The changing usage of Publish or Perish over the years: where, why, when, what & who?

Celebrating 15 years of Publish or Perish with an analysis of its usage over the years

This year Publish or Perish is celebrating its 15th anniversary. So I thought it would be nice to look back to where, why, when, and by whom it has been used over the years, and what they would have used if PoP hadn't been around. There has been quite a bit of change over the years, although the PoP features that users like most have remained quite stable. Here is a word-cloud from the user survey I have been running since 2015 (please complete it if you haven't yet!).

In addition to the ability to both search for, and export, information/data on authors, articles, papers, publications, journals, citations, metrics and in particular the h-index, PoP's most important selling point is its ease of use and the fact that it is so quick/fast. One of the key reasons why I like PoP myself is that I can avoid using the web interfaces of other services. They are often confusing and frequently load so slowly that I give up after only a few searches.

A growing number of academics and students seem to agree: over the years PoP usage has increased to around two million individuals. It first peaked in 2012, just before Google launched its Google Scholar Citation Profiles. Over the next five years its usage declined slowly by about 30%, but then started growing again, picking up pace in 2019 and reaching a record new usage in 2020.

Over the years, the data sources supported by Publish or Perish have also expanded from Google Scholar to include Microsoft Academic (2016) Google Scholar Citation Profiles, Crossref, Scopus, and Web of Science (all in 2017) and, most recently, PubMed (2020) to assist scholars working on COVID-19 related research. For more information about data sources see the Publish or Perish manual and this YouTube video.

Where? From Anglo/Western to world-wide

I don't have systematic data on where PoP was used in the first ten years. However my web analytics service does allow me to compare visits to my website - two thirds of which are directly or indirectly related to Publish or Perish - between 2016 and 2020. In both years my website drew visitors from more than 200 different countries and territories. In 2016, the most exotic countries on the list were Vatican City and Palau, in 2020 they included Greenland and Antartica. However, in both years nearly 75% of the visitors came from the top-20 countries represented below.

Top-20 countries in 2016 Top-20 countries in 2020

Although we see many of the same countries represented in the top-20 in both years, the dominance of Anglophone countries and European countries has decreased quite significantly. In 2016 more than 35% of the visitors in the top-20 came from the USA, Australia, Great Britain or Canada; in 2020 this had dropped to 25%. In 2016, 22% of the visitors in the top-20 came from continental European countries, whereas in 2020 this had shrunk to nearly 16%.

In 2016 India was the only non-Western country that was significantly represented with nearly 5% of total visitors. Brazil, China, Malaysia, Iran, Colombia, the Phillippines, Russia and Turkey were all represented in much smaller numbers for a total of 17.4%. In 2020, no less than three non-Western countries featured in the top-6 - Indonesia, India, and Brazil - which combined represented 20.5% of total visitors. With Turkey, Malaysia, Colombia, China, South Africa, the Phillippines and Mexico, non-Western countries now make up 32.5%, i.e. nearly double their proportion in 2016. PoP clearly fulfills a strong need in these countries as is evidenced by this user response.

I live in a very poor country [Venezuela]. It not possible for me to pay WOS or any other bibliographic service. In that sense, PoP has been a huge help and relief. I really thank you for this extraordinary program. You are making our academic lives in economically depressed countries much easier.

Why? From h-index calculator to literature reviews

Since 2015 I have been running a PoP user survey. To date nearly 8,000 users have responded (please do so here if you haven't yet). One question in the survey asks users how long they have been using the software. In 2015, two thirds of the respondents indicated that they had been using the software for either more than 5 years, or 3-5 years. Hence, the 2015 responses also give us a good picture of earlier usage.

As is evident below, PoP started out as a h-index calculator. In 2015 more than four in five users were using it to check their own h-index or citations. Given that the first version of PoP launched only a year after the h-index had been introduced, this was not entirely surprising. It was also used to look up other academics, either out of curiosity (by nearly 2/3 of the PoP users), or to formally evaluate them for promotion, tenure, job or funding applications (by nearly half of the PoP users).

In addition, however, PoP was also used quite frequently to evaluate journals (28% of the respondents), do literature reviews (25%) or simply to find the most cited papers in a particular field (22%). More specialised use cases were used by a smaller number of respondents: bibliometric research (21%), tenure and promotion applications (16%), and deciding where to submit papers (12%).

In 2020, the most common PoP usage remained looking up one's own h-index or citation record or looking up other academics. However, the proportion of survey respondents citing this as one of their use cases had declined to just over half. Formal evaluation of other academics had also declined in importance with less than a third of the survey respondents using it for this purpose. This was matched by a decline in terms of using it to make your case for tenure or promotion.

Usage for journal evaluation, either more generally or in deciding where to submit papers declined marginally. However, usage for research purposes, whether for literature reviews (from 25% to 43%), to find the most cited papers (from 22% to 32%) or for bibliometric research (from 21% to 35%) had increased quite dramatically between 2015 and 2020.

In the past five years, we have further facilitated this type of usage by introducing six new data sources in 2016 (Microsoft Academic), 2017 (Google Scholar Citation Profiles, Crossref, Scopus, and Web of Science) and 2020 (PubMed), adding the option to export full abstracts in 2020, creating a more flexible keyword search, and making it easier to replicate searches across data sources by pre-filling the query form with identical search terms. I can't think of a better way to summarise the advantages of using PoP than these two recent user survey responses.

Searching for publications through internet portals is a pain as they are typically quite slow, all have different interfaces that aren't particularly intuitive and don't help at all to keep track of the searches you have already done. PoP solves all the issues above, it is both easier and faster to use than web portal alternatives. With PoP I feel much more confident that I can perform a systematic review of available literature on a topic. I also really like how the results from a search are displayed; it is easy to rank them and/or filter them by a wide variety of criteria and this is really helpful.
My current research project included 44 unique keyword & author searches with 14 citing work retrievals. I did a similar project last year using only Google Scholar and an EBSCO search interface; it took me several weeks to get to the same point. Using PoP cut the time by 60-80% and I have the search results stored - I can look back over the results history. PoP is extremely powerful for this kind of research project.

When? Increasingly frequently...

Changing usage also seems to have led users to use PoP more frequently. You normally don't look up your own h-index or citations every day (although some users do confide that they find PoP addictive and check their citation counts several times a week). However, if literature reviews are your key reason for using PoP, you are likely to use it quite often.

The proportion of survery respondents using the software either daily or several times a week has increased from just over a quarter to more than 40%, whereas the proportion using PoP only once a month or less has declined from 16.5% to less than 10%. In 2015 the largest number of respondents used the software a couple of times a month, whereas in 2020 the largest number of respondents used PoP a couple of times a week.

What alternatives? Free services dominate

Although a few years ago, we opened up the possibility to provide donations, Publish or Perish has always been free. Many survey respondents let us know in the open answer questions how much they appreciate this. It is therefore not surprising that, both in 2015 and in 2020, the most frequently used alternative service is the free Google Scholar.

However, none of the other free resources are very suitable for literature reviews or bibliometric research. So it is not surprising that the proportion of survey users saying PoP is the only service that suits their needs has doubled over the last five years. Nearly a quarter of the respondents now choose this option. In addition, the open answer option includes many pleas to keep PoP forever. Here are some of the most funny and heartwarming answers to the question: If Publish or Perish was no longer available, what other services would you use?

Beverage serving services to drown my sorrow, really happy for this program.

For me after use PorP I don't want to use anyother.

I have no idea. Then I have to find replacement. So, do not punish me. PP is perfect for my needs.

I would cry.

If publish and perish was no longer avilalble it would be a great loss to the scientific community, it has taught researchers to evaluate publication worth along side volume.

It will be catastrophic! please don't do that.

Need Publish or Perish because it is more user friendly and easy to use.

None, you are unique and very important.

Oh no please.

Please do not leave us without this tool, there is nothing like it ever.

Please do not stop Publish or Perish. If need be, I can pay from my own pocket to be able to use this tool.

Using google scholar without PoP is painful, so I would probably end up having to write something in R or python to scrape and it would never be the same!!

What? There's software which can replace POP???

Wha- why would you do that to us???

Who? From professors to students (PhD, MA, UG)

Publish or Perish was first developed in 2006 to help me make my own case for citation impact in my second application for promotion to full Professor at the University of Melbourne. In the early days, its users seem to have mainly been similar academics in traditional research career trajectories. More than a third of the users in 2015 were full professors, with another 30% Associate or Assistant Professor and more than 10% Research Fellow or Postdoc.

Student usage was fairly limited. In 2015, there were more retired academics using the survey than PhD students. With 2.3% of the survey respondents the proportion of UG and Masters students using the software was tiny. Usage by librarians, research administrators, consultants and government officials (not shown in the graph) was similarly limited.

The 2020 survey responses, however, showed that PoP users had diversified significantly. Although with 22% full profesors are still the largest group of users, all professorial categories declined in importance. Only 45% of the 2020 respondents have a regular assistant, associate or full professorial job, compared with 65% in 2015. The proportion of research fellows, postdocs and retired academics also declined slightly, from 16.3% to 12.6%. 

The biggest increase came from students. The proportion of PhD students more than tripled from 4.6% to 16.6%. The proportion of Masters and UG students increased even more than five-fold, from 2.3% to 11.8%. The proportion of smaller use groups such as librarians, consultants and government officials also increased. The "other" category also evidenced increasingly diversified use not just by independent, freelance and unemployed researchers, but also by medical practitioners, industry researchers, publishers, and NGOs.

Final reflections: why, when, what and who

There might be a relationship between the changing use cases as reported above, the diversification in PoP users and the increasing use frequency. Students are more likely to use the software quite frequently for research purposes such as literature reviews, finding highly cited articles, and bibliometric research. Professors are more likely to use the software a bit less frequently in order to look up their own records or evaluate other academics.

That said, even professors have significantly increased their use of Publish or Perish for research purposes, whereas their usage for research evaluation purposes declined. They are also using it more frequently than they did in the past, and in 2020 are nearly twice as likely to say that they see no alternatives for Publish or Perish than they did in 2015.

With new audiences come new challenges. Publish or Perish needs to meet the needs of 75+ year old retired academics who have spent much of their careers without a computer; 55+ year olds like me who only started to use them after their initial studies and can still remember a working life without email and the Internet; but also 20-25 year old students who grew up with smartphones and don't understand that Publish or Perish is a software program, not an app or a website ;-).

So whenever we introduce new features or support materials, we need to keep all these users in mind and make sure the software works for all of them. We happily do this, but if you do write to us for technical support please keep this academic etiquette blogpost in mind: Please be polite and considerate.

Want to know more about Publish or Perish?

Help us to keep Publish or Perish free

The development of the Publish or Perish software is a volunteering effort that has been ongoing since 2006. PoP was designed to help individual academics to present their case for research impact and tenure and promotion to its best advantage, even if you have very few citations.

You can also use it to decide which journals to submit to, to prepare for a job interview, to do a literature review, to do bibliometric research, to write laudatios or obituaries, or to do some homework before meeting your academic hero. Publish or Perish is a real Swiss army knife.

Download and use of Publish or Perish is and will remain free (gratis), but your contribution toward the costs of hosting, bandwidth, and software development is appreciated. Only about one user out of every ten thousand contributes, so your support is very welcome. If you find Publish or Perish useful, then this is your chance to say "thank you" to the developers.

Product name Unit price Quantity
PoP donation (small) GBP 1.00
PoP donation (medium) GBP 10.00
PoP donation (large) GBP 50.00
PoP donation (corporate) GBP 500.00
Publish or Perish guide (2010) GBP 3.49
Publish or Perish tutorial (2016) GBP 2.99

Note: all prices are in Pounds Sterling (GBP). VAT does not apply.