Aggregating Research on Sustainability

As many of you know, my empirical work at BYU has focused largely on issues of sustainability. I’ve blogged some of it before, but to wrap it up in one spot, here is a recap of what we’ve been up to.

Justin Johansen and I did some interesting work on OCW sustainability, examining what happens when opportunities to enroll in for-credit courses are integrated into OCW. The results – over 2.5% of OCW visitors became paying for-credit customers of BYU Independent Study, generating enough revenue to more than pay for the cost of opening access to the courses. An article version of the dissertation, with a few months more data, is forthcoming in Educational Technology Research and Development.

John Hilton and I asked the question “What happens to printed book sales if digital versions are given away for free?” We then tracked 41 books for which we could identify the date when the free digital versions of the books were made available to determine whether the release of the free version affected print sales. This work appeared in the Journal of Electronic Publishing, and is described more extensively (with a link to the full text) at The results – three of the four categories of books had increased sales after the free books were distributed (and we think we know what happened with the fourth).

Next, John Hilton and I recently interviewed 10 authors (who were mostly academics) that have made their works available for free and got their take on the implications of sharing their books online. This article also includes a case study that measures sales of a book for the year before and after it was made available for free. An overview of the article, as well as a link to the full text, can be found at: The results – no authors perceived a drop in sales and most reported that giving away their ebook increased their reach / audience. This article appeared in Tech Trends.

Finally (for now), in a follow-up study that strengthened some weaknesses in the original, John Hilton completed his dissertation which also focused on giving away e-books. This study measured sales of 8 titles for 10 weeks before and after they were made available for free. Historical sales (from the year previous) as well as comparison books (that were not made available for free) are also examined. The study also includes download data for the books. An overview, as well as a link to the complete dissertation, can be found at: The results – A 0.65 correlation between downloads and sales, meaning that books that were downloaded more often were also purchased in print more often.

John and I are currently working on an article based on the dissertation and a follow-up study suggested in the dissertation. We’re also looking for a medium to large size publisher who would be willing to do a replication of the dissertation research (with improvements for lessons learned, of course) at a larger scale. If you know of someone who might be game, let us know.

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