Last week I put a rough version of the list of preprint platforms live, responding to a request on Twitter from Jessica Polka. I’ve now filled in most of the gaps and put it into a Google sheet, which seems the best way to display the information at present. In the future I aim to use something more fancy that will span the page and can be filtered and sorted.
I hope it will be a useful resource to authors considering options for where to place their preprint and anyone interested in an overview of the state of preprints.
Putting the list together was an interesting exercise and revealing in several aspects. Here’s a few observations that I made.
Firstly, there are not that many preprint servers: the list runs to 19 at the moment. More than half of those listed (including OSF-based servers individually) started in the last year. When you compare it to the number to journals it is miniscule, even in disciplines where preprints have played a large role for many years. I intend to exclude institutional repositories, of which I suspect there will be a great many that post preprints. There are already lists of them elsewhere and authorship is limited to those affiliated with the institution.
A major lack in most preprint servers is long-term archiving. Excepting those based at CERN, I only found one with a statement about archiving on their website (CORE from MLA Commons). This should be a high priority for those operating preprint platforms, but there appear to be few clear solutions at present.
Also lacking is a business model that does not rely on backing by one or a handful of bodies. SSRN uses a model where institutions or readers pay for extra services. Authorea charges for use of their platform (although there is a free option). Funding from a larger organisation is fine, as long as institutions are willing to pay in the long term, but it relies to some extent on good will and some servers will likely look at alternative models in the coming years.
The background to preprint servers is varied, arising from libraries, publishers, societies, author services etc. Each puts an emphasis on different aspects and the rigour in submission checks, licensing information, information for authors, inclusion of non-preprint material and so on varies. In my experience, most authors don’t particularly pay attention to these aspects, but they may play a role in integrating preprints more formally into research evaluation. Funders and universities do care more about the details. A discussion on basic requirements for preprints and an interest in whether a consensus can be achieved was one of the motivating factors for my setting up Research Preprints.
Finally, the pervasiveness of the PDF is evident. The convenience for publication and human reading wins hands down. At the moment other formats don’t get a look in, which is fine in the short term. In the longer term, this could pose a significant challenge for text and data mining, especially when format is so varied.