The white paper can be downloaded in full from figshare
Watch the 1-minute video summary then turn the page to read the key highlights
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In 2019, Springer Nature made usage data relating to 3,934 books, including 281 open access (OA) books, available to COARD. This white paper presents the analysis of that data, exploring what effect, if any, publishing OA has on the geographic usage of books.
In particular, it examines whether OA facilitates the take-up of books by countries that are traditionally underrepresented in the production and use of scholarly content. It also provides analysis on the potential benefits from OA publication, looking at usage and related indicators for a sample of books, stratified by both book type and discipline.
A range of analysis techniques are employed, and the data associated with the books in the study make it possible to identify the countries and regions from which usage on SpringerLink, Springer Nature’s publishing platform, originates; as well as whether usage occurs via an institutional network access point (logged usage) or via the open web (anonymous). The report focuses on four key questions:
- Are patterns of geographic usage different for OA books compared with non-OA books?
- Is there evidence of wider usage particularly from low-income and lower-middle-income countries?
- Is there robust evidence that OA books out-perform non-OA books on various proxy measures of usage?
- Does such performance vary depending on the type of book (e.g. monograph, Brief/Pivot, contributed volume) or its disciplinary area?
The key findings are:
1. OA books show a higher diversity of geographical usage, reaching more countries and having a greater proportion of usage in a wider range of countries.
2. Importantly, OA books are increasing access and usage for low-income or lower-middle-income countries, including a high number of countries in Africa.
3. Books that contain the names of countries and regions in their title generally show enhanced usage in that country or region. The effect is most apparent for Latin America and Africa.
4. Downloads of OA books from the open web (‘anonymous downloads’) are generally around double those from institutional network points (‘logged downloads’).
What effect, if any, does publishing open access have on the geographic usage of books?
5. On average, OA books have 10 times more downloads than non-OA books and 2.4 times more citations.
6. For every category of book in the sample there is an increase of at least 2.7-fold in downloads for OA books. For every type of book, every discipline, and each of the three years of publication in the sample, OA books show more downloads than non-OA comparison groups. This holds for every month after publication.
Discussion and conclusion
Discussion and conclusion
Downloads of OA books are on average 10 times higher than those of non-OA books, and citations of OA books are 2.4 times higher
Our findings show OA has a robust effect on the number of downloads, geographical diversity of downloads, and citations across this corpus of books. The effect is seen for all disciplinary groupings, across all three years of publication found in the sample, for all types of book (Briefs, monographs, and contributed volumes) and for every month after publication. OA is, in other words, making a substantial difference to the reach of books and their authors.
Downloads of OA books are on average 10 times higher than those of non-OA books, and citations of OA books are 2.4 times higher - an even larger OA effect than was found in previous Springer Nature research. Downloads of OA books from the open web via SpringerLink are generally around double those from institutional network points, suggesting that OA is also helping to reach a more diverse readership.
The effect of OA on downloads is most significant for countries and regions with low gross national income. Latin America and Africa show significantly greater downloads for OA books compared to non-OA books. This is also seen in a quantitative analysis of the geographic diversity of downloads using the Gini coefficient disparity index. OA books have quantitatively greater geographic diversity of downloads.
A book’s title is also shown to have a robust effect on geographic usage. Where the names of regions such as Latin America and Africa are present in a book title, we see substantial increases in downloads in those regions. This effect is much stronger for OA books. The same effect is seen for individual countries in Latin America and Africa. There are individual exceptions to these geographical effects and those titles may be of particular interest for further work.
Although we observe a difference in web visibility for OA books, the effect for this dataset is small, a fact that is likely to reflect the high levels of integration of all Springer Nature titles into global discovery and usage pathways.
To our knowledge, this is the largest independent analysis of the usage of OA and non-OA books ever conducted, over the longest period of time. The sample size and structure allows us to be confident that there are substantial effects connecting OA status with downloads and citations for this set of books. There is a limited amount of previous work comparing downloads of OA and non-OA books with the goal of understanding the impacts of OA on the geographies of usage. These findings show evidence of a higher level of diversity of geographic usage for OA books.
This analysis shows that immediate OA on the publisher’s platform brings significant benefits to scholarly books, both in the number of citations and downloads, and in the diversity of location of those downloads, helping to unlock a latent readership. Not only does OA enhance usage in countries underrepresented in global scholarship, it also enhances the global usage of scholarship about underrepresented countries. The findings in this report provide a powerful argument for prioritising measures that will support the expansion of OA for books, including introducing policies that require OA for books and increasing financial support to facilitate this.
While these results are compelling, further work is needed to explore the effects of OA on books across a much wider range of publishers and to understand usage effects across a range of different platforms, including aggregators and online libraries. The work of the Exploring Open Access eBook Usage (OAeBU) project, which is about to initiate a pilot to develop and test infrastructure, policy and governance models to support a diverse, global data trust for usage data on OA monographs, will be important.
This study was carried out before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a substantial increase in downloads of OA and non-OA books hosted on SpringerLink since March 2020, and this increase appears to be linked to the pandemic. Many publishers, including Springer Nature, have also made some non-OA ebooks freely available in this period. It will be interesting in future to understand how the pandemic, and differences in location and behaviour of readers in this period, has affected usage, and how these effects differ between OA and non-OA books.
Are you, after reading these key findings, now thinking about publishing your own open access book?
- Yes, I am now interested
- Yes but I was going to anyway
- No, I am not interested in OA for my book idea
- Not relevant / not an author