Comparing Open Access Effects for Books and Journal Articles

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 14:26:10 +0100

The following appeared today in Lawrence Lessig's Blog

    South African lessons: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

    One of the most interesting presentations at this fantastic
    conference was
    given by Eve Gray, of Eve Gray & Associates. Gray was asked to
    study the publishing strategy of the Human Sciences Research
    Council (HSRC) in South Africa. This research institution had a
    traditional strategy of publishing lots of research books, and selling
    them. Gray convinced them to change their strategy -- to give away
    all their research books for free online, and offer a high quality
    print-on-demand service for anyone who wants the paper version. The
    result: "the sales turnover of the publishing department has risen
    by 300%." As she concluded her presentation, "giving away books and
    lead to an increase in our book sales." There's much much more in her
    interesting analysis. She has generously offered it for downloading. Here's the press

A comment follows:


        Stevan Harnad

It is undeniable that for certain small-market books (and perhaps even for some
larger-market books), providing the full text online toll-free for all ("open
access") not only does not interfere with sales of the print version but even
enhances them. No one knows, however, whether this is true of most or all books.

One of the reasons this might be true of all books is that books are long, and
continuous reading is not optimal on-screen (yet).

It is not clear, however, to what extent this extends to the main target
of the open access movement
which is, very specifically, peer-reviewed research journal
articles. There are about 24,000 such journals, publishing about 2.5
million articles per year. Those articles are mostly read and used on a
piece-wise basis by researchers; the journals are not read cover to cover.

Although the number of open access journals is
growing (1574), it is not yet clear whether journals whose full-text
contents are all accessible online toll-free will be able to continue
making ends meet from sales-revenue for the print version; nor is
it yet clear whether the alternative cost-recovery model -- payment
by the author-institution for publication instead of payment by the
user-institution for (subscription or license) toll-access -- is a viable
one (or a viable one just yet).

There is a middle road for journal article access, however, between the "golden"
road of publisher-provided open access to all of the journal's full-text contents
online toll-free and the "gray" road of toll-access-only, and that is the "green"
road of author-institution self-archiving of (only) their own journal article
output "piece-wise", each institutional author supplementing the journal's
toll-access version of his own article with an open-access version for any
would-be user who cannot afford the toll-access version.

There are several parallels with what appears to be happening with the books that
are being made accessible toll-free online:

    (1) The journals whose authors have been self-archiving
    the most and the longest (some for close to a decade, with
    their contents -- piece-wise -- close to 100% self-archived)
    report that this has not diminished toll-based sales for the
    print version or the publisher's official online version:

    (2) The self-archived versions (just as in the case of
    open-access books) are increasing the visibility and impact of
    the articles, and are thereby increasing the visibility and
    impact factor of the journals in which they are published
    (hence perhaps eventually even their sales-revenues).

Stevan Harnad
Moderator, American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Fri May 27 2005 - 14:26:10 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:47:53 GMT