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What’s in a number? A closer look at Open Access readership data, Part Two

This is Part Two of a two-part series on Open Access Readership Data. To see Part One, click here.

In Part One of this blog series I have already explained how the readership data of the OA books published with the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access are gathered and displayed on our website. However, in order to really show the potential reach and impact of Open Access publishing, I will now break down and analyze the metrics more carefully.


Let me start by looking at the medium used to consult the books. Online books are generally presented in multiple formats, that can be either viewed or downloaded, in order to accommodate the reader’s individual preference. All three platforms on which we distribute our OA books offer the possibility to both view and download but, as already pointed out in the previous post, OAPEN does not report viewing figures. The figures of 2019 (which are calculated from the date of publication up to and including December 2019) from JSTOR and Project Muse did allow me to examine the popularity of particular formats; when counting up views and downloads for all the books published in 2019, I clearly noticed a strong preference for viewing:1

  • JSTOR: 62.5 % views vs. 37.5 % downloads
  • Project Muse: 97 % views vs. 3 % downloads

Apparently, the online PDF edition provided by JSTOR and HTML edition provided by Project Muse are consulted more often than the PDF downloads offered by both databases. A future project might include analyzing these usage patterns more critically. For example, do readers typically download multiple chapters or just one? How long do readers spend on the books that they view?2


The assumption that publishing in Open Access leads to higher readership has already been proven and our numbers only provide further confirmation of this phenomenon.3 During the first six months of publication of each title, all chapters of all books (access to separate articles via JSTOR and Project Muse) have been read 16,833 times and all books (access to entire book via OAPEN) have been read 3,518 times.4

Graph 1. Readership data of all titles taken together for the first six months after publication.

If we look at this data on a title level, we have an average of 351 chapter readers and 82 book readers per title every month during the first six months after publication. These numbers are in line with the books published by Open Book Publishers, the largest Open Access book publisher in the United Kingdom – their OA titles are read by an average of 300 to 400 readers per title on a monthly basis.5

The first two books published with the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA were released in Spring 2019, thus making it possible to look at readership engagement during the first twelve months after publication. Brokers of Modernity: East Central Europe and the Rise of Modernist Architects, 1910-1950 (published on March 11, 2019) reached 451 readers (both individual chapters as the book as a whole) on average per month, with already 751 consultations during the first month of publication and the monthly amount of readers never drops below 200. Author Martin Kohlrausch was positively surprised about these numbers:  

There were mainly two reasons why I decided to go for Open Access. First, I expected that with Open Access my book could reach a much broader audience than a print edition, as its theme, ‘modernity,’ is global, also a global audience. Second, I was hoping for a quick ‘absorption’ of the book. Judging from the very high download numbers my expectations have been outmatched. Moreover, these numbers provide me as the author with quite telling insights into where the book is downloaded (and hopefully read). I still believe it is important, however, to also have a print edition and to be able to communicate the results of my research the ‘classic’ way. – Martin Kolhrausch, 20196

Graph 2. Readership data for Brokers of Modernity from March 2019 to March 2020.

The second book published with the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA is Images of Immigrants and Refugees in Western Europe: Media Representations, Public Opinion and Refugees’ Experiences (published on May 14, 2019), and has an online readership of 756 on average per month, with as highest peak 1,215 readers in one single month.7 Leen d’Haenens, one of the editors, showed her enthusiasm about the high readership numbers:

Open Access is a very interesting formula for a book to increase its readership. It even put us in second place of a top ten ebooks selected by the Brookings Library in Washington to be shared in their wide network, and we saw that the book has already been downloaded a lot. – Leen d’Haenens, 20208

Graph 3. Readership data of Images of Immigrants and Refugees in Western Europe: Media Representations, Public Opinion and Refugees’ Experiences from May 2019 to May 2020.


Usage data not only provides us with insight into how Open Access books are being used, but also where the books are being consulted. The oft-cited main advantage of OA is that the content can be accessed all over the world, by everyone who would be interested in reading it. We are happy to see that all nine books have each been accessed by readers from all inhabited continents. With one download from Vatican City, we even reached the smallest sovereign state in the world. Naturally, usage can be influenced by the specific language and content of a given publication so this factor always has to be taken into account when analyzing geographical data.

It is without any doubt the case that Open Access publications remove financial barriers that would otherwise restrict access, resulting in the increased discovery and readership of scientific literature. However, we should keep in mind that a technical inequality can still be in place (e.g. stable internet connection, access to infrastructure, etc.) that may prevent easy accessibility of OA publications. Moreover, there can also be a cultural barrier, more specifically less widespread knowledge about OA publishing, impeding the usage of OA.9 Still, I was curious to test the premise that OA helps to reach a broad geographic range of users, so I picked two titles with a geographical focus on countries that are listed as emerging market and developing economies by the International Monetary Fund.10

The two titles that I chose for this case study are Oil Wealth and Development in Uganda and Beyond: Prospects, Opportunities, and Challenges and Brokers of Modernity. The former is a collection of essays by Arnim Langer, Ukoha Ukiwo, and Pamela Mbabazi, which has been accessed more in Africa than anywhere else, with most hits in Uganda followed by Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. This strongly reflects the geographical focus of the book, as it predominantly studies the management of oil resources in Uganda, with chapters drawing on the experiences of Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya. The latter is the book referenced above by Martin Kohlrausch, and mainly examines Polish cases. The usage numbers show that the volume by Kohlrausch, as anticipated, has a wide readership in Poland (third place in readership audience after the United States and the United Kingdom). For both publications it would not have been obvious at all in the countries with the highest readership to buy a physical copy of the book or get subscription access. The metrics thus assure us that thanks to Open Access, the books can reach their target audience.11

I hope that this explanation about how our readership data is collected has made clear what conclusions can and cannot be drawn from them. While the figures only tell part of the story, they do clearly demonstrate once more the wide reach and high readership of Open Access publications. They thus strengthen our resolve to continue making a contribution with the KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA to a world where anyone anywhere can access academic research free of charge.

Laura Mesotten is the Process Manager for Research and Open Scholarship at KU Leuven Libraries Artes. Laura’s main expertise is in scholarly communication and Open Science, and she is a strong believer in Fair Open Access. If you want to know more about how to publish an Open Access book with Leuven University Press you can always contact her or have a look at the guidelines and application procedure.

Cite this blog post
Laura Mesotten (2020, September 4). What’s in a number? A closer look at Open Access readership data, Part Two. The Digital Humanities Commons. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from

  1. A study conducted on the Open Access books published by University College London Press, University of Michigan Press, Cornell University Press, and California University Press on JSTOR’s Open Access Books platform between 2015-2017 revealed a similar pattern. See Montgomery, Lucy, Neil Saunders, Frances Pinter, and Alkim Ozaygen (2017) “Exploring Usage of Open Access Books via the JSTOR Platform.” Knowledge Unlatched Research. [Report] Available at: []
  2. These questions, and others, have already been investigated to some extent in the report by Montgomery et al (2017) cited above. []
  3. Some examples of studies that have showcased the increased online usage of OA books include Snijder, Ronald (2010) “The Profits of Free Books: An Experiment to Measure the Impact of Open Access Publishing,” in Learned Publishing 23 (4), pp. 293–301. Available at:; Emery, Christina, Ros Pyne, Mithu Lucraft, and Agata Morka (2017) “The OA effect: How does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?” [Report] Available at: []
  4. When writing this blog post, the data of OAPEN was only available until the end of March 2020 since they were updating their reporting system, so for the three most recently published books where some data is missing, the actual number is thus slightly higher. The latest publication, Across Anthropology: Troubling Colonial Legacies, Museums, and the Curatorial, was only published in June 2020 and is therefore not included in this overview. []
  5. See []
  6. Read the full interview by Annemie Vandezande on the author’s corner at Leuven University Press. See: []
  7. As mentioned above, the data of OAPEN was only available until the end of March 2020. []
  8. Read the full interview by Annemie Vandezande on the author’s corner at Leuven University Press. See: []
  9. Snijder, Ronald (2019) “The deliverance of open access books: Examining usage and dissemination.” [Doctoral Thesis] Leiden University; see Chapter 8 especially. Available at: []
  10. See the International Monetary Fund’s data at []
  11. This has also been confirmed by other analyses. See for example Montgomery, Lucy, Cameron Neylon, Alkim Ozaygen, and Tama Leaver (2018) “Getting the Best out of Data for Open Access Monograph Presses: A Case Study of UCL Press.” Learned Publishing 31(4), pp. 335–344. Available at: []

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