Usage/Impact is the fundamental reason for providing OA: The rest is just spin-offs

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 02:09:23 +0100 (BST)

On Wed, 22 Jun 2005, Joseph Esposito wrote:

> The point was made that Open Access
> articles are more frequently used than are proprietary articles. While
> this may be true today, this is an advantage that OA articles will not
> have much longer, as proprietary publishers will wake up to search-engine
> marketing and search-engine optimization in particular soon enough.

It won't make any difference. The reason OA articles are used and cited
more is because they are free, not because they are more visible. Making
the metadata of an article more visible (through OAI compliance, for
example) while keeping the article toll-based is just fine for marketing
the toll-based version. But it is still up against the price barrier,
whereas OA articles are not.

The best way to think of self-archived OA versions of non-OA journal
articles is as supplements, for those who can't pay for the toll-access
version. The usage/impact advantage arises from this supplement,
consisting of those would-be users who could not otherwise have used
and cited the article.

What is true, however, is that the OA citation advantage, which is
right now quite surprisingly large, will shrink once we reach 100%
OA. The reason is that right now the increased usage and citation of
OA articles arises from both an absolute and a relative benefit of OA:
The absolute one comes from being able to access the article at all; the
relative one comes from comparing its citation count with articles in the
same journal issue that have not been made OA by self-archiving; it's
a *competitive* advantage. The contribution of the relative component
to the OA advantage will of course become 0 when everything is 100%
OA. The absolute advantage will remain, however. *Everything* will be
accessible to *all* of its potential users, unlike now.

> Indeed, one practical effect of the Google Print program is that it is
> teaching publishers how the Web works. There was an announcement on this
> subject from Thomson/Gale just today. Publishers will begin to expose
> more content to search-engine spiders and drive up "hits" from keyword
> searches. This will entail wholesale redesign of Web sites.

What is happening with books and google print is interesting, but 100%
irrelevant to what is and will be happening to refereed-journal articles:
Books are not author give-aways, written only for research impact,
articles are. No article author wants any payment barriers blocking
the access of any would-be user to that author's refereed-journal
articles. Some (many√ most√) book authors do.

> For people unfamiliar with this marketing phenomenon, please Google
> "search engine optimization" or go to (for instance)
> Shrewd publishers (a show of hands, please) will see that this kind of
> concentrated marketing effort lends itself to larger,
> commercially-oriented organizations and will use it to push back the gains
> that OA advocates have made over the past two years and to marginalize
> further smaller publishers.

Nothing of the sort. One can push paid-access articles under users'
noses as much as one likes: those who can't or won't afford it, won't;
a fortiori when it's their institutions that must pay. And don't forget
that what we are talking about is continuous, immediate click-based
full-text access (often for quick browsing or look-up, not cover-to-cover
reading), not shopping-cart purchases for later leisurely use.

> There are many reasons to support OA, but increased use of scholarly
> materials is not among them.

I don't know about "scholarly materials" as a whole, but for the explicit,
specific target of the OA movement (you've heard the song before!) -- the
2.5 million articles appearing yearly in the world's 24,000 peer-reviewed
journals) -- *usage* (downloads, uptake, citations) is the author's 1st,
2nd, and Nth reason for providing (sic) OA (and no one else can provide
OA but the author, be it by choosing to self-archive or by choosing
to publish in an OA journal). Not one of the other putative reasons --
solving the serials crisis, driving down journal prices, reforming the
publishing system, providing access for teachers, students, the general
public, or the developing world, or belief in the (incoherent) principle
that "all information [or 'all scholarly material'] should be free" --
is either necessary or sufficient to induce authors to provide OA to
their articles (although some of these other benefits too will issue
from OA as a side-effect).

Research article authors give away their articles (seeking no royalties
of fees) out of self-interest. (They wish to maximize research usage
and impact, in part intrinsically [that's why their are researchers,
rather than journalists or best-seller-writers], but in part also
because they are explicitly rewarded for their research impact, through
research grants and salary-increases/promotion/tenure. Price-barriers are
impact-barriers.) They will also self-archive them out of self-interest
(once they -- and their employers/funders -- know the benefits and make
the contingencies explicit). But they will not do so for any of the
side-reasons I just listed.

Stevan Harnad

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Received on Thu Jun 23 2005 - 02:09:23 BST

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