How RePEc helps with Open Access in Economics

From 21 to 27 October 2019, the Open Access Week is raising awareness about free access to scholarly research. This year’s theme is “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge,” which fits nicely in the mission of RePEc. Indeed, the goal of RePEc is to enhance the dissemination of research in the field of economics, in particular through the democratization of access to economic research both for the authors and the readers. The core aspect of RePEc is an open bibliography that allows various “RePEc services” to leverage the metadata about publication in various ways, such as email lists, search engines, organized listings, and more. For an overview of some of the services, see the RePEc home page.

RePEc facilitates open access is several ways. First, all publishers are on equal footing in terms of getting their publication material indexed in RePEc. It is upon them to follow the instructions and maintain their holdings. Second, the metadata makes the distinction between gated and free access, which some RePEc services exploit in the display of the research. For example, on EconPapers, information about download restrictions is listed next to the download link. In the absence of such language, it is assumed that the article is openly accessible (click on images to see them better):

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Note in the first case a prompt to search for other (open) versions, more on this later. On IDEAS, similar language is present in case of gated access:

In addition, the listing of articles on IDEAS for a journal also displays an icon about the download status. In this case, within the same issue of a journal, the first article is open, the second gated, and the third not available online.

Open access penetration in economics journals is comparatively low, though. Indeed, there is likely less need for open access due to a large number of pre-prints, called working papers or discussion papers in economics. In fact, RePEc and it predecessor projects were launched precisely to disseminate working papers, and over 900,000 of them are currently indexed. Working papers are typically in open access, with few exceptions, and it is then not surprising that when both working paper and article versions are available, the working paper is downloaded many more times.

Matching different versions of the same work is a difficult undertaking, especially as many different works have the same title. We leverage the fact that about half the indexed works are written by someone registered in the RePEc Author Service. Then if the same author has several works with a very similar title, we deem them to be different versions of the same research. And if the title changed, authors can add a link using this form.

This information in then leveraged on RePEc services. For example, on EconPapers, the working paper versions are listed right under the download link of the article (and vice-versa).

On IDEAS, there are multiple prompts about the availability of different versions. On the article listing of the journal, a green “WP” appears when a working paper version is available. Then, on the abstract page of the article, the pill for download tab mentions it again. And, finally, the working paper versions are listed right under the download link (and the article version on the working paper download link).

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Working papers are pretty much where the frontier of research is in economics. Journal articles are in this respect a historical record of where the frontier was a few years prior, given the publication delays. This is why the email alerting service of RePEc, NEP, notifies about new working papers, but not about articles. Universities and policy institutions are welcome to index their working papers in RePEc, it is free and follows the same instructions as for journals. And if an author does not have access to a local RePEc-indexed working papers series, they can upload their works at MPRA.

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