Sunday, January 23, 2011

Spam Publishers

A former student alerted me to this company this morning, VDM publishers, operating out of Mauritius. She was written to on Xing, a business social platform, in German by the "Acquisition Editor" from VDM Publishing House, Ltd. He noted that he had happened upon her bachelor's thesis while browsing the web at our school and found her thesis interesting. He requests that she send him her email address so he can send her information about publishing her scientific work. She was quite thrilled by this, but luckily Skyped me first to ask it it was permissible to publish her thesis herself. Now, I used the Vienna Development Method (VDM) in my doctoral thesis, so I thought I would just check up on what kind of publisher it is, as I generally smell a rat at cold calls like this.

Oh dear, just as I suspected: This is what I normally call a "fake publisher", but should perhaps call a spam publisher, "Verlag Dr. Müller". The Wikipedia article linked to above references an article in the Berner Zeitung from 2009 about this publishing house that purports to publish scientific books under diverse imprints such as Alphascript, Betascript, FastBook Publishing, Fromm Verlag, Saarbrücker Verlag für Rechtswissenschaften, Lambert Academic Publishing, etc. etc.

What they seem to do is to pick up free content, such as the Wikipedia, or bot around looking for students that have just completed their theses, and ask if they may publish them as books, offering a free copy of the book to the author. And since the books have an ISBN number (although the country code for the publications is from Algeria or other exotic places), this sounds like a great idea to a young graduate. I checked to see how you find the correct title for her thesis at our school - the only way is to use the public OPAC at the library, but there is a helpful search function there for theses from our school that can then be listed in the order received into the library.

The books are offered at a stiff price (30-60 €) via online booksellers such as Amazon. There are lots of "novels" such as the works of "Lambert M. Surhone, Miriam T. Timpledon, and Susan F. Marseken", who have collectively published > 81214 (!) books on subjects from M16 Rifles to Sine Waves. Many include - according to the cover - "High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles![sic]", and for only 34,99 € instead of 36,99 €. What a deal for content you can have for free and current on the Wikipedia itself. The "abstract" of these books is often the first few sentences from the Wikipedia article.

I just checked, there "
Lambert M. Surhone" has 230,556 publications this morning. Wow, that's impressive. I've found a German blog post on this from April 2010 in and two US bloggers, and Real-Time Rendering. According to Chris Rand, Amazon had stated that the books are being "retired". No sign of that in January 2011. Real-Time Rendering suggest writing a bot to publish reviews on all of the books that they are Wikipedia copies - any takers?

This is just one more example of why the "simple" system that is being instituted in Germany to measure publishing output "quality" in Germany is broken. Only publications with an ISBN or an ISSN are deemed legitimate, in Berlin anyway. Anyone can - and does - publish anything at a print-on-demand publisher. And who can tell from the fancy names that this is not a high-quality publisher?

And for the customers? Caveat emptor.


  1. Also these publications have got ISBN numbers (even if many of them, I'm quite sure, never do materialize). Actually that seems to be one reason for VDM Verlag to put some of its operations on Mauritius. These books have Mauritian ISBN numbers, and conversely, if you search anywhere for books in the Mauritian number range, these books are probably the only ones you will find.

    I've written a lot about these things lately on my blog, which anyway is in Swedish.

  2. Thanks for the link to your blog! I do read Swedish, great stuff in there! And I love your name "robot publishers" for these outfits.