Why do readers like open access books?

Why do readers like open access books?

It may seem obvious. A free ebook, instantly readable and downloadable. What's *not* to like? However, an analysis of over 5,000 responses from readers of Michigan open access books reveals some interesting patterns about who the primary beneficiaries of open-access scholarly ebooks are.

They come from all around the world, with a majority of individual readers from outside North America. Every day, hundreds of individual readers access University of Michigan Press open-access books and receive a gentle prompt - "please fill in a few details to tell us why you were interested in this book." The request quickly disappears, but many readers - grateful for a free ebook - are happy to respond.

Based on an analysis of over 5,000 of these responses, recorded on our Fulcrum open-source platform, we've identified five key groups that benefit from open-access books:

  • Scholars in low-income countries

    • "I'm lucky to have access to a university library, but in a low-income country. Thanks for OA."
    • "OA books are very helpful, especially for the philosophers from Ukraine, who have few possibilities to buy new literature and to work on the modern level."
    • "As a scholar from the global south where access to scholarly literature is limited, this is a welcome gift."
    • "I'm from Algeria and, unfortunately, there is a lack of academic resources."
    • "I"m a research scholar of English literature from India. I'm thankful to the publishers and authors for this open access ebook because many books are not available globally or are too expensive."
    • "As a scholar in Mexico, I often do not have ready access to up-to-date Mexicanist scholarship in English; our university libraries have little budget for purchases or subscriptions, and personal orders often come with high shipping costs. I do make purchases, but open access materials are a great resource for scholars working across borders of all kinds."
    • "I am from Suriname, the Southern part of the World. Buying books is difficult because of costs and postal services. I think more scholarly books should be accessible to us researchers from the south."
    • "I work in Turkey and especially at this moment it is very hard for people here to buy books coming from outside of the country due to currency devaluation. The same is true for the universities. So, it is such a blessing for us to have access to free, high-quality materials like this one. Thank you!"
  • Cash-strapped students, and those who care about them

    • "My professor mentioned this was free, and I'm so thankful as a grad student."
    • "Open Access books are so helpful for me, an online graduate student who also has a disability. I can't always get to the library, so having access to books online is so helpful."
    • "It was really nice of you to make it so easily accessible. It really helps out poor students."
    • "Thank you for giving this for free! Really helps me as a student in the course because I can’t really afford to buy copies of books as a student."
    • "I am extremely grateful for making this available online. For research students like me who do not have easy access to foreign publications and are not able to afford those with our limited scholarships, this is a huge help."
    • "I learned about this book because my college is actively researching alternatives to print books, because of the expense to students."
    • "Makes it a lot easier to get my materials for classes when they're available this way. Thanks."
    • "As an academic: The university where I teach is trying to use open source materials wherever possible to keep costs low for our students, and this is a book I am especially excited to find in open source!"
    • "I'm a returning (old) student of modest means. My Community College is good, but I sometimes get frustrated trying to find useful/pertinent/interesting content if it is not recommended by an instructor. Visiting university sites that allow open access is one way to separate the wheat from the chaff! (See? I even write old! Ha!)."
  • Interested lay readers, especially retirees

    • "I read purely for my own pleasure, and thank you for making these texts freely available."
    • "I am a retired Italian university librarian, and I write articles on Wikipedia to share my knowledge. The open-access documentation is precious, thank you!!"
    • "I am a graduate but currently unemployed. I constantly seek for free resources online and try to upskill myself as much as I can and make productive use of my free time. I also like to share the free resources with my community."
    • "I am a senior citizen still in full-time employment. I enjoy learning."
    • "OA improves the quality of my life as a retiree who likes to read academic books."
    • "Self-teaching myself Chinese and Chinese history because of a recently acquired obsession with Chinese drama."
    • "I just want to say "Thank You!" for making this available for free. I'm a retiree on a fixed income, so things like this are really helpful. I'm really looking forward to reading it."
  • Independent, resource-starved, and loosely-affiliated scholars

    • "I'm an independent researcher, and using a public library's open-source archive to find this resource."
    • "I´m a retired college professor continuing to do research at a location with a VERY small library and limited inter-library loan facilities for actual books."
    • "I am a video and performance artist who is in an out of academia, and wanting to stay engaged with the conversation(s)."
    • "I am just very grateful that this book is available open access as my university's library is very under-resourced."
    • "I'm precarious faculty and I don't have a budget for buying books, so open access books are so helpful for my research."
    • "I would love if your generous open access policy was better known! As someone who left academia, one of the things I miss most is university library access."
    • "I this this open access platform is brilliant because so many people want to read these publications but can't due to lack of funds. The number one thing that I miss from college is reading academic journals and other college books via my alma mater library's paid subscriptions. I hope your platform continues to expand!"
    • "Access to works such as this one is a lifesaver for scholars who, as I do, work in a large public institution with low funding and a heavy teaching load. Thank you."
  • Advocates, journalists, and policymakers

    • "I'm a freelance journalist with geek leanings. This will not only feed my brain but it will inform my work, increase the quality of the questions I ask and potentially direct me to people I can interview. I couldn't afford to buy it so open access is really appreciated."
    • "I am a graduate but currently unemployed. I constantly seek for free resources online and try to upskill myself as much as I can and make productive use of my free time. I also like to share the free resources with my community."
    • "Thank you for making this book open access so that more people can read it. I've seen how the pandemic is affecting people with chronic illness or disability and I've been trying to share resources to help people become more understanding and inclusive."

University of Michigan Press can make so many books open access because of the Fund to Mission program that brings together visionary libraries and other funders with matching support from the University of Michigan to enable authors to publish their books free online without requiring them to pay the publishing costs.