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To our readers, wherever you are: results from our readership survey.

At PLoS we have a number of ways of finding out about our readership but none are perfect: the fact that we are open access and so place no barriers on access to the content sadly, but necessarily, limits how much we can easily find out about our readers. One way is via Google Analytics which only gives numbers without any comment. Reader surveys are another tack and earlier this year we did our first reader survey. We’d like to thank everyone who took part and let you know the results, which were also presented at the 2008 meeting of the Council of Science Editors
by Jocalyn Clark and Gavin Yamey.

An email invitation to complete the survey was sent to 18 937 table of content subscribers (2421 completed the survey) and 25 000 researchers in the areas of HIV, public health, paediatrics, and surgery (610 completed the survey). In addition, we posted ads on our websites; 78 people took the survey in part and 70 completed it. The low response rate from our casual site visitors was disappointing and probably reflected the fact that we made no attempt to block content, even temporarily, to those who did not take the survey. So how generalisable the results are has to be considered.

Bearing that in mind, here are some headline results:
Most of the respondents were North American or European medical academics. 56% identified their primary discipline as research, followed by 29% as medicine (not surgery). Among other journals read regularly, respondents cited Nature (54%), Science (50%), PLoS Biology (51%), and New England Journal of Medicine (48%).

Most respondents reported that the balance of coverage between the basic sciences and public health in PLoS Medicine is adequate, but still 28% and 24% said we should publish more basic and clinical research, respectively.

Among the extra features available with research articles, respondents felt the most useful were: abstracts (99%), editors’ summaries (86%), and perspectives (64%).

The magazine (non-original research) section of PLoS Medicine was judged by over 90% of respondents to be easy to understand, relevant, topical, and well presented.

34% found the reader responses feature useful, but almost half were unaware of the feature. Most respondents were unaware of or had not read our blogs. When asked to identify the correct definition of open access, 70% got it right (“It’s freely available and I can re-use it for any purpose without asking provided I cite it correctly”, in case you’re wondering).

Open ended responses suggest that the open access nature of PLoS Medicine is a key strength of the journal; we had some lovely comments submitted about that.

There are clearly issues we need to work on including the lack of knowledge about reader responses and blogs (is anyone out there reading this? – let me know) and getting the word out about the journal beyond North America and Europe.

Which brings me back to Google analytics. One of the delights of this site is the way it allows us to look at what people are reading, which site brought them to us and where they are from. It does not tell us who people are, of course. But browsing last month we saw that as well as the many thousands of readers in the USA and Europe, the statistics show how many readers we have in far flung places, even if it’s just one person. So in addition to the 414 readers in Indonesia, 259 in Saudi Arabia, 64 in Zimbabwe, and 15 in Iraq we also see that we have single readers in Niger and Sierra Leone. We’re delighted we’re being read in so many places – and we’d be even more delighted to hear back from them. So let us know what you think – either on the blog or to medicine_editors@plos.org.

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