According to a study of 11 biological and medical journals that allow authors the choice of making their articles freely available from the publisher’s website, few show any evidence of a citation advantage. For those that do, the effect appears to be diminishing over time.
The study, “Author-choice open access publishing in the biological and medical literature,” (a copy of the final manuscript is also available from the arXiv) analyzed over eleven thousand articles published in journals since 2003, sixteen hundred of these articles (15%) adopting the author-choice open access model. Oxford University Press journals make up 6 of the 11 journals analyzed in the study.
Since open access publication fees can amount to several thousands of dollars, the author (ok that’s me) goes on to determine the cost-benefit for each additional citation. While the cost-per-additional-citation was as low as about $400 (for PNAS), it approached $9,000 for the journal Development, published by the Company of Biologists.
Considering the evidence that author-choice open access publishing may have little effect on article citations, it is worthwhile for authors to consider the cost of this form of publishing. If a citation advantage is the key motivation for authors to pay open access fees, then the cost/benefit of this decision can be quite expensive for some journals.
This study is a follow-up to a controlled trial of open access publishing published in BMJ where articles were randomly selected for open access or traditional subscription-access. The authors reported no difference in citations in the first year. Since the current study observes the effect of author-choice open access, self-selection may play a role in explaining the results.
As the author of this study, I hope that readers do not come away with the feeling that I’m advocating against an author-choice program. There may be many benefits to making scientific results freely available; however, scientists should understand that open access may not buy them more citations.
Free dissemination of the scientific literature may speed up the transfer of knowledge to industry, enable scientists in poor and developing countries to access more information, and empower the general public. There are clearly many benefits to making one’s research findings freely available to the general public – a citation advantage may not be one of them.