Digital books are being used by an increasingly diverse readership, according to a report from Knowledge Unlatched Research.
The research group, funded by the University Presses of UCL, Cornell, University of Michigan and University of California, studied how 2,542 open and closed books from four publishers hosted on the JSTOR platform were being downloaded and read.
Traditional measures of book usage focus on print sales. With a growing trend towards digital and particularly Open Access books, presses need new ways of understanding how books are being used, and by who.
The study had unprecedented access to rich JSTOR data which allowed the study team to compare across publishers, and to compare Open Access and licensed content. An important finding was that the largest single source of traffic (~35 per cent) was JSTOR itself, suggesting that a large proportion of this usage is from scholars who already use JSTOR as part of their workflow.
Search was significant but much smaller proportion (~15 per cent of traffic). Open Access content was downloaded more frequently than licensed content. However, it appeared that patterns of discovery were similar across OA and licensed books.
The most exciting findings related to the ability of the data to inform presses on the geographic distribution of readers. Usage was global, both in terms of discovery (with google.in for instance being a significant proportion of referrals from search engines) but also in usage.
While the United States dominated downloads in absolute terms there was significant usage in the vast majority of countries. Normalising for the number of research institutions in each country revealed a diverse pattern of usage with the Philippines being the top country in terms of usage per institution followed by Uzbekistan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Above all, what this initial analysis showed was that the richness of data can be very valuable to presses as they think about their strategy for content development and marketing. As the monograph publishing world shifts from a focus on marketing to intermediaries to the question of who is actually reading a book, this data, and its in depth analysis can be of enormous value.