Discovery research shows that around 60 per cent of article downloads come from free resources, writes Tracy Gardner


n March Simon Inger and I released the results of our large-scale research project: How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications. The research was the culmination of 18 months’ work and the report forms the latest in a series of research projects spanning 10 years.

Research for this latest project was carried out via an online survey and attracted 40,000 responses from people all over the world, working and studying in all sectors, subject areas and from a variety of roles – from students to professors, clinicians to researchers. We have 11 supporters to thank as, between them, these publishers and intermediaries sent out more than a million emails inviting people to participate in our research.

As a result of all of this work we now know an awful lot about content discovery! The report was published under a CC-BY NC licence, and can be downloaded from our website at http://www.simoningerconsulting. com/how_readers_discover.html

Some of the paths in reader navigation and discovery

The very top level headlines of the research included: l Abstracting and indexing databases (A&Is) are in decline, but remain the most important starting point for search when looked at across all sectors and roles in aggregate;

l Academic researchers in high income countries rate library discovery as highly as A&Is, and rate academic search engines as the most important discovery resource when searching;

l Academic search engines are now more important than general search engines in the academic sector in high income countries;

l Online book discovery varies significantly by sector;

l Publisher websites have become more popular as a search resource;

l Google Scholar is used more than Google in the academia, but less than Google in all other sectors;

l Access to scholarly content by mobile 24 Research Information JUNE/JULY 2016

phone accounts for only about 10 per cent of the use; and

l More than half of all journal content delivery appears to be from free incarnations of articles. PubMedCentral is popular in the medical sector and social media sites appear to be a significant source of free articles in lower income countries. For the purposes of this article, we would like to explore the last point listed – the fact that more than half of all journal content delivery appears to be from ‘free resources’ To give some context, the question we asked was: ‘What proportion of the journal articles you read do you access from each of the following resources?’

The options offered were: a) The publisher website, journal website, full-text aggregation or journal collections; b) A free subject repository; c) A university’s institutional repository; d) Researchgate, Mendeley, or other scientific social sharing site; e) A copy emailed by the author or colleague. Respondents were then asked to select the


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