Saturday, May 26, 2012

Print-on-demand Book Scams and Nigerian Universities

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The other day, a friend of mine on Facebook proudly announced that his master’s thesis had been published into a book by a German publishing company called Lambert Academic Publishing. Several people congratulated him. But I didn’t. I knew he had been scammed—and that he would in turn unwittingly scam the Nigerian university system where he works as a lecturer.

Since reading his self-congratulatory post, I have heard of scores of other Nigerian university teachers who have published “academic books” through Lambert and other such Euro-American publishing companies. Before this trend becomes an epidemic, I thought I should call attention to an emerging, borderline fraudulent publishing model called “print on demand.”

This is the way the model works. Author mills (that is, deceptive publishing houses that publish ANY work submitted to them) based in Europe and America use software to crawl the Internet (sometimes real people do the Web prowling) for any mention of “thesis” or “dissertation” on the Internet. The web crawler will identify the email addresses associated with the authors of the theses or dissertations and then send them an email using a standard email template that goes something like this:

“I am writing on behalf of an international publishing house, Lambert Academic Publishing.
In the course of a research on the … I came across a reference to your thesis on "...". We are an international publisher whose aim is to make academic research available to a wider audience.
LAP would be especially interested in publishing your dissertation in the form of a printed book.
Your reply including an e-mail address to which I can send an e-mail with further information in an attachment will be greatly appreciated. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,
Acquisition Editor
LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing AG & Co. KG
Dudweiler Landstraße 99, 66123 Saarbrücken Germany.”
I have received many variations of this email template at least five times in the past few years. If a person agrees to publish his/her dissertation or thesis with the company, the company will request that the manuscript be sent to them via email. Within six weeks, the book will be “out.” Of course, it will neither be peer-reviewed by experts in the field nor will it be proofread by a copy editor. So it comes out embarrassingly error-ridden. It’s garbage in, garbage out. As an American who submitted his manuscript to Lambert put it in a blog post, “it is very evident that no one at the publication house bothered to do any editing. There are multiple grammatical errors.”

In reality, the publishing house merely prepares a camera-ready copy of the manuscript, prints and mails a free author’s copy of the book, and waits for orders. The company makes money when the author’s friends and relations place an order for the book--or when the author purchases extra copies of the book to share with friends and family. Since they print only when an order is placed (thus the name “print on demand”), they lose nothing. I am told that authors from the Third World are required to pay for their author’s copy. 

The front- and back-page prototype of the book will be displayed on the publishing company’s website and on—and that’s it. You will never find the book in any bookstore or library. There is no media publicity for the book by the publisher, no advertising, no marketing, no distribution, and no critical reviews in academic or popular journals.

The author is promised royalties if the book sells a certain number of copies. Of course, no print-on-demand book sells enough copies for the author to earn any royalties.

Here is why Nigerian university administrators should be concerned about print-on-demand books. One, they do not go through any kind of review before they are published. In fact, many people have experimented with sending a farrago of mumbo jumbo to these publishing companies to see if they will be published. And, sure enough, they often get published. No manuscript sent to print-on-demand publishers is ever returned as unpublishable, however awfully it may have been written. As most people know, only peer-reviewed books can count toward promotion in academia. 

Two, they have limited or no materiality. By this I mean that there are usually no more than a few copies of the “books” in circulation. That means they add nothing to the disciplinary conversations of their areas since they can’t be found in libraries and bookstores. In other words, they are basically worthless.

Third, our people have been brainwashed into thinking that anything published in the West must be of high quality. People may innocently think Lambert is a legitimate academic press because it has a German address. Before you know it, many people will be promoted to professors based purely on fraudulent books they publish with the company, which American writer Victoria Strauss aptly called "an academic author mill". That would be unfair to people who struggle against all odds to produce high-quality scholarship. 

Many countries are waking up to the academic fraud that print-on-demand books are. The Australian Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC), for instance, has blacklisted books published by Lambert Academic Publishing. The Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) has a responsibility to do the same.

Related Articles: