Background: A negative consequence of the rapid growth of scholarly open access publishing funded by article processing charges is the emergence of publishers and journals with highly questionable marketing and peer review practices. These so-called predatory publishers are causing unfounded negative publicity for open access publishing in general. Reports about this branch of e-business have so far mainly concentrated on exposing lacking peer review and scandals involving publishers and journals. There is a lack of comprehensive studies about several aspects of this phenomenon, including extent and regional distribution.
Methods: After an initial scan of all predatory publishers and journals included in the so-called Beall's list, a sample of 613 journals was constructed using a stratified sampling method from the total of over 11,000 journals identified. Information about the subject field, country of publisher, article processing charge and article volumes published between 2010 and 2014 were manually collected from the journal websites. For a subset of journals, individual articles were sampled in order to study the country affiliation of authors and the publication delays.
Results: Over the studied period, predatory journals have rapidly increased their publication volumes from 53,000 in 2010 to an estimated 420,000 articles in 2014, published by around 8,000 active journals. Early on, publishers with more than 100 journals dominated the market, but since 2012 publishers in the 10-99 journal size category have captured the largest market share. The regional distribution of both the publisher's country and authorship is highly skewed, in particular Asia and Africa contributed three quarters of authors. Authors paid an average article processing charge of 178 USD per article for articles typically published within 2 to 3 months of submission.
Conclusions: Despite a total number of journals and publishing volumes comparable to respectable (indexed by the Directory of Open Access Journals) open access journals, the problem of predatory open access seems highly contained to just a few countries, where the academic evaluation practices strongly favor international publication, but without further quality checks.