Search engines have bigger effect on usage than open access

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Growth in online usage of Oxford Journal’s Nucleic Acids Research, a large, well-established journal that went fully open-access in January 2005, is more linked to search engines than to the change in publishing model. David Nicholas and co-workers at University College London’s CIBER used deep-log analysis to study the traffic patterns of this journal and found that the big growth of traffic came before the journal became open-access – but after the publisher started to allow search engines and robots to access the site in June 2003. They also found that open-access publishing of this journal has had the biggest impact on access from Eastern European countries.

However, the picture is not necessarily the same on other journals. Research at the University of Loughborough’s LISU found that the effects of open-access publishing vary dramatically from journal to journal. A fairly consistent theme between journals, however, according to LISU’s Claire Creaser, was that having some open-access papers also drove up traffic for non-open-access content in the same journal. It also changed user-behaviour for abstract and full-text usage.

The initial results of these studies were presented at a one-day conference held in London in June.

'Until recently there has been a lack of data to support whether an open-access model would result in cost-effective dissemination of research,’ commented Martin Richardson, managing director, Oxford Journals. 'We hope that, by making the results of our experiments public, we can help to foster a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of open access and subscription-based business models.’ There is also an invitation for other publishers to contribute their open-access journal data to the same scrutiny.