RePEc now indexes now over 5000 working papers series, and we take this opportunity to highlight how these open-access pre-prints are central to RePEc and economics research in general. Indeed, the peer-review process in economics is particularly excruciating, as it is quite common for the process to take several years from submission to publication. Multiply this if a manuscript needs to be submitted to several journals (the best journals have acceptance rates below 10%), and you quickly understand that the published research often disseminates research that is several years old.
A reaction to these delays has been the introduction of working papers. Initially disseminated on paper among friends and colleagues, they quickly became the go-to medium if you wanted to know where the frontier of research was. Several institutions then institutionalized the practice by creating official working paper series one could subscribe to, in some cases against a fee to cover printing and shipping costs. Working papers, sometimes also called discussion papers, are considered preliminary work that is not definitive and disseminated for discussion and awareness. Yet, they are sometimes refereed within the issuing institutions, as in some ways their reputation rides on the papers. Also, authors often prefer their working papers to the corresponding published articles, as the latter are sometimes altered in unintended ways through the tyranny of referees as well as shortened by editors with space constraints.
RePEc was created to enhance the dissemination of research in economics, and specifically of working papers. Indeed, unlike journals, working papers were disseminated in an informal way, and one needed to be “in the know” to get them. RePEc has helped bridge that gap and make working papers available to everyone. While the dissemination of working papers is now much improved, the publication delays only got worse, hence working papers are still central to following the frontier of research. This is why RePEc disseminates new working papers through NEP and not new journal articles. And we also have noticed that if a working paper and a journal version are available in parallel, the working paper is downloaded many times more than the article (even after removing the NEP downloads).