanity presses offer--they don't publish single chapters). Getting a chapter or two of your thesis published in academic journals is pretty easy, but that's the sort of thing that burnishes a CV and maybe helps you land a tenure-track, Assistant Professor job. Convincing a reputable academic press to publish a (suitably revised) version of the whole thing as a monograph, that's very hard, usually takes five or six years of work and is the central achievement on which you'll be judged for tenure.
posted by yoink at 10:22 AM on March 24


Is it just harder to publish in the Humanities?

Yes. A lot harder. For one, the work is much more likely to be time consuming, and most works are single authored.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:26 AM on March 24


As long as they don't take away the honor of my inclusion in the Who's Who of American High School Students.

Exactly what I thought of too. I submitted my info because college applications, but those bastards managed to find both of my grandparents' addresses and one pair of them bought the book because they didn't ask my parents about it and kvelling. Glad to see they're bankrupt and shut down.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:31 AM on March 24


Yes. A lot harder. For one, the work is much more likely to be time consuming, and most works are single authored.

The biggest problem is that the expectation largely remains a book published by an academic press. However, most academic presses have had their budgets cut over the same period that there has been more need (i.e. more junior professors needing more books published) thanks to increased tenure requirements -- schools that used to give tenure for just an article or two are now requiring books, and a few places that used to require just one book now want two.

So you have a huge bottleneck in the system at the presses, who are in the very uncomfortable and largely unwanted position of functionally determining who gets tenure or promotion by selecting who gets published. I am told that German universities solve the problem of requiring people to publish by having their own press and publishing in-house. Proposals to reform the system in the US run the gamut and include giving more value to open-source and article publishing as well as helping to support academic presses.

But in the meantime the pressure on junior academics is such that it can be very tempting to use one of the vanity presses that maintains a veneer of respectability and hoping that the review committee doesn't notice.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:38 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


1) I think this constitutes a publication rather than a printing because the company behind this is making the work publicly available to anyone who wishes to purchase it. According to the article, the work has an ISBN. Of course, it is a company with an absolute garbage reputation, but a publisher nonetheless.

By contrast, a printing is what I did with my undergraduate thesis. The university offered the service. I printed a hard copy of my thesis and the university bound it in a nice hardcover. It cost me $15. There is no front matter other than the title page and table of contents that I provided. There is no ISBN or copyright information. I did not sign any contract. No one can purchase an additional copy from the university because there are no copies to be purchased and no distribution process, etc.

2) Yes, the article describes the common practice of how vanity presses work. On the one hand, I agree that any undergraduate or graduate student should know immediately upon receiving these unsolicited emails that the company behind them is garbage. (This particular story is about an undergraduate thesis, but the practice exists for MAs and PhDs too.) Indeed, teaching PhD students about the proper way to publish your research is part of the overall educational process, although it generally happens in a more informal context, like just having conservations with your PhD advisor.

That said, these companies are predatory, and as a general rule of thumb, whenever I hear about people falling victim to a predator, I'd rather sympathize with the victims than brush them off as deserving of their fate because of the bad choices that they made.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 11:02 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


as a general rule of thumb, whenever I hear about people falling victim to a predator, I'd rather sympathize with the victims than brush them off as deserving of their fate because of the bad choices that they made.

Me too. So...where's the story of someone falling victim to a predator? That's certainly not what we have in the FPP. Do you have an actual, honest-to-God story of someone being "victimized" by one of these companies (not just having their vanity hurt, but actually losing out on some important opportunity that they would otherwise have had)?
posted by yoink at 11:22 AM on March 24


The publication of your thesis in humanities also is somewhat dependent on where you did your PhD. Oxford UP, for one, will generally publish revised Oxford PhDs on a fairly automatic basis as long as they are up to scratch. However, going by a few recent such works I've read from Oxford UK, I'm not sure they're doing the discipline an enormous favour by this practice: some are awesome and some have clearly not had the revision they'd need for another press to look at them.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:38 AM on March 24


Oxford UP, for one, will generally publish revised Oxford PhDs on a fairly automatic basis as long as they are up to scratch.

This is not even a little tiny bit true.
posted by yoink at 11:44 AM on March 24


Me too. So...where's the story of someone falling victim to a predator? That's certainly not what we have in the FPP. Do you have an actual, honest-to-God story of someone being "victimized" by one of these companies (not just having their vanity hurt, but actually losing out on some important opportunity that they would otherwise have had)?

A friend of mine who is close to finishing her PhD recently received one of these unsolicited email offers. She was intriqued...for about a day until she consulted her advisor and other students in her department. Had she gone ahead with this, she would have made a serious mistake that would have had a very significant negative impact on her career.

I also once met a scum bag who said he occasionally drives drunk. When I and others scolded him for this, he defended his actions by saying he had never personally caused a car accident while doing this, never caused an injury, never caused a death. It was a victimless thing to do!
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 11:50 AM on March 24


It's not entirely clear to me who is the 'victim' in any of this. It's not as if anyone is going to get an academic job on the strength of one of these "publications."

A non-zero number of libraries are victimized by this, in the sense of 'our monograph budget is steadily decreasing thanks to how much fucking Elsevier is charging for ScienceDirect this year, and this chunk going to this crap publisher for this near-worthless, publicly available for free online thesis is a chunk that isn't going to an up and coming junior professor whose book was just published.'

You can, and probably will, argue that librarians need to do better due diligence and I don't wholly disagree--but if it makes it through a couple of key gatekeepers (such as YBP, the book jobber) then we tend to be more credulous than we should be. We're busy people, a lot of these come from patron requests, and ultimately 'books' like this one slip through. Libraries and, more importantly, their patrons are the ones who lose out in the end.
posted by librarylis at 11:53 AM on March 24


o...where's the story of someone falling victim to a predator?

My guess is that it is whoever is buying these things, rather than the authors themselves who are the victims.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:54 AM on March 24


The publication of your thesis in humanities also is somewhat dependent on where you did your PhD.

This is true, but coming from a top program will just get your book proposal read, not published.


Oxford UP, for one, will generally publish revised Oxford PhDs on a fairly automatic basis as long as they are up to scratch.


I don't believe this for a second. Can you link?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:55 AM on March 24


She was intriqued...for about a day until she consulted her advisor and other students in her department.

You do realize this story is evidence in support of my position, right?
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on March 24


You can, and probably will, argue that librarians need to do better due diligence and I don't wholly disagree--but if it makes it through a couple of key gatekeepers (such as YBP, the book jobber) then we tend to be more credulous than we should be. We're busy people, a lot of these come from patron requests, and ultimately 'books' like this one slip through. Libraries and, more importantly, their patrons are the ones who lose out in the end.

So this is kind of like spam?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:57 AM on March 24


I doubt that anyone is deceived as to their content. As long as they're complying with Wikipedia's terms I don't have a problem with this.

Unfortunately, quite a few undergrads see these faux compilations crop up in searches-- sometimes in Google Books, sometimes through databases-- and they do request them. We have a policy of not buying them, but it takes staff time to review and then educate the patron on what they're looking at. The disclaimers are often not as visible on some sites, whether it's Wikipedia trawling or trying to sell someone's unedited final project in economics.

Oxford UP, for one, will generally publish revised Oxford PhDs on a fairly automatic basis as long as they are up to scratch.

I can think of another publisher in Oxford that definitely operates this way with a similar pattern of great books and definitely-needs-revision books, but not Oxford UP in my experience?
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:59 AM on March 24


yoink. This article provides evidence of one victim's ordeal and makes clear that these predatory publishers are viewed as a serious problem by university professors and librarians.

"In one email that Mr. Beall received and shared with University Affairs, a Canadian graduate student said he had agreed to submit an article to one of the journals on Mr. Beall’s list, only to be hit with a $1,800 fee after it was accepted. “I was not aware at all that I would have to pay for the privilege of publishing the most expensive paper I’ve ever written,” the student wrote. When he protested, the journal offered to reduce the fee to $1,600."
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 12:47 PM on March 24


This is not even a little tiny bit true.

It's certainly true in Classics and a few other humanities areas. I know from the experience of friends, however, rather than a link - the understanding is that if you get a job and are looking for a publisher, OUP will publish your revised dissertation, provided, as I said, it is acceptable. Comparing the publications of the US branch with that of the UK run OUP shows quite a bit of difference in what is getting published, especially in terms of first books. I'm not implying they're a bad press, obviously, just that it is far easier to place your first book with them if you're an Oxford grad.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:49 PM on March 24


In one email that Mr. Beall received and shared with University Affairs, a Canadian graduate student said he had agreed to submit an article to one of the journals on Mr. Beall’s list, only to be hit with a $1,800 fee after it was accepted

That's a completely different kind of thing--and self-evidently exploitative. The question was not "is it possible that there is some publishing related scam of any kind whatsoever that is exploitative and bad" the question was "is there evidence that the particular industry described in the FPP is 'victimizing' anyone?" You know--the industry that doesn't charge anybody to publish their book.
posted by yoink at 1:02 PM on March 24


"Money must always flow towards the author" --Yog's Law, courtesy of Making Light (the SF writers' blog)

Even in academic book publishing where the flow's a dribble. If your book sells past the first, limited print run, you may get royalties. I would pay only for printing a festschrift (because it 's a gift).
posted by bad grammar at 5:08 PM on March 24


That's a completely different kind of thing--and self-evidently exploitative. The question was not "is it possible that there is some publishing related scam of any kind whatsoever that is exploitative and bad" the question was "is there evidence that the particular industry described in the FPP is 'victimizing' anyone?" You know--the industry that doesn't charge anybody to publish their book.

Sigh. The Slate article explains clearly why Lambert Academic Publishing is a predatory company. It contains several links to other sources advising anyone and everyone to stay away from this company, and there is plenty of similar information elsewhere that is easily available to anyone who wants to devote any amount of time to researching the matter. Just google the name of the company and see what comes up.

One university in Australia has a dedicated webpage discussing Lambert Academic Publishing and advising its faculty and students to stay away. Perhaps you can contact the university and ask them why they think the problem is significant enough that it gives reason for such a page on their website.

As for me, I am done with this thread.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 8:53 PM on March 24


One university in Australia has a dedicated webpage discussing Lambert Academic Publishing and advising its faculty and students to stay away.

Even Louder Sigh. From the FAQ on the webpage you link to:
4. Do I have to pay for this service?

No. Since this is a print on demand service, it doesn't cost LAP Lambert anything to keep your work on file. They only print a copy when it is ordered online.
10. What royalties will I earn from publishing my work with LAP Lambert?

Authors get paid 12% royalty after taking into account discounts and other factors. The royalty payments translate into 5.6% of the book's selling price. Where royalties average less than 50 Euro a month, the author is given book vouchers for other LAP Lambert stock. An author's share is usually always under this because at the average rate of 80 Euro a book, it means they would have to sell 11 copies a month to exceed the 50 Euro threshold, which is difficult since the company does not undertake any marketing on behalf of the author.
12. Will this help my academic career?

The best way to establish your academic career is to publish in reputable peer reviewed academic journals or conferences depending on your specific discipline. If you choose to write books, try and publish it with well known publishers. In academia, where you publish is almost as important as what you publish! Publishing in sources that are not peer-reviewed can adversely affect your academic career.
So, in other words, not a predatory system, very easy to avoid, and posing no threat whatsoever to anyone not interested in pursuing an academic career. And someone who is interested in pursuing an academic career (and has any hope of actually doing so) is fantastically unlikely to make the mistake of thinking this is an appropriate outlet for their work.

So, once again, the specific service being described in the FPP is extremely unlikely to 'victimize' anyone--and nobody in this thread is, apparently, able to find a single example of it having ever done so.
posted by yoink at 9:04 AM on March 25


As long as we're quoting and sighing, here's the part about why dealing with Lambert is bad for academics. (From the Swinburne FAQ)
7. Will I retain the copyright to my work?

If you publish your work with LAP Lambert, they will retain 20% of the copyright. Hence, if you want to publish your work elsewhere (e.g. in academic journals) you need to be cautious of this in order not to infringe copyright restrictions.

8. Which 20% of my work will I retain the copyright to?

Splitting copyright into percentages is a complicated matter. It could limit further publication potential. While Lambert allows the author to reuse 80% of the material in another form, journals do not publish material that has been previously published. Hence, this could adversely affect the opportunity to have your work accepted in a reputed peer-reviewed journal. Journals also have restrictions on the re-publication of material once they have accepted it for publication.
posted by Nelson at 9:21 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


and nobody in this thread is, apparently, able to find a single example of it having ever done so.

This information is in the FPP.

sold copies of them as books to unsuspecting online buyers (who assumed they were purchasing proofed, edited work)

Some naive academics think publishing will add cachet to their C.V., but they find that having the Lambert name on it is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, the contract stripped them of the right to publish it elsewhere or even publish chapters of it in an academic journal.

So this 'fantastically unlikely' event actually happened according to the author.

Some of the blog posts were also filled with angry comments from customers, who bought Lambert books thinking they were edited, full-length works, only to discover they were amateur-quality and riddled with typos.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:25 AM on March 25


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