Two forces that have the power to change the reach and impact of business research are the open access publishing movement and the increased willingness of academics to post research on blogs and social media sites. What they have in common is electronic delivery and the ability to reach a wide audience almost instantly. Where they differ is in how much of that information is offered in each format.
Open access (OA) publishing puts whole articles in the hands of interested readers by allowing anyone to read any academic article without having to pay to do so.
In traditional academic publishing, journals accept papers, publish them, and sell content to subscribers. “That business model is reversed in OA publishing, in which authors pay journals for performing the service of publishing their research,” explains Bo-Christer Björk, professor of information systems science at Hanken School of Econonmics in Helsinki, Finland.
Among the various tiers of open access publishing are gold OA, in which the author pays a set fee to make his work in a specific journal free for anyone to read; green OA, in which the author takes the manuscript of a published article and archives it on a personal or university website, where it is openly available; and the delayed model, in which journal papers are available for free after a set period of time, usually six to twelve months.
“Today, about 8,000 publishers follow a hybrid model,” says Björk. “They’re subscription journals, but they’ll make articles wholly open if the author pays the fee, usually about US$3,000.” He estimates that of all the articles indexed in Scopus—Elsevier’s database of the abstracts of articles in peer-reviewed journals—about 13 percent to 14 percent are OA.
On the other hand, social media like Facebook and Twitter generally offer up smaller bits of information, such as specific nuggets of data or links to abstracts and publications. This can be highly effective, too, as the London School of Economics and Political Science well knows. The school maintains a blog called the “Impact of Social Sciences,” where diverse contributors provide social media insights.
For instance, one of papers linked to the site discusses “Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities.” It was written by Patrick Dunleavy, a professor political science and public policy at LSE; Amy Mollett, managing editor of the Impact of Social Sciences blog; and Danielle Moran, a journalist and a member of LSE’s Public Policy Group.
Among other things, the authors suggest that scholars tweet about each new publication, website update, or new blog on their current academic project and ask followers for feedback and comments. They also suggest that researchers tweet about developments at related research sites—even though this might feel like promoting the competition. They write, “In most research areas the key problem is to get more attention for the area as a whole. Building up a Twitter network of reciprocating research projects can ... attract more attention (and funding) into the research area.”
The impact of a whole range of social media is explored in a 2012 presentation on “Openness and Impact in Academia Using Social Media” given at Edinburgh University by Jane Tinkler, a research fellow at LSE’s Public Policy Group. She notes, “When we began our impact research, we realized how much of this starts with visibility. For me, openness is about making research available to those who may want to engage with it as a way to prepare for impact.”
PROS AND CONS
1. They can share their work with more people. The research can be read by anyone with a computer, a web browser, and an interest in the topic. And the work is easy to share: Authors simply post a link to the research; readers click on it, and the article is there. “There have been many studies that show that articles are cited more often when they’re OA,” says Björk.
One such study is “The Impact of Economic Blogs,” a paper by the World Bank’s David McKenzie and Berk Özler that examines how abstract views and downloads of linked articles are increased when bloggers mention them online.
2. They can expand their own research. When publications are available online, scholars can read more within their own and related disciplines. This can lead to increased collaborations with other academics, notes Tinkler.
3. They can publish research quickly. Top journals might take two years to accept and print an article. Electronic delivery allows research to be available almost immediately. Björk notes that OA publishing also allows readers to see the original manuscript, the reviewers’ comments, and the revisions, so that the whole process is very transparent.
4. They become part of a broad online academic community. This leads to more publicity and more support, says Tinkler.
5. They enjoy improved metrics. OA journals and online blogs allow authors to see how many people are reading their posts—and how many people are talking about them on Facebook and Twitter.
6. They can reach nonacademic readers. While universities subscribe to the important academic journals, small engineering firms or medical personnel in developing nations probably don’t and probably can’t afford to, Björk says. Therefore, if the most recent research in their fields isn’t made freely available, they might miss out on important new advances. This might be changing, however, if publishers and libraries follow the lead of the U.K. and find ways to expand journal access to all interested parties.
7. They can serve the public good. Björk notes that, in most countries, the public sector has ultimately paid for university research. Therefore, it’s only fair that the research should be made widely available so that it can have a greater impact on industry, on society, and on research itself.
But publishing information online can have its disadvantages, too, Tinkler points out. Academics can feel overwhelmed by adding tweeting and blogging to their other responsibilities. The quality and discussion of the online debates can be tricky to moderate and can’t match the quality of peer review, even though “some quality assurances can be built into how social media is used.” Finally, the very public instant feedback can be “nervewracking for individual academics and universities,” she says.
It seems likely that, as the digital natives of the Millennial generation move more deeply into research, they’ll bring with them their love of online communication, which will lead to even more willingness to post scholarship online. That’s just one more reason researchers like Björk believe that “OA is the future of academic publishing.”