The Business of Publishing
When you submit an article for publication to The Rheumatologist—and I hope you will!—a number of administrative requirements must be met. Articles must be a certain length; images must have a specific resolution. And then there is the matter of signing the publishing agreement.
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Explore This IssueFebruary 2020
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When you publish an article in The Rheumatologist or a medical journal, there are always forms to be signed. One of those forms is actually a contract between you and the publisher. In general, this contract transfers the copyright for the article from you to the publisher.5 This is why, when I want to reproduce an image that I had previously published, I have to contact the publisher for permission. I may be the author, but I no longer own the rights to the work. Those rights belong to the publisher.
As I enter my third year as medical editor of The Rheumatologist, I know exactly how many times an author has asked me about these agreements—zero. I am not surprised. In the publishing industry, these agreements are so standard, I fully expect most authors just skip to the signature line.
The system works because of societal norms. Regardless of what the agreement actually says, it is generally understood that there is also a non-verbal contract between author and publisher: The author hands over the rights to the article. The publisher publishes the article. As long as everyone plays by the rules, everyone wins. Quid pro quo.
Some predatory journals have figured out how to get more quid for the quo by noting these standard contracts have a standard loophole: These contracts generally commit the publisher to publishing an article, but they don’t generally specify when the article will be published.
When you submit an article to The Rheumatologist, we publish it as soon as we have space to do so. As with most journals, our goals are aligned with those of our authors: We want to publish good content; authors want their good content published. None of us benefits from holding an article back from publication.
Imagine, for a moment, an alternate scenario in which you submitted your article to a predatory journal for publication. Months later, you realize that you still have not seen your article in print. For most of us, this would be a problem: You can’t list an article on your curriculum vitae as being in press forever. Also, unpublished articles cannot inform debate or influence a field. In the meanwhile, if a similar article is published by a competing journal, it will reduce the impact of your hard work.
At first, you might send polite inquiries, each of which would be greeted by polite reassurances that the queue was long and the article would eventually be published. Eventually, it might occur to you just to resubmit your article to another journal for publication.
That’s when the predatory journal pounces. When you contact the predatory journal to inform them of your plans, they cheerfully note that they would be delighted to return the rights to your article to you—for a fee.