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. 2013 Jul;27(7):2536-41.
doi: 10.1096/fj.13-229922. Epub 2013 Apr 3.

Public Accessibility of Biomedical Articles From PubMed Central Reduces Journal Readership--Retrospective Cohort Analysis

Free PMC article

Public Accessibility of Biomedical Articles From PubMed Central Reduces Journal Readership--Retrospective Cohort Analysis

Philip M Davis. FASEB J. .
Free PMC article


Does PubMed Central--a government-run digital archive of biomedical articles--compete with scientific society journals? A longitudinal, retrospective cohort analysis of 13,223 articles (5999 treatment, 7224 control) published in 14 society-run biomedical research journals in nutrition, experimental biology, physiology, and radiology between February 2008 and January 2011 reveals a 21.4% reduction in full-text hypertext markup language (HTML) article downloads and a 13.8% reduction in portable document format (PDF) article downloads from the journals' websites when U.S. National Institutes of Health-sponsored articles (treatment) become freely available from the PubMed Central repository. In addition, the effect of PubMed Central on reducing PDF article downloads is increasing over time, growing at a rate of 1.6% per year. There was no longitudinal effect for full-text HTML downloads. While PubMed Central may be providing complementary access to readers traditionally underserved by scientific journals, the loss of article readership from the journal website may weaken the ability of the journal to build communities of interest around research papers, impede the communication of news and events to scientific society members and journal readers, and reduce the perceived value of the journal to institutional subscribers.

Keywords: digital repositories; downloads; open access; scientific publishing.


Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Mean full-text and PDF article downloads (±95% CI) from the journals' websites for the first 24 mo of publication. All articles were available to subscribers for the first 12 mo, after which they became freely available to all readers from the journals' websites. Articles declaring NIH funding were deposited into PMC and became freely available to readers 12 mo after final publication.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Journal estimates (±95% CI) measuring the effect of article availability from PMC on full-text (HTML) downloads (A) and PDF downloads (B) from the journal website.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Total full-text downloads for NIH-sponsored articles deposited into PMC for 14 participating biomedical journals. Data from PMC.

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Cited by 4 articles


    1. U.S. National Institutes of Health (2009) National Institutes of Health Public Access; Retrieved from
    1. Davis P. M., Lewenstein B. V., Simon D. H., Booth J. G., Connolly M. J. L. (2008) Open access publishing, article downloads and citations: randomised trial. BMJ 337, a568. - PMC - PubMed
    1. Davis P. M. (2011) Open access, readership, citations: a randomized controlled trial of scientific journal publishing. FASEB J. 25, 2129–2134 - PubMed
    1. CIBER Research Ltd. (2012) PEER Usage Study: randomised controlled trial results. CIBER Research Ltd., Newbury, UK: Retrieved from
    1. Davis P. M. (2012) The effect of public deposit of scientific articles on readership. Physiologist 55, 161–165 - PubMed

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