“A few years ago, we did some work looking at the effect of open access (OA) on downloads and citations of scholarly books. Our authors were excited to hear about the impact that OA could have on their work, but the next question was always along the lines of, ‘But where are those extra downloads coming from? Is OA actually helping books to achieve a more diverse audience?’ A survey of book authors’ attitudes to OA that we conducted last year confirmed this concern: we found that reaching a broad readership – and reaching non-academic audiences such as policymakers and practitioners – ranked high in book authors’ motivations. Reaching readers in low-income- and lower-middle-income-countries (LICs and LMICs) was particularly important to authors who had published an OA book.
OA books are now in their second decade, but we find many authors are still sceptical, or at any rate unsure if it’s really worth it. Perhaps it seems obvious, or intuitive, that OA expands a book’s readership, but being able to point to evidence for this important benefit can be immensely powerful in making the case for OA to book authors….
Others have asked this question before. Notably, Ronald Snijder’s 2013 study, based on a sample of 180 books, showed that despite a ‘digital divide’ in discovery and use between poorer and richer countries, OA led to increased proportions of usage in LICs and LMICs. Six years later, we are able to re-visit this using a much larger dataset of OA (and non-OA) books, and provide a more detailed exploration of these questions….
So, what did COARD’s analysis find?
OA has a robust effect on the number of downloads, geographical diversity of downloads, and citations of books. Downloads of OA books in the study were on average 10 times higher than those of non-OA books, and citations of OA books were 2.4 times higher on average – an even larger OA effect than we found in our previous research in this area.
For every category of book in the sample there is an increase of at least 2.7-fold in downloads for OA books. The effect was seen for all disciplinary groupings, in HSS and STM, across all three years of publication in the dataset, for all types of book (monographs, contributed volumes, and mid-length books) and for every month after publication.
OA books in the study had a greater proportion of usage in a wider range of countries. They were downloaded in 61% more countries than non-OA books. Importantly, OA books had higher usage in low-income or lower-middle-income countries, including a high number of countries in Africa. Analysis using the Gini coefficient disparity index showed that OA books have quantitatively greater geographic diversity of downloads.
Downloads of OA books from the open web were generally around double those from institutional network points. Of course, we can’t rule out that the open web downloads are simply off-campus downloads from readers who already have institutional access, but the balance between the two, and the fact that the OA books reached so many more countries does point to a more diverse readership….”