Open Access is inseparably linked with the evolution of the Internet, which generates new forms of interpersonal and marketing communication. Books published in an OA model are of course freely available, but only to those who can find them. One of the indeed greatest concerns for researchers who publish their work is to attract an audience, hence the importance of promoting scientific papers and books via the net.
Book or article promotion might not be the ultimate way to reach a sizable readership, but a well-chosen promotional strategy can turn even the most obscure fruits of academic research into a scientific bombshell. One of the central ideas behind the very foundations of Open Access is to make such promotion work even better. The advantage of going OA is that the publications are available immediately, free of charge and in an electronic format, making it therefore easier and cheaper to promote them via the Internet.
A good example is that of Dr. Melissa Terras, who began to promote her papers on a blog and on Twitter. Her paper, Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitization, was downloaded only twice during the three days after she first deposited it in UCL Discovery. Once she started blogging and tweeting about it, the number of downloads almost immediately increased to 140. Within a week, the paper had been downloaded 535 times from all over the world:
“USA (163), UK (107), Germany (14), Australia (10), Canada (10), and the long tail of beyond: Belgium, France, Ireland Netherlands, Japan, Spain, Greece, Italy, South Africa, Mexico, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Europe, UAE, ‘unknown’.”
By April 2012, her work had been downloaded over 1,000 times. Of course, this does not automatically mean that it had been read as often. However, these figures are pretty impressive and showcase the potential of organic Internet promotion. Dr. Melissa Terras conducted another test, in which she promoted 3 out of 4 of her papers via Twitter. While those that were promoted were downloaded an average of 200 times, the non-promoted paper received 10 times fewer downloads.
While this one example might not fully reflect the complexity of searchability and the discoverability of scientific papers, it is an indication that the Internet can be a useful tool for promoting scientific, OA content. Thanks to social media like Facebook (Fanpages, Groups), Twitter and Google+ (Circles), as well as through the use of blogs, authors have an opportunity to introduce their work to a much broader audience and on a much larger scale than ever before. Having said that, it is good to remember the importance of choosing the right time and right channel of communication in order to secure the greatest response (for example posting late in the evening or over the weekend is not efficient). Equally important is to maintain one’s presence on the net. Authors cannot be active in social media for only a short time when promoting their work, but should instead build a community of readers around their profiles or around their specific research areas. If you want to reach out to an audience other than the local scientific community, Open Access and the Internet can help you to achieve your goal.