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Using Data to Assess Potential Benefits of a Read and Publish Deal

by | Nov 1, 2023 | 0 comments

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by Robert W. Boissy, Director of Account Development, Springer Nature,
and Celeste Feather, Senior Director for Content and Scholarly Communication Initiatives, Lyrasis

There are plenty of reasons for academic librarians to reject the idea of involving their institution and their library budget in a read-and-publish open access agreement with a publisher.  For one thing, it is still a relatively new model and has yet to prove itself sustainable.  For another, it usually relies on a formula based on a prediction of likely publishing output of the institution, which may be wrong, or for schools with an emphasis on teaching over research, may be small.  In the face of uncertainty, it is reasonable to ask whether the best path is that of maintaining existing collection development practices involving traditional subscriptions.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Uncertainty can be dealt with by maintenance of the status quo, but there is a logic to at least testing the waters by gathering more information.  Armed with good data, decisions to change the status quo can seem to be less of a risk. An institution that has been enjoying membership in a consortium might like to see what the impact of a read-and-publish agreement could be for their institution and for the whole of the consortium acting together.

Representatives from Springer Nature and the Lyrasis consortium decided to examine the published outputs from 149 academic institutions that were Lyrasis members and had regularly participated in Springer Nature licenses in the past.  The group profile consisted of doctoral institutions (39%), masters institutions (30%), baccalaureate institutions (18%), and special focus institutions in STM disciplines (13%). The group represented a diverse array of institutions from 27 states and the District of Columbia.

A publications data set produced from Dimensions by Digital Science covered January 2014 through June 2023 (9.5 years) and included 75,911 of all article types. The data included all authorships from the Lyrasis group institutions, including the 1st authors and all the additional authorship contributions to the published papers. A detailed look at the entire set of authorships from the institutions revealed several regional research collaborations among group members, indicating that many participating institution authors would benefit from a group read-and-publish deal even if the 1st author of the article were affiliated with a different institution in their region. The article could still be published in open access under the terms of the read-and-publish group deal, and all authors would benefit from greater exposure of their work. The data showed that on average, for all the articles with 1st authors from Lyrasis participating institutions each year, nearly twice as many additional authors (2nd, 3rd, etc.) from participating institutions could also receive the benefits of open access if the article were to be published in that type of model.

The data was then winnowed down to the article types normally included in Springer Nature read-and-publish agreements: original papers, review papers, brief communications, and continuing education.  This left 69,246 papers of which 61,023 (88%) were original papers, 6305 (9%) were review papers, 1845 (3%) were brief communications, and 73 (0.1%) were continuing education articles.

Papers were then divided into groups by the model under which they had been published.  There were 4789 (7%) bronze OA papers, otherwise known as free to read papers.  19,476 (28%) were gold open access papers, published in fully open access journals.  11,656 (17%) were green open access papers, self-published or in repositories in addition to being published in subscription journals.  3879 (6%) were hybrid open access papers, published in journals carrying both subscription and open access articles.  But the largest category of papers was closed or subscription articles, with 29,446 (43%) articles.

Dimensions provides worldwide downloads, citations and denials, among many other data points. Using this type of data along with the article counts, we considered what the group’s publishing output would have been like if the authors from these 149 schools had been able to take advantage of a read-and-publish agreement starting in 2014.  An agreement based on standard terms for 2023 would have redirected part of the library budgets for subscriptions over to funding article processing charges, allowing their institutions’ authors to publish articles in open access.  If a read-and-publish agreement had been in place in 2014, we all could have avoided the 40,451,369 worldwide denials that have accumulated from all the closed subscription-only papers that were published.  On average, the data shows 1,374 denials per closed subscription paper compared to the lesser number of 1,107 average downloads for those papers. More users were turned away than ones who were able to access the paper.

The 6% of papers from the most recent 9.5 years that were published in hybrid open access provides the best approximation of how usage and citation patterns might have occurred if these papers had been published under the terms of a read-and-publish model. These papers had zero denials because they were published in open access. There were 28,994,685 worldwide downloads for an average of 7475 downloads per paper, or more than 6.7x as many downloads on average as the subscription papers.

Citations, the ongoing measuring stick of scholarly achievement, provide another window into the potential impact of an open access article.  The average citation count for the read-and-publish type of articles with Lyrasis member participating authors from 2014-June 2023 was 15 for subscription articles and 45 for hybrid open access articles.  The open access articles had 3 times as many citations as the subscription articles. 

Paired with the advantage in downloads, the citation counts create a possible future impact story. The library’s investment in open access as part of a group read-and-publish deal raises the visibility and reputation of both its authors and its institution as it shifts from a subscription-only model to a read-and-publish arrangement. Through the Lyrasis member institution group’s collaboration, authors from all participating institutions have equal opportunity to attain the benefits of open access. More voices will be heard in the exchange of knowledge and information, and more readers will have the opportunity to enhance their understanding and help advance open science around the world.

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