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A paper that I have just had published in a journal is already starting to generate interest. I am allowed to upload a copy to Academia.edu as long as it is not the copy-edited version (peer review came up with very few changes). On the one hand I want people to read it – and this will also promote my own interests as an academic –, but I also don’t want to take potential sales away from the journal, which I like, and whose staff have been very good to me.

Will uploading it harm the journal or could it generate more interest? I have linked to the journal in the paper page on Academia.edu.

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    Peer review isn't paid. Hosting a website is as cheap as 5 bucks a month. What do you think could bring that journal in financial trouble? The thousands of dollars universities pay in a flat fee to get everyone inside their intranet access to the journal? Paywalls are a relic of the 20th century, where editors actually had to do something for their money, e.g. print work ... – image Jun 16 '17 at 23:19
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    Just to name an alternative in case the journal's wellbeing is really a major concern for you: You can often pay them extra to make your paper openly accessible on their website. My institute does this wherever possible, even where we also publish an arXiv version. I think you could argue that this paying for an unnecessary service. But it is quite convenient for the potential readers. – Emil Jun 17 '17 at 7:59
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    The purpose of a journal is to disseminate scientific work. Putting your work on Academia.edu or elsewhere serves this purpose too. If serving this purpose means that the journal goes out of business, then that's too bad for the journal. More generally, any ethical organization that serves goal X should be fine with disbanding whenever goal X is better served without the organization. If they are not, I don't think you need to feel sorry for them. – a3nm Jun 17 '17 at 11:50
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    Slight tangent: academia.edu is hardly the gold standard in making your preprint accessible; it's a social network with its fair share of dark patterns. Use arXiv in any subject where it exists; HAL where it doesn't; your own site (github pages if you don't have one) if you want to make frequent changes. – darij grinberg Jun 18 '17 at 9:43
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    @image Good luck getting hosting on the scale required for a publishing company for $5 per month. – David Richerby Jun 18 '17 at 11:31
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Making the paper accessible to everyone who can't look behind the paywall might hurt the journal's publishing company a little bit by diverting some demand. However, it won't really hurt the people you have been dealing with. Moreover, the journal has given you explicit permission to publish a pre-print, so you're not going against their stated request.

At the same time, you are providing a service to

  • yourself, by increasing the reach of your paper and the citations that it will receive
  • the journal, to the extent that the preprint will attract interest to the journal and to the extent that people will cite the journal version rather than the preprint
  • the public who would otherwise not be able to look at the research. This applies in particular to readers outside of academic institutions and to scientists from poor countries.

Please upload your preprint to a freely accessible repository.

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    @C26 It could make it easier to cite the pages as they appear in the journal without having to obtain the journal version, but it's not "technically" required of a preprint. In fact, preprints can differ quite considerably, even in substance, from their journal version. – henning Jun 16 '17 at 10:01
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    I will accept this answer and upload my paper. Thank you [though of course I'm always interested to see others' inputs] too. I think it would be fair to upload it since, in addition to the first two points you raise, it does deal specifically with events in poorer countries. – C26 Jun 16 '17 at 10:40
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    Making the paper accessible to everyone who can't look behind the paywall might hurt the journal's publishing company a little bit by diverting some demand. Do you really think that's true? I've never seen an article I wanted enough to even consider paying the a la carte price set by a journal (since it's free to request from a library), and I don't see a single article having much influence on an institution's decision to subscribe. – pjs36 Jun 16 '17 at 14:26
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    @henning Evidently, we're not alone in wondering! That'll teach me to use Google, before searching here... – pjs36 Jun 16 '17 at 14:40
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    I don't recall academia.edu being actually a free pre-print service... In the sense that you need to join in order to see what people upload. This is different from posting on your homepage, or arXiv, or something like that. – Ink blot Jun 16 '17 at 19:11
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Adding a personal experience to @henning's excellent answer.

Many years ago (around 2001) I worked for a company that shall remain nameless, but was responsible for printing the majority of journals worldwide. Although I was only doing reprographics (ie, anything to do with printing / copying that wasn't the journals themselves), just before I left I did some sorting for long term filing (thousands of paper documents being sent off for microfiche scanning).

Being a somewhat boring bit of work, I did end up reading quite a few of them, including a rather interesting email conversation between an editor and the paper's author. Attached were various internal emails where they were trying to find a way around the insistence from the author that they wanted to make a copy available online for free.

End result was basically "the author removed the restriction from the contract before signing, and we can't find any way to force them to change their mind no matter how much we try, so just going to have to left them do it".

While I can't say if there were other similar circumstances with a different outcome, I was going through tens of thousands of pages over the course of several weeks, and visually scanning almost every one, and didn't see any others on that subject. There's obviously also the fact it was around 16 years ago, so things will probably have changed.

While there is a lot of money involved in the journal industry, after basic costs, it's pretty much all profit (that company is sitting on around a third of a billion pounds sterling in the bank, and has well over that in gross profit every year, with well under 50% costs for staff and publishing etc) - but if you want to publish it anywhere else it legally belongs to you, just make sure you only agree and sign to things that you are comfortable doing.

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Will uploading it harm the journal or could it generate more interest?

You're overthinking this issue. The people running the journal, who have vastly more relevant information than you do to answer this question, already thought about it, and decided to grant you permission to upload your paper to academia.edu - period. That means there are zero ethical considerations here; you should leave it to those people to think about what's good for the journal instead of second-guessing their decisions, and simply do whatever you think is good for you (and for the rest of society, to the extent that that's something you care about).

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TL;DR: It is incumbent upon you to make your papers publicly available online.


Scientific discoveries (or useful analyses etc.) should be readily available to researcher worldwide and the public at large, without restriction. We need it - for further research, for product development, for shaping our views of society and politics and so; and most us don't have that paid access to the journals. This is the over-arcing consideration, above those you mention in your answer. So even if...

I also don’t want to take potential sales away from the journal, which I like, and whose staff have been very good to me. Will uploading it harm the journal or could it generate more interest?

... not publishing your paper freely on the web means hiding your results from us - other researchers, people in industry, civil society organizations etc. - which don't have the access to that many journals, if at all. Making your paper publicly accessible would be "very bad to us", to use your own terms.

So - put it up there with no hesitation. And to the extent that the journal or its staff are expecting to have the right to prevent web access to the text - they should just rewrite those perceptions; they are inappropriate and invalid. They have an exclusive right to sell printed copies of the paper, and that's more than enough.

PS - Also consider alternative locations such as arxiv.org when relevant, your university's repository of publicly-accessible research materials, your personal website, or ResearchGate (similar to academia.edu but I like their interface better; they're both kind of annoying with their email nagging though).

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    I heartily disagree with your answer because you aren't comparing the cost to the publisher to the gain by the public, you're basically just saying "Screw the publisher, do what's best for the public". In that case, the ethical thing to do is not to work with the publisher in the first place. – sgf Jun 16 '17 at 22:45
  • @sgf: 1. I'm saying that there are overriding considerations which are more significant than the ones OP has mentioned. 2. Unfortunately, we cannot "not work with publishers". For the time being, a large number of the important journals or conference proceedings in many fields are controlled by corporations which do not make the work publicly available on-line for free. These are the cards life has dealt us and we have to make do. 3. There is no "screwing" of the publisher. It typically has the exclusive right to can sell copies of the journal and (maybe) make some money. Seems fair to me. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jun 16 '17 at 22:50
  • That's not what you're saying in your answer though (although I'm prepared to accept that it is what you want to say). What you seem to mean is that the loss to the publisher is negligible compared to the gain for society, but what you're saying is that there is gain for society to be had, so go for it. – sgf Jun 16 '17 at 22:52
  • @sgf: I added a third point to my comment... I don't perceive any loss to the publisher; it just doesn't get to do something it should not have been doing in the first place. Or you could basically put it this way: Anything in OPs or the publisher's world view that suggests the paper should not be put online is wrong/invalid/inappropriate, they should drop such foolish notions and make sure the paper is available online, end of story. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jun 16 '17 at 22:53

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