Open access academic books get significantly more usage, citations and online mentions than their non-open equivalents.
That is the central claim of a new white paper, The OA Effect: How does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?, published by Springer Nature. Although there is “a growing body of literature confirming that publishing OA increases article citations and online visibility”, the report claims to be “the first major comparative analysis of usage data for OA and non-OA scholarly books”.
Figures for downloads were tracked by comparing 216 OA and 17,124 non-OA Springer Nature books published in the same subject area and the same month. This showed 15.5 times as many chapter downloads for OA (3,683) as for non-OA books (238) over the first month and 6.5 times as many over the first year (17,799 compared to 2,103). Although this basic picture applied right across disciplines, it was particularly striking for books dealing with engineering, mathematics and computer science, which saw an average of eight times as many chapter downloads over the first year.
Citations and online mentions, meanwhile, were analysed by using data from Bookmetrix and a number of other online sources comparing OA and non-OA books published in the same year. OA books were cited more for each of the first four years of their lives, and 50 per cent more over the whole period (an average of 12 versus eight times). The discrepancy for mentions was even stronger, with OA books mentioned an average of 30 times over the first three years – no less than 10 times as many as for the non-OA books.
Although the broad patterns are clear, the report acknowledges that it has not been able to establish causation, and that factors such as “a self-selection bias amongst authors” and “the differing reputations of institutions and authors and the inequality of access to BPC [book processing charge] funding” may influence both whether a book is published via the OA option and how widely it is downloaded, cited and mentioned.
The OA Effect also includes a number of interviews with academic authors and funders. Most should welcome the main findings of the report, given that the most common reasons for choosing to publish OA were stated to be "easy access to research”, “wider dissemination” and “ethical motivations” such as a desire for work on international development to be available in low-income countries.
Yet none had yet “experienced any collaborations or opportunities such as research projects as direct effects of publishing their books OA”. And a few researchers had reservations about the rush to OA. There were concerns that “the model puts early career researchers with no access to funding at a disadvantage”, and one professor failed to see “what one can get out of open access”. Given that she “didn’t necessarily see advertisement or promotion being part of the deal”, OA could just feel like “paying to be published”.