How does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?

By: Guest contributor, Tue Nov 7 2017

Author: Guest contributor

By: Mithu Lucraft, Head of Marketing, Outreach and Development, Open Research, Springer Nature 

In previous blog posts, we have talked about the benefits of publishing a book open access (OA). But what evidence is there to support these assertions? For the journals market, where open access is now well into its second decade, there has been much analysis to show how publishing OA affects usage and citations. And whilst it is possible to draw assumptions for books looking at these studies, until now there has been little research on the OA books market.

That’s why today we are delighted to publish a new report examining the benefits of publishing an OA book. The report is the first major comparative study of usage data, directly benchmarking the performance of Springer Nature books made OA through the immediate (gold) route against that of equivalent non-OA books published in the same period.

As a pioneer of open research, Springer Nature has published more than 400 OA books and chapters under our SpringerOpen and Palgrave Macmillan imprints. This breadth of publishing presented us with an opportunity to explore the real effect of OA on our books from a quantitative perspective– looking at chapter downloads, citations and online mentions – and to draw this together with views from authors and funders that we work with.

What did we learn?

Our report establishes that there is a performance benefit from publishing a book OA:

  • 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 7 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 10 times more online mentions than non-OA books, over a three-year period.

The interviews we conducted with authors and funders also revealed some common themes:

  • Increased visibility and wide dissemination:
    For both funders and authors, the most common motivations for OA were to ensure the widest possible distribution of research.
  • Ethical motivations:
    Several interviewees argued that OA is not just a publishing model, but also a means of addressing the issue of equal access to knowledge and ensuring that publicly-funded research is available to all.
  • Insights on the effect of OA:
    Both authors and funders acknowledged feeling insufficiently informed about the implications of publishing books OA, and about how to measure impact.

What does this tell us?

Our results present an early view on the effect of OA on books, backing up the expectations that OA has a positive impact on usage. For authors who are considering whether to publish and OA book in the future, we hope this report presents a compelling argument.

However, these results tell only a partial story: the longest period of data we were able to report on was four years from publication. As OA is a relatively new business model for books, there is insufficient data at this stage to give a complete overview of an OA book’s life and how usage trends continue from year five onwards.  We intend to continue monitoring the effects of OA on usage over a longer study period to add to what we have learned so far.

As noted above, with both authors and funders feeling insufficiently informed about the implications of publishing OA, we see a clear need for publishers to better communicate on usage and impact. This is an area where we would welcome further discussion and research to explore how metrics for OA books are collected, reported, assessed and shared. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

An infographic highlighting the key findings of the report can be downloaded here.

Read the full report here.


Author: Guest contributor

Guest Contributors include Springer Nature staff and authors, industry experts, society partners, and many others. If you are interested in being a Guest Contributor, please contact us via email: