How to be Popular (in Edinburgh Research Explorer)

Edinburgh Research Explorer •

These are conclusions from a survey of the Top 100 MOST POPULAR downloads from Edinburgh Research Explorer in August 2019, it contains some VERY obvious biases and doesn’t reflect the breadth, depth, or usefulness of the repository as a whole; and shows that whilst OPEN ACCESS can reach a wider audience, it can also be ignored by a wider audience.


Top 100 downloads in Edinburgh Research Explorer by school: science and Non-science
Fig i. Top 100 downloads in Edinburgh Research Explorer by school: science and non-science

Research items from science-related schools made up 18% of the Top 100, dropping to 12% in the Top 50 and 0% in the Top 10.


Edinburgh Research Explorer: Downloads (x) vs. No. of authors (y)
Fig ii. Edinburgh Research Explorer: Downloads (x) vs. No. of authors (y)

With each additional author, the number of items and the average number of downloads decreased.


In the Top 100, one item was written in Italian, the remainder in English:
that was also one of only five items that month, that failed to find an audience outwith the UK.


8 of the Top 100 items didn’t offer Open-Access Permissions, they averaged 25% fewer downloads than the overall average.

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Edinburgh Research Archive | ER-data: Jan. – June 2019

Edinburgh Research Archive | ER-data: January 2019 - Jun. 2019
Edinburgh Research Archive • • ERdata: Jan. – June 2019

The first half of 2019 saw the fifth highest total of downloads from ERA over a six-month period, unfortunately this is the lowest total of its ‘mature’ phase (since Jan-Jun 2017 download numbers have been consistently higher than 300,000 per 6-month block).

Edinburgh Research Archive: downloads Jun 2013 - June 2019, in six-monthly blocks
Fig i. Edinburgh Research Archive: downloads Jun 2013 – June 2019, in six-monthly blocks

More disappointingly, this is the first time in ERAs history that we’ve witnessed a fall-off in numbers in two consecutive blocks: December 2018 saw a 15% decline and June 2109 has brought a further decline of 6.5%.

The remainder of this report aims to offer an overview of the last six-months of download activity on the Edinburgh Research Archive. Using data generated through the IRUS-UK download statistics portal to investigate that activity under the following headings:

[Also available as a PDF – 605kb]
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Edinburgh Research Explorer | ER-data: Jan. – June 2019

Edinburgh Research Explorer | ER-data: January 2019 - June 2019
Edinburgh Research Explorer • • ERdata: Jan. – June 2019

The first six-months of 2019, as now seems inevitable, have proved to be the busiest six-months in Edinburgh Research Explorer’s brief history, with 543,152 downloads. This is not only the first time that the half-a-million milestone has been breached within such a short period, but represents a 35% increase on the previous best. As the chart below indicates, this rate of growth is unprecedented following a full 6-months:

Edinburgh Research Explorer: downloads May 2017- June 2019, in six-monthly blocks
Fig i. Edinburgh Research Explorer: downloads May 2017- June 2019, in six-monthly blocks

This report aims to offer an overview of the last six-months of download activity on Edinburgh Research Explorer. The data generated through the IRUS-UK download statistics portal is somewhat limited, it won’t tell us much about the users, in terms of who is downloading what, but it will offer up a few broad clues. This report will investigate those clues under the following headings:

[Also available as a PDF]
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UK Scholarly Communications Licence (UK-SCL)

In the first blog post in this series we set out the position that – whilst Gold OA is an important component of future scholarly communications – Hybrid Gold OA as it currently stands is too expensive to be adopted sector wide, and we recommend alternative paths to openness, like Green OA. The second post in the series highlighted a successful implementation of Green OA in a large research-intensive institution. However, we pointed out a number of problems with Green OA – it’s not immediate  (journals embargoes are far too long), it’s not compliant with all funders policies and it’s unnecessary complexity (checking and matching funders policies and journal embargoes) is inefficient and has many hidden costs. In this third blog post of the series we are going to introduce a potential solution to these problems – the UK-Scholarly Communications Licence (UK-SCL).

Motivation and policy

The UK-SCL is an attempt to fix the problems of Green OA and provide a one-step deposit action by which researchers can comply with multiple funder policies. It is a model open access policy with a standard set of actions which can easily be adopted by UK HE Institutions. If adopted institutions will:

  • Make accepted manuscripts of scholarly articles of its staff available online
    1. on or shortly after the date of first publication, be it online or in any other medium
    2. with a Creative Commons licence that allows non-commercial reuse as long as the authors are fully credited (CC BY NC 4.0)
  • Allow authors and publishers to request a temporary waiver for applying this right for up to 12 months for AHSS and 6 months for STEM (aligned to REF panels).
  • Where a paper is co-authored with external co-authors, the institution will:
    1. Automatically sub-licence this right to all co-authors credited on the paper and to their host institutions.
    2. Not apply the licence if a co-author (who is not based at an institution with a UK-SCL-based model policy) objects.
    3. Honour waiver requests granted by other institutions which have adopted the UK-SCL model policy.
  • Where an output is available immediately on publication with a CC-BY licence, the accepted manuscript will remain on closed deposit.


If we adopted the policy today what would happen? Well, immediately it would enable institutions and researchers to comply with sixteen research funders by deposit in institutional repositories without further action. This simplification – of messages we give to authors, and to our processes – will lead to efficiency savings in staff time and cost.

Long journal embargoes would be a thing of the past and research could be legally shared without having to resort to methods where copyright is infringed, for example by using Sci Hub or uploading papers to ResearchGate.

Researchers funded by the RCUK wouldn’t be beholden to pay for Hybrid Gold OA anymore. The authors can make their own choice whether they want to pay the APCs or not. If they think it is good value for money they can pay to have their research published, but if they think the APC is too expensive they can also choose to go green.


We have immediately seen a push back from the Publishers Association who seem to have three main concerns:

  1. Cancellations to journal subscriptions because embargoes are removed/lowered
  2. Loss of income from Hybrid Gold OA charges.
  3. Loss of control in the scholarly communication process

In my experience the first point is a complete red herring. The fear from publishers is that because something is available for free then their product won’t be bought. What is not being mentioned is that a lot of this content is already available for free – via SciHub, or #icanhazPDF, or other illegal sharing methods – and subscriptions have not dropped. Additionally, a number of significant academic publishers (including the Royal Society, Cambridge University Press, Emerald and SAGE) already have zero month embargoes for selected titles and they are not affected by cancellations.

The loss of income from Hybrid Gold OA charges is a legitimate concern and to be honest publishers should be worried about this. The thing is, over the last 5 years Hybrid Gold OA has been a bonus to many publishers. It is an additional income stream on top of subscription charges. The total cost of publication has risen something like 25% in the last five years directly due to Hybrid Gold OA. The behaviour we have seen from many commercial academic publishers is that it is their unalienable right to extract as much profit from the open access block grants given to UK universities.  As an administrator of one of these funds I am well aware that the block grants are given to us from charitable organisations, and taxpayers money, via the government. We have to make sure that these funds are used responsibly and that we receive maximum value for money. I would like to see the open access block grants used only for pure Gold OA charges and to stop paying unnecessary Hybrid Gold OA charges.

The final point about loss of control in the scholarly communications process comes at a time where many large academic publishers are aggressively diversifying from their traditional publishing activities. Their aim is to be an integral part of the entire research process – from the inception of research via lab notebooks, pre-print servers and academic social networks, through to its conclusion via research data management, repository platforms, and research information management. I am not against paying for useful services, however when researchers are prevented from sharing their work because profit is more important, then something has clearly gone wrong with the system. It is now more important than ever for academics to retain control over their own research and publishing and this topic will be discussed in tomorrow’s blog post – academic-led publishing.