Open-access journal articles have been found, to some extent, to be downloaded and cited more than non-OA articles. But could the same be true for books? Carrie Calder reports on recent research into how open access affects the usage of scholarly books, including the findings that OA books are, on average, downloaded seven times more, cited 50% more, and mentioned online ten times more. A number of accompanying interviews reveal that authors are choosing open access routes to publish their books not only because of wider dissemination and easier access but also for ethical reasons.

From crowdfunding to book publishing charges (BPCs), funders, institutions, and publishers continue to experiment with different open access models for books. Limited funding in disciplines which traditionally use monographs as a form of scholarly communication means that while open access in journal publishing has been around since 2000, it’s only in the last five years that we’ve seen real progress in introducing open access for books. Likewise, open-access journals in the humanities and social sciences have seen limited progress in comparison to their STEM counterparts.

So are there any real benefits for authors and funders who take the leap to publish via open access models? Increased downloads and, to some extent, citations have been shown for open-access journal articles – could the same be true for monographs?

Springer Nature has published more than 400 open access books on SpringerLink, from monographs to shorter or mid-form research such as Palgrave Pivot and SpringerBriefs. This provides us with a solid and growing dataset from which to investigate this issue, the so-called “OA effect”.

Image credit: Brigham Young University faculty survey seeks to advance open education through academic libraries by opensource.com. This work is licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Our report, “The OA effect: how does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?”, published last week, shows that open-access books are:

  • Downloaded seven times more – on average, there are just under 30,000 chapter downloads per OA book within the first year of publication, which is seven times more than for the average non-OA book.
  • Cited 50% more – citations are on average 50% higher for OA books than for non-OA books, over a four-year period.
  • Mentioned online ten times more – OA books receive an average of ten times more online mentions than non-OA books, over a three-year period.

Of course, this also varies by discipline. For the humanities, social sciences and law, OA books are downloaded on average 6.7 times more than non-OA books. OA books in these disciplines receive fewer downloads than the average across all subject areas for OA books, but the same applies to non-OA books in these disciplines.

A sample of 216 Springer Nature OA books and 17,124 non-OA books was included in the download analysis (using SpringerLink data); and 184 OA books and 14,357 non-OA books in the citations and mentions analysis (using data from Bookmetrix). The report also contains qualitative analysis from authors and funders. We have released aggregated data for all analyses which is available in pdf and Excel formats from the report landing page (we are unable to release the full data for title-by-title analysis as the non-OA title data is commercially sensitive).

It’s worth noting that although the report finds a positive correlation between OA books and higher downloads, it acknowledges that causation cannot conclusively be proved. Open access is a relatively new business model for books, and while we have a good dataset, at this stage there is insufficient data to give a complete overview of an OA book’s life. We acknowledge that there are limitations to our initial study and these are discussed further in the report.

So why do authors choose to publish via open access? It seems that some authors are convinced of the OA effect, but many cite ethical concerns just as highly. Our authors cited “wider dissemination” as one of the most common reasons for choosing an OA model, along with “easy access to research” and “ethical motivations”.

Helen Louise Ackers, Chair in Global Social Justice at the University of Salford is one of the authors who is motivated by ethical reasons: “I work with issues that have to do with inequality, so for me publishing a book that wasn’t OA on the impact of international development would be quite unethical, because I know that people in Uganda would not be able to read the book. For me it was an absolutely critical component to the ethics of publishing”.

Likewise, a philosophy professor from Germany who wanted to remain anonymous told us: “my motivation was political; if it is publicly-funded research (which it is in my case) then I think the public has a right to access these results without any boundaries, not having to pay twice”.

Other motivations listed include subject matter (particularly for authors publishing research on international development in low-income countries); the possibility of purchasing a cheaper print edition of the book; expectations of increased citations and downloads; and a perception that OA publication would mean a faster publishing time.

But, while authors and funders expected OA books to have more visibility, and to reach a wider audience, they did not feel sufficiently informed about the actual impact of their work and felt they lacked tools to measure it (few had heard of Bookmetrix, for example).

For us as publishers, we see the rise of open research, across books and data as well as journal articles, as important to advancing discovery. But as books have a much longer lifespan than scientific articles, and because citations build up over time, it is not possible to say what the definitive trends are, such as when the overall citation and usage peaks occur during an OA book’s entire lifespan, until further research and analysis has been carried out. We encourage others to build upon the foundation of this report, especially by continuing to assess metrics and authors’ and funders’ perceptions of OA over a longer period.

The author would like to thank Ros Pyne, Mithu Lucraft, Agata Morka and Christina Emery for their authorship of the original report, “The OA effect: how does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?, available for download now.

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Impact Blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the author

Carrie Calder is Business Development and Policy Director, Open Research at Springer Nature.

Print Friendly