Pre-Prints, the hypocritical little sister of Open Access

Yesterday,I received an Email that pretty well illustrates the disadvantages of conventional publishing in an online-world. It ran like this: “I have tried to access the articles in the volume you edited but have for the most been unsuccessful … My institution has ordered the book but it will be weeks before I get it. … P.S.: As an aside, my recommandation is that you put pre-edited versions of the paper online so that they are read by the community The volume is expensive, and, as far as I can see, not as cited as it should be in recent works, including review articles.”

Ironically, I would have loved to publish the volume online and open access. But would the same authors that contributed to the printed volume have contributed to an online publication as well? The usual reply I received when asking senior scientists about online publishing sounded like: “Don’t do that. Anybody can publish anything in the internet. Publish it as book or as a special issue of this or that journal. Only that counts.” But now people expect that you put the same book online as well as “pre-print”. I find that slightly hypocritical: If people in my scientific community would like to find the scientific work online, they should start to appreciate online publications just as much as printed publications. So called “pre-prints” are no real alternative to open access publications under creative commons licences, but at best a way to deceive publishers in order to reap the benefits of online publishing without moving to true open access.