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RE: UKSG Usage Factor Research - an Update

Jan Veltrop wrote:

"Suppose we can be confident that we understand the statistics, does usage determine the value of journals and articles in the first place?"
Phil Davis responds:

Like citations, usage statistics do not give us an absolute notion of value of journals or articles, yet they do provide us with a measure of utility, and for the sciences, utility is a very powerful measure for how ideas get transmitted through communities and are incorporated into current research. Unlike citations, usage statistics give us a sense of the community of readers (which include authors) and not just the author community. Article downloads provide a robust estimate of the size of user communities [1], and are also predictive of future citations [2, 3]. In fact, a single week of article downloads from BMJ can predict citations five years later [3].

There are caveats, however, to relying on article downloads as a measure of "value".

1. Downloads are not public (like citations) and are therefore open to self-interested abuse, by authors, publishers, or librarians.

2. Downloads are influenced by a publisher's interface. Even COUNTER-compliant publishers (who abide by the same measurement standards) demonstrate significantly different usage patterns, even controlling for exactly the same journal content [4].

3. Unlike citations, download data are the property of the subscribing institution, and for contractual or political reasons, may not wish to share and aggregate these data.

4. Because of article copies being located in many different places (from the publisher's site, an aggregator's database, a subject, institutional, governmental, or personal archive), aggregating these statistics becomes problematic.

As a former science librarian, I trust that most librarians are smart enough not to base journal decisions on only one evaluative factor, be it use, citations, or faculty complaints. Given that the future of journal publishing is not likely to be a universally simplistic author-pays model, usage factors can be very helpful in helping librarians understand what quality means.

--Phil Davis


[1] Davis, P. M. (2004). For electronic journals, total downloads can predict number of users: a multiple regression analysis. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 4(3), 379-392. http://people.cornell.edu/pages/pmd8/4.3davis.pdf

[2] Moed, H. F. (2005). Statistical relationships between downloads and citations at the level of individual documents within a single journal. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 56(10), 1088-1097.

[3] Perneger, T. V. (2004). Relation between online "hit counts" and subsequent citations: prospective study of research papers in the BMJ. BMJ, 329(7465), 546-547.

[4] Davis, P. M., & Price, J. S. (2006). eJournal interface can influence usage statistics: implications for libraries, publishers, and Project COUNTER. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(9), 1243-1248. http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/pmd8/interface.pdf