Conducting a literature review these days rarely involves going to a library. With all major journals indexed online and much of their content available digitally, if I come across a citation I can’t access from my office, I question whether I really need to read it.
A study published in FASEB called Open access, readership, citations: a randomized controlled trial of scientific journal publishing attempts to answer if articles made freely available online get cited more often than others. After examining 36 journals, 712 open access articles, and 2533 subscription-controlled articles, the author found no citation bump for open access articles.
What did increase was the number of downloads. This suggests that research published openly online reaches a wider audience. The scholars who contribute to academic literature still benefit from subscription access to journals, so they can choose to cite articles based on relevance and quality. But if researchers would like to measure the impact of their work, they should look to more than just citations.