Pandemic Usage Validates S2O Effort

Richard Gallagher

As part of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Annual Reviews made all journals available without access control between mid-March and the end of June 2020. This was done to facilitate access by researchers, faculty and students at subscribing institutions. We did no promotion of the removal of the paywall.

For 50 of the 51 titles, usage at least doubled during the freely accessible period, and in many cases tripled, quadrupled or more. These increases were seen across the social, physical, biological and biomedical sciences. Below is an example from each category.

Usage of the Annual Review of Anthropology by month, 2019 and 2020

Usage of the Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics by month, 2019 and 2020

Usage of the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics by month, 2019 and 2020

Usage of the Annual Review of Microbiology by month, 2019 and 2020

These immediate, dramatic increases in usage underline the value of moving all Annual Reviews journals to open access, a goal that we are trying to achieve as quickly as possible.

The journal that didn’t show an increase in March through June 2020 was the Annual Review of Public Health, which has been open since 2017. Usage of this journal throughout 2020 mirrored that of 2019. To illustrate the long-term impact of an Annual Reviews journal being open, the graph below compares usage by month and cumulatively for 2016, the last year that the Annual Review of Public Health was toll access, with 2020.

Usage of the Annual Review of Public Health by month and cumulatively in 2016 and 2020

Although the blue bars look very low, they represent 15,000 – 27,000 downloads per month. The cumulative total for 2020 through November (gold bars) is more than 1.7 million uses.

One last item of interest: there was a disproportionate rise in usage in low-income countries when the content was freely available March-June. This occurred despite the fact that Annual Reviews makes its content available in these countries via Research4Life ( Below are the usage data for an exemplar, Bangladesh.

Annual Reviews usage in Bangladesh, 2019 and 2020

Note the rise of relative increase in usage in the second half of 2020, a consequence of five Annual Reviews journals being published open access using Subscribe to Open.

I will add a blog post about 2020 usage of our five Subscribe to Open titles in January.

Richard Gallagher ( is the President of Annual Reviews

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