Cite Unseen: Theory and Evidence on the Effect of Open Access on Cites to Academic Articles Across the Quality Spectrum
51 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2020 Last revised: 11 May 2023
Date Written: November 2020
Our previous paper (McCabe and Snyder 2014) contained the provocative result that, despite a positive average effect, open access reduces cites to some articles, in particular those published in lower-tier journals. We propose a model in which open access leads more readers to acquire the full text, yielding more cites from some, but fewer cites from those who would have cited the article based on superficial knowledge but who refrain once they learn that the article is a bad match. We test the theory with data for over 200,000 science articles binned by cites received during a pre-study period. Consistent with the theory, the marginal effect of open access is negative for the least-cited articles, positive for the most cited, and generally monotonic for quality levels in between. Also consistent with the theory is a magnification of these effects for articles placed on PubMed Central, one of the broadest open-access platforms, and the differential pattern of results for cites from insiders versus outsiders to the article’s field.
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