Open access books attract many more readers and slightly more citations
Academics who offer their books free online reach many more readers and are cited slightly more often. Surprisingly enough, it has little effect on the sale of paper editions, positive or negative. This is the conclusion of PhD candidate Ronald Snijder. PhD defence 29 January.
Researchers who offer their books via open access are cited ten per cent more often than their counterparts who publish on similar subjects but don't use open access platforms. Books that are freely accessible are often downloaded by readers outside the academic world, Snijder has found. Almost 45 per cent of the downloads examined do not come from an academic organisation. A lot of research has been done on the effects of free online articles, but not on offering academic books free of charge. Snijder is one of the world's first researchers to look at the consequences of open access for books.
Snijder, an external PhD candidate, also looked at the effects of open access books in non-Western countries, such as India, China and Indonesia. His research showed that academic books are indeed downloaded more often in these countries than books that are not free. 'Open access really does make science accessible on a global level,' he comments.
Little effect on sales
Remarkably enough, offering books free online has hardly any noticeable effect on the sale of paper versions. 'The assumption that publishing books via open access will generate a lot of free publicity, which will encourage readers to buy the books, doesn't seem to hold water.' But there is also little or no negative effect: an online version seems to have little or no impact on sales. That's probably because online readers are a different public, Snijder suspects. Many online readers are students or people from outside the academic world who are interested in the subject. Offline readers buy the books for their own academic work or for the institute's library.
Offering a book free online does not automatically lead to optimum use of the work, Snijder stresses. 'Most people rely on filter mechanisms to sort the wheat from the chaff.' These could be library catalogues, mentions on social media, specialist websites or blogs by influential authors. 'The use and success of open access books is mainly determined by language, subject, infrastructure and trust.'