Altmetric for Books: What have we learned?


Launched in 2016, Altmetric for Books has collected over 4.6 million online mentions of more than 1.1 million books and book chapters. This data provides valuable insight about how researchers and the public engage with both trade books and scholarly monographs and their chapters.

Scientometricians — academics who use a data-driven approach to study “the science of research” — have long been aware that journal-centric metrics like citation counts are often inadequate for understanding the impact of books. Instead, they’ve suggested a number of altmetrics that can show books’ cultural influence, as well as non-traditional scholarly impacts.

The research makes clear that anyone who wants to understand “big picture” impact for a book or monograph should use a variety of data, rather than citation counts and sales figures alone. Altmetrics make the perfect complement to these kinds of traditional data. 

Altmetrics for Books: What the data tells us

In terms of overall coverage, books receive roughly the same amount of attention as journal articles: 68% of books and 67% of journal articles that Altmetric monitors have been discussed in an online source tracked by Altmetric. Interestingly, only 1.8% of book chapters receive attention online, suggesting that perhaps people are more likely to reference a chapter in a book by sharing a link to the entire book, rather than a direct link to the chapter.

We’ve also noticed specific trends when it comes to how long it takes for books to achieve broader impacts, the differences between OA and non-OA monographs in terms of the attention they receive, and disciplinary differences in attention for books.

A “discussion lag” exists for monographs

A long-standing argument in favor of altmetrics is that they are quicker to accumulate than citations. The conventional wisdom tells us that people can start talking about a book days after it has been published, but that it takes years to be cited (after all, this is true for journal articles). However, the research surprisingly does not bear this hypothesis out.

Digital Science’s “The State of Open Monographs” white paper recently explored this and other trends found in Altmetric book data. The evidence suggests that books’ “citation lag” may be observed with Altmetric data as well: Books’ broader impact appears to have a different profile than that of research articles.

For example, comparing books and journal articles published in the field of History in 2013, the white paper’s authors found that Wikipedia citations, news and blog mentions start later for books than for articles, and that they persist over a longer period of time, eventually overtaking research articles’ annual online mention counts.

Altmetric disciplinary differences and books

Using the new Fields of Research (FOR) subject categories available in Altmetric (via data supplied by Dimensions), and CWTS’ VOSviewer, it’s possible to visualize disciplinary differences as a network. That network can help communicate how the broader impact that books have varies by discipline. It can also potentially support comparative understanding of a collection of books.

In the diagram below, clusters of books form around different sources of broader impact. Blog and news mentions are closely related, and they form an important central point in the graph. Policy mentions are most associated with Education, Economics, Environmental Sciences and other Humanities. Wikipedia mentions are well-balanced across the disciplines, while patents are particularly important in Biological Science, Chemical Sciences, Engineering, Computing, and Technology. 

Network visualizations and analyses can produce compelling evidence of publishing catalogs. They provide benchmarks against which a list’s potential for broader impact can be evaluated. For example, a publisher of Arts and Humanities monographs might reasonably expect to see Wikipedia attention, and rather fewer patent citations. 

Monographs from different subject areas attract attention from different sources. VOSviewer creates clusters of similar data, identified by color and position. Strength of relationship is shown by thickness of line. Relative strength of activity is shown by the size of the type and circle. For example, we see that Chemical Sciences, Information and Computing Science, Technology, and Engineering cluster around Patents. VOSviewer suggests that news and blogs (the red circle, slightly overlapping with the News circle) are tightly related for books. Policy documents are represented by the red circle between Environmental Sciences, Economics, and Medical and Health Sciences. 

Open Access monographs may have an altmetrics edge

Evidence also suggests that there is a marked advantage for open access (OA) monographs over traditional, toll access books, with Altmetric coverage being significantly higher for OA monographs in some disciplines.

It’s important to note that this observation is across a relatively small set of books, and Altmetric is undertaking further analysis. Initial findings were presented at the LATmetrics event in Peru in early November, with a paper soon to follow. If you’re interested in studying this topic or other themes related to altmetrics for monographs, Altmetric also provides free data access options for researchers.


To ensure the future success of books within the scholarly environment, it’s necessary to understand their unique contribution to scholarship, as well as the distinctive ways in which they achieve impact.

It has been long established that books are generally slow to accrue citations – with the implication that short periods of evaluation are inappropriate for books (and monographs in particular). Similarly, Altmetric data has been shown to accrue more slowly for books than research articles, however that impact – when it does accrue – appears to be at a higher rate than articles, and possibly over a long period of time. Institutions, funders and evaluation professionals should be mindful of the long-term value of books, notably when it comes supporting their future funding, development and assessment. 

We are at the beginning of understanding the data that allows this deeper understanding of book impact and look forward to supporting book publishers and academics for home books are their key output, especially those in the humanities, social sciences and arts.

Please get in touch with us if you would like to receive a consultation about the altmetrics data currently tracked for your book portfolio. You can also join in a series of expert-led Altmetric book club online workshops, the first of which was held November 14, to learn more about the insights Altmetric data can provide for book editors. 

Further reading

This article is brought to you through a partnership with Amnet, a technology-led provider of services and solutions, catering to the needs of businesses for content transformation, design, and accessibility. The points of view expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of Amnet or of BISG.

Mike Taylor is Head of Metrics Development at Altmetric and Dimensions. Stacy Konkiel is Director of Research Relations at Altmetric. This post was adapted from an earlier update featured on the Altmetric blog.