White Paper by Springer Nature and COARD
In 2019, Springer Nature made usage data relating to 3,934 books, including 281 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 (see Methodology), 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 outperform 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:
- 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.
- Importantly, OA books are increasing access and usage for low-income or lower-middle-income countries, including a high number of countries in Africa.
- 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.
- Downloads of OA books from the open web (‘anonymous downloads’) are generally around double those from institutional network points (‘logged downloads’).
- On average, OA books have 10 times more downloads than non-OA books and 2.4 times more citations.
- 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.
Conclusions and recommendations
- These findings demonstrate that immediate OA increases and diversifies the readership of scholarly books; they provide a powerful argument for increasing policy and financial support for OA books.
- Further work is needed to explore the effects of OA on books across a wider range of publishers and to take into account downloads from third-party platforms and aggregators. The work of the Exploring Open Access eBook Usage (OAeBU) project to develop a pilot data trust will be an important first step.