Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Article downloads: English vs. Spanish

A few months ago I put a bunch of my papers on the Selected Works site as an experiment in open access. Although most of my papers are posted on my own web site, Selected Works has several advantages: it may be better indexed and more widely available than my own website; the interface is cleaner; the papers are easily arranged by topic; and they keep data on the number of downloads.

I just got a report on downloads from Selected Works for the month from Nov 4 through Dec 4. The most striking feature of these data is the much larger number of downloads of my papers that are published in Spanish. Here are the data:

Language of paper:
measure English Spanish
# papers posted 21 7
mean # downloads 7.0 39.3

# downloads: distribution
1-3 5 1
4-8 10 1
9-12 6 2
>45 0 3

During the one-month period, my 21 English-language papers were downloaded at an average of 7 downloads per paper, whereas the average of the 7 Spanish-language papers was 39.3 downloads! I'm not sure exactly how to interpret this. I seriously doubt that my Spanish language papers are "more important" than my English language papers. More likely, I think, is the possibility is that my English language papers are more widely available to English-speaking readers through JSTOR and journal websites, so people can get them in other ways. Readers in Mexico, Spain, and other Spanish-speaking countries, on the other hand, probably ave less access to existing journal websites, and/or the journals in question do not have their content as consistently posted online as the English language journals.

These 28 papers include a combination of journal articles and book chapters; the most popular (with 113 hits!!!) is a joint-authored paper:

Rojas, José Luis de and Michael E. Smith
2007 El imperio de la triple alianza (Tenochtitlan, Texcoco y Tlacopan) en el siglo XXI. Revista Española de Antropología Americana 37:81-07.

Perhaps people are looking for José's papers, and I am riding his coat-tails here.

I find it a bit upsetting that the papers I consider my best and most important ("Form and Meaning in the Earliest Cities", or "The Archaeology of Ancient State Economies") were below average on the download scale (5 each).

It is not difficult to imagine various scenarios that could explain the dominance of Spanish over English downloads. Perhaps my English-speaking audience goes to my own website, whereas my Spanish-speaking audience prefers Selected Works. Or maybe some of my Spanish papers have been adopted as required readings in classes.

But regardless of the possible interpretations, I find these data striking. The central message, it seem to me, is that English language audiences are much better served by existing Open Access practices than are Spanish language audiences. Shouldn't more of my Latin Americanist colleagues in the U.S. be posting their papers online (wheverever they can)? Its not very hard; email me if you want some advice or suggestions.

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