The changing face of academic publishing was brought home to me in a very sharp way this morning.

One of my students is having his first paper published in an international journal published by one of the major academic publishers. He was a bit taken aback to find that they offered him one free electronic reprint, and the option of paying 200 pounds for 25 paper reprints. (Though this was still an order of magnitude less than he was asked to pay to make the paper “open access”.)

(For almost all my career, journals have offered 25, or 50, or even 100 free reprints of a paper. This is the way information was spread among researchers.)

As it is his first paper, he thought it would be nice (and possibly useful) to have a few reprints, and wondered whether he could afford it. I asked the departmental bosses whether the department might consider putting in a small amount of money to help him. Back came the answer, No, not a penny.

In a way I approve. By paying this money we are just pandering to the publishers’ greed. But still, this was an unusual occasion.

In the end my student decided not to order any reprints, so the issue went away.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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6 Responses to Reprints

  1. Pete says:

    I think it’s also fair to say that giving out reprints is the way information _used to be_ spread. I’ve a couple of boxes of reprints; I think I never gave any out (which probably tells you already that I started research after 2000). The reason is simple enough – everything is on my website or arXiv, and neither I nor the hypothetical person interested in my work really wants to carry papers all over the world

    One could argue that the best way to move away from the current money-raking publishing system is simply to inform your library that you are not interested any more in having copies of these journals, because you can get the papers from the authors directly. Sadly, not enough people do routinely put all their work on their webpage or arXiv for this to be feasible – but it’s surely easier to change the mind of individual researchers who have nothing to lose, than to convince funding bodies to work harder to rate papers, or to convince publishers to charge less.

  2. Benjamin Steinberg says:

    I would love it if they gave 5 free reprints to keep as a souvenir. The remaining 45 reprints end up taking up shelf space. As Pete says most people don’t want physical papers to carry around. Also many departments don’t want to pay for mailing out reprints to colleagues.

  3. fan says:

    If this is Elsevier, you can not only buy offprints of your paper, but you can also buy a certificate of publication, complete with an attractive wooden frame with gold trim…

    I’ve never gotten offprints, and felt the same about my first publication (with SIAM, I believe) as your student. But usefulness is dwindling fast. As recent as 6 years ago I got the advice to bring a few copies of my paper to a conference. Now I only distribute URLs to my website.

  4. It was Springer, actually, but a former Kluwer journal. My late friend Jaap Seidel once said to me , “All Dutch publishers are crooks.”

    I agree that preprints have outlived their usefulness, but I also agree with Ben, especially for one’s first published paper.

  5. Why on Earth not simply put the paper up on the ArXiV and bypass the publishers entirely?

  6. Michael Giudici says:

    I just received an email from a publisher that instead of offering me free reprints, offered me a free t-shirt with the QR code for my paper so people can scan it with their smart phone and go straight to the website with the paper.

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