Q: What are typical metrics and trajectories for newly launched open access (OA) journals that are regionally focused?

Detailed Question -

We are a new OA regional journal trying to determine subscriber rates and metrics against other journals. For comparison, we want to look at OA regional or international journals (also institutional versus individual readers). What are typical readership numbers for journals that are open source and regionally focused? What are typical trajectories of readership for new journals in the beginning and in three years?

1 Answer to this question

Hi there. I think I can answer this one for you. I launched a series of OA titles in Qatar 10 years ago, and the answer is: it depends. I had very varying experiences depending on the subject area of the journal, the activities of the editorial board, and many other contributory factors – including indexing.

Open access titles, you would expect, should have higher readerships than subscription journals – since there are no barriers to access. However, the existing titles, whether OA or not, are well known and destination titles. Readers go there to see what's new, sometimes regardless of whether there is something specific there they are looking for. So your first hurdle is visibility and awareness.

A good way to get visibility and awareness is to make sure your journals are indexed in the same A&I [abstracting and indexing] services as your competing titles. Usually this means Web of Science, Scopus, and for OA medical titles, PubMed Central.

But the concept of readership numbers is a curious metric to determine success of a journal. For a start, article-level metrics should be the norm now, rather than journal-level – which can smooth out peaks and troughs, one amazing paper making up for 100s of average ones. Secondly, a suite of altmetrics may be a better indicator of an article's impact/popularity.

And then the issue of OA itself poses problems. So you can measure page loads of the full text HTML, and the number of downloads of a PDF – but only on your own site. OA means authors (or anyone) can host the full text elsewhere, with attribution – including PubMed Central. It's hard to measure this offsite usage. Crossref are about to address with DUL [Distributed Usage Loading], but that's another conversation entirely.

So you can measure onsite download and page loads – but how do these compare to other titles? It is unusual for major publishers to share article usage figures beyond a tight circle of subscribing academic libraries, so you can only really compare with other OA titles which provide open metrics for each article. PLOS do this, as do many others, such as MDPI and BMC [BioMed Central].

Trajectories for usage therefore depend on many things. But you might start with 10s of downloads for first articles. Then, depending on indexing, and the content and quality of author/research you attract, you can expect some articles to have 1000s of accesses, but it will follow a bell curve distribution – most will have 100s, and some will be in single figures.

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