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The world of scholarly communication has witnessed immense changes over the last decade and Google Scholar has been a part of the change. To mark its 10th anniversary, Scholar will explore the impact of these changes – looking at how scholarship and citation patterns have changed as publications and archives moved online and comprehensive relevance-ranked search became available to everyone.

As the next article in the 10th anniversary series, a study examining the evolution of the impact of non-elite journals has been published in arXiv. The idea that a small elite set of journals covers most of the key papers in a discipline has long been prevalent in the study of scholarly communication. The new study explores how this has changed over 1995-2013.

This paper examines the evolution of the impact of non-elite journals. An attempt has been made to answer two questions. First, what fraction of the top-cited articles are published in non-elite journals and how has this changed over time; and second, what fraction of the total citations are to non-elite journals and how has this changed over time.

To answer these questions, citations to articles published in 1995-2013 were studied. The 10 most-cited journals and the 1000 most-cited articles each year for all the 261 subject categories included in Scholar Metrics were computed. The 10 most-cited journals in a category were considered as the elite journals for the category and all other journals in the category as non-elite.

There are two main conclusions from the study. First, the fraction of highly-cited articles published in non-elite journals increased steadily over 1995-2013. While the elite journals still publish a substantial fraction of high-impact articles, many more authors of well-regarded papers in a diverse array of research fields are choosing other venues.

This analysis indicates that the number of top-1000 papers published in non-elite journals for the representative subject category went from 149 in 1995 to 245 in 2013, a growth of 64 percent. Looking at broad research areas, 4 out of 9 broad areas saw at least one-third of the top-cited articles published in non-elite journals in 2013. All broad areas of research saw a growth in the fraction of top-cited articles published in non-elite journals over 1995-2013. For 6 out of 9 broad areas, the fraction of top-cited papers published in non-elite journals for the representative subject category grew by 45 percent or more.

Secondly, now that finding and reading relevant articles in non-elite journals is about as easy as finding and reading articles in elite journals, researchers are increasingly building on and citing work published everywhere. Considering citations to all articles, the percentage of citations to articles in non-elite journals went from 27 percent of all citations in 1995 to 47 percent in 2013. Six out of nine broad areas had at least 50 percent of total citations going to articles published in non-elite journals in 2013.

Read on arXiv