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General background

Some time ago, I was reading a blog post, where there was some discussion about how many people read journal articles. I think that such an estimate is important when trying to assess the impact of research on society. However, whereas internet sites readily track usage. Such information seems a little more difficult to come by when it comes to readership for a particular journal article.

Initial Ideas

  • Articles vary: Obviously journal articles vary in many ways and just as with citation counts, readership is likely to be highly skewed, perhaps something like a power function. In addition to academic impact, presumably articles that are available for free on the internet are read more.
  • Time since publication: The number of reads increases over time, but the rate of readership presumably varies over time (perhaps a spike on initial release, and then gradual decline as relevance dissipates).
  • Definitions of reading vary: Read counts would also increase or decrease based on how reading is defined. At the low end is a glance at an abstract. At the high end is carefully reading the entire article. I'd be happy with a working definition that involved reading at least two pages.

Initial Data

  • PlosOne article statistics: As a very rough guide, it suggests that mean views per article is around 800 per year.
  • Journal of Vision: this article reports some download statistics: "In the most recent accounting in July, 2008, the top five articles were each downloaded between 1,993 and 3,478 times."
  • Some journals list subscription counts

Initial Guess

I find it useful to have a ball park estimate of these things. My own initial guess, based on minimal data, is that readership is between 50 and 1000 times the citation count for the article. Linking the estimate to citation count makes it easier to estimate for a given article and should incorporate effects like time and journal prestige.

Question

  • What is a good estimate of how many people read a given journal article?
  • What data and sources of information justify this estimate?
  • Is there any established literature that can inform such an estimate?

1 Answer 1

Smithsonian.com recently noted that there are about 1.8 million scholarly articles and scientific papers published each year in 28,000 journals. About half of these are not read by anyone other than the author, a journal editor, and a couple of reviewers. They report that 90 percent are never cited by other papers.