How Change Happens is two years old this week, and Open Access has played a big part in getting people to read it

This week is International Open Access Week. It is also two years since we published How Change Happens (How Time Flies….), so here’s a summary of what’s happened since.

From a publishing point of view, the most interesting aspect of HCH was that it was open access from day 1. In return for Oxfam waiving its royalties, Oxford University Press agreed for it to be freely downloadable as a pdf, and readable online on Google Books.

For Oxfam, this is great – the book has been downloaded in over 130 countries, whereas book sales are inevitably more concentrated in the richer economies with functioning distribution systems.

What’s interesting is that based on their experiences with other books, OUP believes the sales figures have if anything been helped – enough people have read it online or on a pdf, and then decided to buy it, to outweigh the numbers who went in the opposite direction and stuck to reading it for free. I asked my Adam Swallow for a quote, and here’s what he sent me:

‘Open Access works best – in terms of achieving mass readership — when it is backed by an institute or author with a great social media presence. There is a loss of print sales for some titles, however others see almost no reduction, and in HCH and a few other titles we see solid and ongoing sales. Open Access really is in keeping with our mission of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.’

Publication Day, 2016. Seems a long time ago.

Here are the numbers:

Headline figures: in the first two years, How Change Happens has had approximately 70,000 readers. That’s an approximate figure – there could be double counting (someone downloads the pdf, then buys the book) or undercounting (someone downloads pdf and circulates by email).

Of these roughly 8,700 bought printed copies and ebooks, 17,300 downloaded the pdf and 43,000 read it online (a tidy 1:2:5 ratio, if you’re into that kind of thing – for every copy sold, two people download the pdf and five people read it online).

Printed Copies

Hardbacks sold by OUP:                                                                                            3881

Paperbacks sold by OUP (first published, May 2018):                                        1105

Paperbacks distributed by Oxfam:                                                                          2649

Electronic Downloads

Ebooks (OUP):                                                                                                             1114

Oxfam pdf downloads:                                                                                              13397

OUP pdf downloads:                                                                                                   3353

Online Visits

Unique Visitors to OUP ‘Oxford Scholarship Online Usage’:                            10149

Google Book Visits:                                                                                                    34033

Total Number of Readers in First Two Years                                        69681

If you compare these to the first year stats, the shift in the second year has been towards open access – of the 30,000 new readers in year two, only about 2.000 paid for the book. I suspect a lot of those are students reading bits of HCH as parts of their course reading.

Other points to note:

Translations are appearing later this year in Chinese and are already out in Spanish (in Mexico). Another is under way into Arabic (in Yemen)

An audiobook is available – only 60 sold so far.

Spin-offs: the book is the course text for the new Make Change Happen MOOC co-designed by Oxfam and the Open University, and for a London School of Economics module on its International Development Masters programme

Rip offs and Copy Cats: at least two other books called How Change Happens have been announced in that time. I reviewed one (totally impartially, of course), by Leslie Crutchfield, here. The other, by Cass Sunstein, (the Nudge guy) comes out next April. Hopefully a few people will get confused and accidentally buy mine instead….

I’d be very interested in any other news of how the book has been adapted or adopted

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One Response to “How Change Happens is two years old this week, and Open Access has played a big part in getting people to read it”
  1. Duncan
    Really interesting to see this data – we have been doing similar analysis of the IDS Bulletin since it went open access to try and understand how this has increased accessibility and helped us reach places that other journals cannot, One issue to consider is whether OA also requires new way of hosting content to help with analytics like this. The Bulletin is hosted on a repository (OpenDocs) so regardless of where users go for the content – google – our website etc it all gets downloaded from the same place, This way we get one set of data but can still see where referrals came from (how users accessed the content) and even where they are geographically. The popularity of google is the take away message of course – just like for your own book. The trouble with adding up downloads and potentially even views from multiple locations is it can lead to some double counting. The other issue of downloads more generally is the possibility of data getting corrupted by false results caused by bots (particularly Chinese ones!) Your Oxfam results also demonstrate the importance of marketing. OA is only part of the story – engaging wider publics and specific groups with research requires increasing the visibility of content as well as its accessibility in terms of licensing.
    Congrats on the well earned success and thanks for making sure your book was OA – most academic books reach pathetically small audiences despite many citations from authors’ peers in academia!