Wednesday, May 03, 2006
BEPress vs. SSRN?
I'm curious about evolving norms in the legal academy regarding who uses BEPress versus SSRN, or whether people are using both. (I posted something on the future of SSRN a few months back here.) I ask because my casual impression is that SSRN is the predominant market leader--I look around and I think I see that blawging prawfs and most schools often link to the SSRN pages of faculty, and not BEPress. (This is largely a function of first-mover advantage, no?)
On the other hand, I'm puzzled by something. Every month I get an email from the good folks at BEPress, saying, for example, how many downloads my death penalty piece has gotten. And I'm amazed that the numbers for the same piece are so much higher on BEPress than they are on SSRN, even though when I list the piece on my CV or school page, etc., it's always to my SSRN links. Moreover, although I think there is increasing appreciation for the work of Expresso, which is hosted at BEPress, I often hear faculty chatter only about so and so's piece that's now up on SSRN. So how is this possible? Are there secret armies of BEPress users I don't know about? Anyone have a sense of the descriptive practices? Or whether there's normatively any difference of which (junior) faculty should be aware?
Update: I should have added that one apparent advantage of BEPress over SSRN is you can search for words or phrases inside the documents in the repository, whereas with SSRN it seems limited to title/keyword/author searches. But perhaps I'm mistaken about that and I just haven't fully mastered SSRN yet.
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I was wondering myself why my download numbers from BEPress are so much higher than on SSRN. Could it be that although academics know about SSRN, many practitioners (who also submit law articles through Expresso) search and download from BEPress? Otherwise I am completely stymied.
Hmmm, maybe I should starting linking to my BEPress page instead of SSRN?
Posted by: Laura | May 3, 2006 4:24:01 PM
I know nothing about this in particular, but is it possible that, to the extent you use ExpressO to submit your articles, BEPress counts each submission as a download?
Posted by: Anon | May 3, 2006 5:09:49 PM
Interesting--I never thought of that. I guess if there's someone who's a non-Expresso user who has higher downloads still on BEP, that might move us in the right direction. Or alternatively I can ask the BEP folks:)
Posted by: Dan Markel | May 3, 2006 5:18:18 PM
I should clarify that I understand that, even if the submissions are counted as downloads, it very well may not account for the difference in download numbers, but just may provide a buffer to artificially inflate the BEPress number from the beginning. (However, to the extent you see the numbers month-by-month and BEPress downloads on that month-by-month basis are higher than SSRN downloads, then my two cents is worth much less than two cents.)
Posted by: Anon | May 3, 2006 5:20:15 PM
Duly noted, and good points all. I'm waiting to hear back from BEPress on the first issue.
Posted by: Dan Markel | May 3, 2006 5:46:23 PM
(On behalf of SSRN): SSRN takes great care to ensure that paper downloads are an accurate measure of reader interest in an author's work. First, we ensure that only informed decisions to view a full text of a particular paper, rather than uninformed explorations triggered by a catchy or vague title, count as a download. Every download starts with a reader visiting the paper's "abstract page". Only readers who still want the paper, after seeing the abstract, can download the paper. In general, only one out of three abstract views result in a download. This ratio would be lower if we include views of the title or abstract through our email abstracting journals. Second, we do our best not to count multiple downloads of the same paper by the same person nor machine or "robot" downloads of a large number of papers. If SSRN permitted a single click to download using a link from another source, such as a search engine or a blog), and mechanically counted all downloads, this would likely inflate our download counts by a factor of five or more and, degrade their quality as a signal of paper quality.
BE Press, as best as I can tell, takes the opposite approach. If you click on a Google link, for example, you have just downloaded the paper. I would imagine that when Google or Yahoo crawls their site, those downloads count too; at least they have never publicly said otherwise.
Bernie Black (Managing Director, SSRN).
Posted by: Bernie Black | May 3, 2006 5:52:37 PM
I was wondering some of the same things. My dean has asked me to shop and compare in considering whether to plunk down the (not inconsiderable) chunk of change it takes to become a "publishing partner" with SSRN as opposed to waiting for BEPress to offer exactly comparable services. Right now, SSRN will do what ExpressO does too (electronic submission deliveries), except they'll also link directly to your SSRN pages--which, for some of us, are actually more heavily hit than the BEP pages. (And thanks to Professor Black for the scoop on some of the counting differences.) Thus, the question arises: is BEPress likely to keep improving in its competition with SSRN? SSRN is marketing their package as having some added "push" of the papers your abstracting journal puts out to search engines, etc. This could conceivably increase the abstract views and, thus, your download totals (which is a good thing, no matter whether it helps in the law review derby or not). But it also might turn out not to be the optimal use of the purchase price, depending on what happens in this market. What do folks think? We are a smallish faculty (Western New England College) with a limited (but real) budget for research support of this sort.
Posted by: Jamie Colburn | May 3, 2006 8:02:37 PM
Bernie, thanks for giving us the info from SSRN.
Posted by: Dan Markel | May 3, 2006 10:27:27 PM
In case you missed it, there's a reply from a bepress rep over at this post here: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2006/05/bepress_and_ssr.html
Posted by: Dan Markel | May 4, 2006 5:07:09 PM
I've noticed the same phenomenon -- the one article I've submitted through Expresso has something like three times as many BEPress downloads as the same article on SSRN. After reading the SSRN-BEPress exchange (http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2006/05/bepress_and_ssr.html), I'm not sure the difference can be accounted for just by the fact that some BEPress downloaders may skip the abstract page and go straight to the full text of the article. (In fact, a self-admittedly technologically naive user told me that he had tried to download the article from SSRN "but couldn't find it; there was just an abstract.")
FWIW, on a side topic, my one Expresson submission was a happier and more relaxing experience than any other process I've used; I'll use it again.
Posted by: Aaron Schwabach | May 4, 2006 7:15:18 PM