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Comparing published scientific journal articles to their pre-print versions


Academic publishers claim that they add value to scholarly communications by coordinating reviews and contributing and enhancing text during publication. These contributions come at a considerable cost: US academic libraries paid \(\$1.7\) billion for serial subscriptions in 2008 alone. Library budgets, in contrast, are flat and not able to keep pace with serial price inflation. We have investigated the publishers’ value proposition by conducting a comparative study of pre-print papers from two distinct science, technology, and medicine corpora and their final published counterparts. This comparison had two working assumptions: (1) If the publishers’ argument is valid, the text of a pre-print paper should vary measurably from its corresponding final published version, and (2) by applying standard similarity measures, we should be able to detect and quantify such differences. Our analysis revealed that the text contents of the scientific papers generally changed very little from their pre-print to final published versions. These findings contribute empirical indicators to discussions of the added value of commercial publishers and therefore should influence libraries’ economic decisions regarding access to scholarly publications.

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Correspondence to Martin Klein.

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Klein, M., Broadwell, P., Farb, S.E. et al. Comparing published scientific journal articles to their pre-print versions. Int J Digit Libr 20, 335–350 (2019).

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  • Open access
  • Pre-print
  • Scholarly publishing
  • Text similarity