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The Rise of Preprints in the Biomedical Sciences: Implications for Research Publishers

Preprints are drafts of scientific articles that are publicly shared before they have been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in a scientific journal. Preprint servers are online platforms that host these preprints.

Preprints have a long history in the physical sciences. The first modern-day preprint server, arXiv, was launched in 1991 by Cornell physicist Paul Ginsparg. arXiv allowed researchers in the field of high-energy particle physics to upload, search, and retrieve preprints in one central online location. arXiv now hosts preprints in physics, mathematics, computer science, and more. Other fields have followed suit, and a variety of field-specific preprint servers have been introduced, such as BioRxiv for biological sciences, medRxiv for medical sciences, PsyArXiv for psychological sciences, and SocArXiv for social sciences.

The growing importance of preprints in the biomedical sciences

In recent years, preprints have become increasingly popular in the biomedical literature for several reasons. These are as follows:

  1. Rapid scientific communication and effective collaboration in health crises

In the COVID-19 pandemic, preprints were extremely important because they allowed for the rapid dissemination of pertinent findings to the scientific community and the general public. This was particularly crucial when scientists were working quickly to understand the new virus and develop strategies to combat it. Preprints were also instrumental in facilitating collaboration among scientists and enabling them to build on each other’s work.

As we have been told time and again, the frequency of pandemics might increase in coming years. Rapid information facilitated by preprints will continue to play an important role in faster discovery and development of effective prophylaxis and treatments.

  1. Wider reach of the latest in biomedical advances

Unlike traditional journal articles, which are often behind paywalls or require a subscription to access, preprints are freely available to anyone with an internet connection. Therefore, preprints promote wide accessibility to the latest advances in biomedical research, including laypersons and media professionals, who do not have access to paywalled articles.

  1. Early feedback and detection of potential flaws or misconduct

By sharing research findings as preprints, scientists can disseminate their work faster and get valuable feedback from the scientific community before the research is formally published. Such openness and early sharing allow for a wider swath of researchers to scrutinize the work and identify potential problems with the study, including misconduct.

Why journals and publishers need to embrace preprints

Being preprint-friendly is a good way for journals and publishers to demonstrate their commitment to open science and transparency, accelerate the dissemination of scientific knowledge, and strengthen their brand and relevance within the scientific community.

Here are some advantages that journals and publishers can reap from being preprint-friendly:

  • Increased visibility boosts the brand

Preprints are freely and openly accessible—characteristics conducive to a wide reach and high visibility. Further, the priority of publication in this manner leads to early attention, feedback, and citation, all of which mean increased visibility. This benefits the author and the journal that hosts the preprint and the final article.

  • Better credibility means better reputation

By being preprint-friendly, journals and publishers demonstrate that they are committed to promoting open science and advancing scientific progress. They show that they recognize the value of preprints in promoting transparency and accelerating the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

  • Compliance with important legislations adds value

Several important legislations and funder mandates related to preprints aim to promote open access and accelerate the dissemination of research findings:

Plan S: This initiative requires that all research articles funded by participating organizations must be made immediately available in an open-access repository, including preprints.

NIH Public Access Policy: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires that all peer-reviewed articles resulting from NIH-funded research be made publicly available within 12 months of publication. The policy also allows for the inclusion of preprints in grant applications and progress reports.

NIH Preprint Pilot: The NIH launched a preprint pilot program (Phase I) in June 2020, which focused on COVID-related research. This pilot is now set to be extended to include non-COVID related preprints, starting from January 2023.

Wellcome Trust Open Access Policy: All peer-reviewed articles resulting from Wellcome-funded research are be made open access immediately upon publication. The policy also encourages the use of preprints to disseminate research findings quickly.

If a publisher encourages preprints and incorporates them in their functioning, it will attest to their commitment to these policies and frameworks. Authors will want to choose target journals that are compatible with OA mandates and funder requirements.

Savvy publishers are investing in preprint servers

Thus far, preprint servers catered to a field or set of fields. But this is changing rapidly. Recent years are seeing major publishers invest in preprint platforms or develop their versions of such repositories, as described below.

Springer Nature’s In Review service

Springer Nature is one of the investors in Research Square, a rapidly growing preprint platform. Besides this, Springer Nature has also launched an initiative to host preprints of the manuscripts submitted to some of its titles in an “In Review” preprint service. Here, authors have the option to have their paper posted online at submission. Even if the manuscript is not accepted for publication, the associated preprint stays on the platform, albeit free of journal branding.

Wiley’s Under Review service

On the lines of Springer Nature’s In Review, Wiley has an “Under Review” service that allows authors to deposit their manuscript as a preprint while it is under review. Its scope is constantly expanding, and a sizeable fraction of submissions to certain Wiley journals are being uploaded as preprints in the Under Review model.

Wolters Kluwer’s Lippincott® Preprints

Lippincott® Preprints is a platform that enables researchers working in the fields of medicine, nursing, and allied health fields to share their work online for free. After being approved, these preprints become accessible to the research community online. The platform also has a monitored commenting feature to encourage discussion and collaboration. Lippincott® Preprints supports the principles of open science and aligns with Wolters Kluwer’s goal of sharing research globally.

By integrating preprint submissions into their manuscript submission workflows, publishers can secure their foothold in this domain.


Preprints allow research to be more accessible, accelerating the pace of scientific discovery. They also enable open discussions and early feedback, leading to more rigorous and robust research outcomes. Going “pro-preprint” can also help journals and publishers move closer to achieving their business goals, because the benefits translate into better recognition and therefore higher engagement from stakeholders, which means increased revenue for the publisher.

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