Open access book usage data – how close is COUNTER to the other kind?

Abstract:  In April 2020, the OAPEN Library moved to a new platform, based on DSpace 6. During the same period, IRUS-UK started working on the deployment of Release 5 of the COUNTER Code of Practice (R5). This is, therefore, a good moment to compare two widely used usage metrics – R5 and Google Analytics (GA). This article discusses the download data of close to 11,000 books and chapters from the OAPEN Library, from the period 15 April 2020 to 31 July 2020. When a book or chapter is downloaded, it is logged by GA and at the same time a signal is sent to IRUS-UK. This results in two datasets: the monthly downloads measured in GA and the usage reported by R5, also clustered by month. The number of downloads reported by GA is considerably larger than R5. The total number of downloads in GA for the period is over 3.6 million. In contrast, the amount reported by R5 is 1.5 million, around 400,000 downloads per month. Contrasting R5 and GA data on a country-by-country basis shows significant differences. GA lists more than five times the number of downloads for several countries, although the totals for other countries are about the same. When looking at individual tiles, of the 500 highest ranked titles in GA that are also part of the 1,000 highest ranked titles in R5, only 6% of the titles are relatively close together. The choice of metric service has considerable consequences on what is reported. Thus, drawing conclusions about the results should be done with care. One metric is not better than the other, but we should be open about the choices made. After all, open access book metrics are complicated, and we can only benefit from clarity.