Open Access to Books: The Case of the Open Access Bibliography

In March 2005, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) published my book the Open Access Bibliography: Liberating Scholarly Literature with E-Prints and Open Access Journals under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 License. At the same time, a PDF version of the book was made freely available at the University of Houston Libraries Web site, and a PDF of the frontmatter, "Preface," and "Key Open Access Concepts" sections of the book was made freely available at the ARL Web site. The complete OAB PDF was moved to my new escholarlypub.com Web site in June, and an HTML version of "Key Open Access Concepts" was made available as well. In February 2006, author and title indexes for the OAB were made available in HTML form, and, in March 2006, the entire OAB was made available in HTML form.

The OAB deals with a topic that is of keen interest to a relatively small segment of the reading public. Moreover, it’s primarily a very detailed bibliography. The question is: Was it worth putting up all of these free digital versions of the book and creating these auxiliary digital materials?

From March through May 2005, there were 29,255 requests for the OAB PDF. From June 2005 through June 2006, there were another 15,272 requests for the OAB PDF; 17,952 requests for chapters or sections of the HTML version of the OAB; 11,610 requests for the HTML version of "Key Open Access Concepts"; 3,183 requests for the author index; and 2,918 requests for the title index. I don’t have use statistics for the ARL PDF of the first few sections of the book. (The June 2005 through June 2006 statistics are from Urchin; when I analyze the log files in analog, they may vary slightly.)

Print runs for scholarly books are notoriously short, often in the hundreds. I suspect most scholarly publishers would be delighted to sell 500 copies of a specialized bibliography, many of which would end up on library shelves. However, by making the Open Access Bibliography: Liberating Scholarly Literature with E-Prints and Open Access Journals freely available in digital form, over 44,500 copies of the complete book, over 29,500 chapters (or other book sections), and over 6,100 author or title indexes have been distributed to users worldwide. Thanks to ARL, the OAB has had greater visibility and impact than it would have had under the conventional publishing model.

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