Despite the growth of Open Access, illegally circumventing paywalls to access scholarly publications is becoming a more mainstream phenomenon. The web service Sci-Hub is amongst the biggest facilitators of this, offering free access to around 62 million publications.
So far it is not well studied how and why its users are accessing publications through Sci-Hub. By utilizing the recently released corpus of Sci-Hub and comparing it to the data of ~28 million downloads done through the service, this study tries to address some of these questions.
The comparative analysis shows that both the usage and complete corpus is largely made up of recently published articles, with users disproportionately favoring newer articles and 35% of downloaded articles being published after 2013.
These results hint that embargo periods before publications become Open Access are frequently circumnavigated using Guerilla Open Access approaches like Sci-Hub. On a journal level, the downloads show a bias towards some scholarly disciplines, especially Chemistry, suggesting increased barriers to access for these.
Comparing the use and corpus on a publisher level, it becomes clear that only 11% of publishers are highly requested in comparison to the baseline frequency, while 45% of all publishers are significantly less accessed than expected.
Despite this, the oligopoly of publishers is even more remarkable on the level of content consumption, with 80% of all downloads being published through only 9 publishers. All of this suggests that Sci-Hub is used by different populations and for a number of different reasons and that there is still a lack of access to the published scientific record.
A further analysis of these openly available data resources will undoubtedly be valuable for the investigation of academic publishing.