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I've recently obtained my PhD in mathematics and started a post-doc this year. I have 5 published papers, across a wide spectrum of journals (in terms of quality, from very good to mediocre). However I never received any off-prints from the journals and it seems that to receive those one has to pay. On the other hand all the professors that I know of have always a lot of off-prints for most of their journal publications. I always wanted to have these neat looking off-prints but it seems that the winds have changed and journals are becoming "cheaper" (behavior-wise) than ever.

This leads me to the following question:

  • Is this a recent change? Is it considered the norm now to not send off-prints free of charge?
  • Are these professors perhaps ordering the off-prints through some departmental fund?

Is there anything that can be done about this situation? Can I pressure the journal into sending me off-prints free of charge (e.g would trying to refuse signing the publishing agreement, unless they provide the off-prints for free work?). Have people tried boycotting journals not offering off-prints? This kind of cheap behavior really strikes me as pushing the boundary of what is acceptable. Not only we do most of the work for the journal (refereeing, writing, etc.) but on top of that journals are expensive and do not even offer off-prints anymore.

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Instead of having a pile of such prints on my desk, I now carry what I want to read on a USB flash drive. If I need to, I print out something. I imagine there are applications to render documents into Kindle-like format if you don't want a device throwing photons at you. –  Not Quite An Outsider Feb 27 at 21:45
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My first published paper came with fifty off-prints. I kept one for myself, gave one to my co-author and gave one to a friend in exchange for him offloading one of his off-prints on me. The other forty-seven went in the recycling the next time I moved. If I've been offered off-prints from a journal since then, I've not accepted them. –  David Richerby Feb 27 at 23:45
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Off-prints are a remnant from the days when photocopying hadn't been invented and, if you wanted your own copy of a paper, the only reasonable way to get one was to write to the author and ask for an off-print.

Providing off-prints to authors certainly seems to be becoming less common. Some journals still provide them for free, some only for a fee, and some not at all. I don't think most people care, and among those that do care, many prefer not to receive the off-prints. It's been years since I received a request for an off-print, so when I do get them they just end up sitting in piles in my office while I offer them as party favors to anyone who enters the office. Some decline and probably many of the rest recycle them, since electronic copies are far more convenient.

Can I pressure the journal into sending me off-prints free of charge (e.g would trying to refuse signing the publishing agreement, unless they provide the off-prints for free work?).

I wouldn't try pressuring them, which could come across as both eccentric and rude. Instead, you could try begging, by explaining that you are a postdoc with strictly limited funds but would really love off-prints and hope they could provide them at a reduced cost. I have no idea whether this could work, but the worst that can happen is that they'll say no.

Have people tried boycotting journals not offering off-prints?

You are welcome to investigate which journals provide off-prints for free and submit your papers there, but I doubt many people will join you in this.

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Thanks for this very nice explanation! As I said in the previous post my affinity to off-prints is purely aesthetic. For example, the type-setting in Crelle's journal is beautiful and I would certainly want to have their off-prints if I published there. –  offprint_fan Feb 28 at 19:06
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Offprints were a key part of the publication process before the digital era since digital versions did not exist; a smaller number of them commonly included in the page charges. Since journals are now digital and are also moving away from printing as a whole, reprints are things of the past. That your professors get them is most likely because they are used to have it this way but I am sure there will be journals from which they would not be able to get them other than the now standard pdf. I am not sure they get them for free anymore either. A pdf is easy to distribute and carries virtually no cost, to the publisher (journal) or the environment. I am sure the publishers were happy to see them go but the move was not primarily a financial move, it was a lack of demand. Some publishers still provide reprints but since they are no longer part of the standard service, they may charge for them. After all you get a pdf for free to distribute in a similar manner as the reprint. I have been publishing long enough to have a shelf full of useless reprints that in addition exist as pdfs as well. I am also an editor for a journal and for us it is also a question of when, not if, we move away from printing altogether. And in that case the publisher has no part in the decision since we are a society owned journal with no page charges. So I am not sure why you believe the reprint is so important. There is little demand for posting reprints to others when a pdf exists that can be sent over e-mail. I can understand that sending a paper copy can be more personal than e-mailing a pdf but I still think the demand for a printed copies is very low indeed.

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Off-prints are not important for me in any practical sense, but I enjoy having a neatly printed copy for myself and to give out to other people... Maybe it's just the younger generation, but I've definitely came across young people (my age) with the same nostalgia for off-prints. Anyway, thanks for this explanation, I think it changed my perception of the matter (I didn't realize there was a lack of demand). –  offprint_fan Feb 28 at 19:01
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