A common motivation for authors choosing to publish open access is a desire to reach a larger, broader audience (Pyne et al. 2019). And although usage statistics can be complex and many publishers are secretive about their print runs, research has shown that open access offers a better opportunity for more people (and more people in more places) to access your research.

We have previously written about why you might want to publish open access (Goforth 2020) and how to make the case for open access works in your pursuit of promotion and tenure (Moore 2021). Although the open access movement continues to gain momentum, many authors are still hesitant and wonder if their work might have more impact if they went with a more traditional publishing option. Choosing the most appropriate outlet for your research is a complicated task. As Mick Healey, Kelly Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather discuss in their own open access book, “Selecting an outlet is not simple. It depends on your context, your personal and professional identities, your career aspirations, and your preferences” (2020, 76; see all of chapter 8, “Selecting an Outlet”, of Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education for lots of good advice on this topic).

The OA Citation Advantage

Many, many research studies have investigated whether open access journal articles are cited more frequently than those that are not open access, and the majority find that they are (SPARCEurope 2016; Piwowar 2018). This is often called the “Open Access Citation Advantage,” and although impact can be a complex thing to measure, it is clear that when there are no barriers to access, research can be used more often and more quickly.

A recent study done by Springer has now demonstrated that open access books also show the citation advantage. In an analysis of over 4,000 books published by Springer, including 281 open access books, “downloads of OA books in the study were on average 10 times higher than those of non-OA books, and citations of OA books were 2.4 times higher on average” (Lucraft 2021). The study shows that the effect was consistent across disciplines and types of books (edited collections and monographs).

At the Center for Engaged Learning, we try to be as transparent as possible about our usage statistics. We provide page view and download numbers for each of the books in our Open Access Book Series. All of our books have seen excellent usage numbers, especially compared to what we know about average print runs for many academic books. We also continue to see excellent download numbers even years after books are published.

A bar chart showing download numbers for CEL's four open access books. Pedagogical Partnerships: published Dec 2019, 4,312 downloads. The Power of Partnership: published Jan 2020, 3841 downloads. Writing about Learning and Teaching: published Sept 2020, 7049 downloads. What Teaching Looks Like: published June 2022, 1,875 downloads.
Download numbers for books in the Open Access Book Series as of November 2022.

Greater Geographic Diversity

The Springer study also provides evidence that the usage of OA books is more geographically diverse, meaning that OA books are downloaded by users in more countries. They found that OA books were downloaded in 61% more countries than non-OA books, with higher levels of usage in low-income and middle-income countries (Lucraft 2021). We strive to ensure all our OA books reach a diverse, international audience, and our books are downloaded across the globe.

A map of the world showing countries where users have downloaded CEL's open access books. At the top reads "A Global Audience: The books in the Center for Engaged Learning's Open Access Book Series have been viewed by scholars in 124 countries across the globe." In Dec 2019-Aug 2022: 20,736 unique pageviews. Countries with 1000+ pageviews: USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Japan. Countries with 100-999 pageviews: Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand, Austria, Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong, France, South Africa, Malaysia, and Norway. Countries with 1-100 pageviews: most of the countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and several in Africa.

These kinds of data are important in changing attitudes toward open access—for scholars, publishers, and funders. Providing instant, free access to academic books means more people can read, reflect, and build on your research. If you’re interested in our Open Access Book Series, please read all about it, contact me with questions (jgoforth@elon.edu), and consider submitting a brief proposal.


Goforth, Jennie. 2020. “Academic Book Publishing: Why Publish Open Access?” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. December 1, 2020. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/why-open-access/.

Healey, Mick, Kelly E. Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather. 2020. Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Creating and Contributing to Scholarly Conversations across a Range of Genres. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning. https://doi.org/10.36284/celelon.oa3.

Lucraft, Mithu. 2021. “Open Access to Academic Books Creates Larger, More Diverse and More Equitable Readerships.” LSE Impact Blog, March 3, 2021. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2021/03/03/open-access-to-academic-books-creates-larger-more-diverse-and-more-equitable-readerships/.

Moore, Jessie L. 2021. “Making a Case for Open Access Books in Promotion and Tenure Processes.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. November 30, 2021. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/making-a-case-for-open-access-books-in-promotion-and-tenure-processes/.

Piwowar, Heather, Jason Priem, Vincent Lariviére, Juan Pablo Alperin, Lisa Matthias, Bree Norlander, Ashley Farley, Jevin West, and Stefanie Haustein. 2018. “The State of OA: A Large-Scale Analysis of the Prevalence and Impact of Open Access Articles.” PeerJ 6:e4375. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4375.

Pyne, Ros, Christina Emery, Mithu Lucraft, and Anna Sophie Pinck. 2019. The Future of Open Access Books: Findings from a Global Survey of Academic Book Authors. Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8166599.

SPARCEurope. 2016. “The Open Access Citation Advantage.” https://sparceurope.org/what-we-do/open-access/sparc-europe-open-access-resources/open-access-citation-advantage-service-oaca/.

Jennie Goforth is the Center for Engaged Learning’s Managing Editor. She works with authors to shepherd their work from proposal through production in the Center’s Open Access Book Series. She also manages production of book websites and supplemental materials for the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching.

How to Cite this Post

Goforth, Jennie. 2022. “Open Access and Usage: Downloads, Citations, and Geographic Diversity.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. November 22, 2022. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/open-access-and-usage-downloads-citations-and-geographic-diversity.