Is there any reason to get paper reprints of your articles? Some journals charge for reprints others give them for free. Should I save the trees and not ask for the free ones? Are reprints so important that I should be paying for them?

I guess I should add I have only seen reprints offered in bundles of 100 (maybe 50) and getting 10 does not seem to be possible.

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    The only time I've ever been asked for journal reprints was by the American Institute of Mathematics. (Yes, that is how they build their reprint library.) I got a stack of 100 (for free) for the first paper I ever published; of those 3000+ pages I managed to give away fewer than 10 so far. – Willie Wong Jun 21 '12 at 11:27

I did it initially so that I would have a nice paper copy of my paper. In principle I could hand these out to my colleagues and other people who were interested in my work.

This is rather out-dated these days. You can just send interested parties a pdf and they can read it on their iPad. Save the trees.

I don't see any reason at all to actually pay for reprints. You have a copy already, right?

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    Yeah, I rather like paper reprints, but they just aren't very useful. (I've never managed to give away the full set of reprints of any of my older papers, back when they all came with reprints.) It would be nice if one could order, say, five reprints, but that wouldn't be cost effective, and it's certainly more sensible to order no reprints than a lot. – Anonymous Mathematician Jun 19 '12 at 15:29
  • +1 There really is no need for reprints when you can just print your own on a high quality laser printer. – scientifics Jun 19 '12 at 15:40
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    I still like getting a few reprints if possible, because I post many of my papers on the wall outside my office and I think the reprints look nicer than simply printing the pdf (since they're on the paper size that they are typeset for, rather than generic 8.5x11). But as Dave and others have noted, reprints are really a relic from a pre-internet age. – Dan C Jun 19 '12 at 16:30
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    @DanielE.Shub I think I typically get 30. The best outcome was when I had a paper with multiple authors. Together we got around 30, of which my share was about 5 or 6. – Dan C Jun 19 '12 at 19:39
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    "save the tree" -- I guess you can view libraries as (useful) CO2 storage facilities, which are sorely needed. ;) – Raphael Aug 16 '12 at 9:24

In the 20 years since I published my first paper, I have been asked for actual paper reprints exactly three times: Twice by researchers, who each asked for one paper by sending a postcard, and once by my tenure committee, who required paper copies of everything I'd ever published. In the latter case, it was much easier to just download and print new copies than to hunt for the official reprints, which are still hding somewhere in the back of some disused filing cabinet. (My university finally stopped requiring tenure applicants to kill forests about two years after I got tenure.)

So I'm gonna go with NO, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to get paper reprints.


In Italy, when you apply for a position, you often have to send together with the paperwork one to three dead-tree copies of your $N$ best papers (or sometimes even of everything you have published).

This can easily amount to several hundred pages; multiply it by the number of positions you will apply for. It may be costly and troublesome to print them from a university printer. And, you know, printers are always low on toner the day before the deadline.

So in this case reprints are handy to have. I assume Italy is not the only country where this happens.


The answer to this question depends on which timeframe you are concerned with, and how optimistic you are about modern technology.

Finding copies of old, paywalled papers can be a problem. Nowadays, most papers are freely available on the web or at least in preprint form from the author's sites. DOI provides a robust way to link to them, even if the actual storage place should change. As the other answers state, you have probably no use for prints now (or in the near future).

However, what happens in the remote future? Once you stop caring -- maybe you switch career or (eventually) die -- the situation is similar with old papers today: readers are at the mercy of publishers. Is your paper still paywalled? Is the publisher still there? Has some search engine cached a version? Can PDF still be read on modern devices? In the worst case, your paper is practically inaccessible.

Does an archived paper copy help? Depends. There is no way any one place keeps hard copies of everything published. You can give your students and close colleagues hard copies for their own use, and maybe they keep so that maybe even in 50 years, an interested student who can not access your paper (easily) can get a copy from their professor that has undiluted value.

For example, Flajolet died. I am certain my boss (who works in closely related field) knew whom to ask for his academic remains. My boss has himself inherited all the paper accumulated and written by his late advisor (one of which I actually retrieved from the archive to check out for an answer on cs.SE; because it was impossible to find on the webs). This is stuff that does not exist on the web, but in real-world networks. For such, paper is important. Maybe that model is doomed given our technological advances, but I have the feeling that it will have its place for some time at least.

As far as I know, the issue of how we can keep our rapidly accumulating mass of data and knowledge at all and also accessible and organised over time is unsolved. It may be useful to keep that in mind.

  • For archiving reasons, it seems certainly more important that libraries continue to buy print journal versions, than individual researchers ordering reprints? – silvado Nov 1 '12 at 20:38
  • @silvado: True. Fact is they can't afford most of them, that approach doesn't scale and it creates few points of failure. – Raphael Nov 1 '12 at 22:40

Many of these answers look rather unimaginative a few years down the track, and are obviously provided mainly by mathmos and scientists. With the proliferation of digItal and documents circulated by email, your pdf is less likely than ever before to be read. In my experience - having ordered and posted (yes posted) paper offprints - I had a greater response from recipients than if I'd sent a pdf, which people now routinely ignore. Offprints are handsome and suggest thoughtfulness. Save the electronic copy for your promotion application.

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    Why are you sending your papers to people who did not ask for them? – Tobias Kildetoft Nov 30 '16 at 9:52

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