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Friday, October 07, 2005

To Reprint or Not to Reprint

I get a lot of offprints; I read a small percentage of them.  Some of the time, I read an offprint and write the author comments.  Some of time, authors acknowledge me and my comments and write back. 

A few journals have asked me whether I want to order supplemental offprints for a bunch of forthcoming articles.  Before I got an appointment (and thus before I could draw on a faculty development account to pay for them--and send them), I bought 100 offprints of any article I published, thinking I'd send around copies to appointments committees when I was on the market; it made for a nicer looking package.  Now that I am a faculty member, even though it is sort of free, my instinct is not to order them.  First, if I really wanted to send around my article I could make my own offprints much more cheaply.  (Is there a copyright problem here?  Wouldn't this be a fair use?).  Second, I could e-mail the cite and/or copies to whomever I want, saving trees in the process.  (Same questions of copyright apply, I suppose).  Assuming these methods of distribution are available to me (and legal), is there any benefit anyone can identify with buying the fancy offprints?  Has SSRN made sending offprints obsolete?

I know the blawgosphere has covered this topic before; but any enlightenment would be most appreciated.

Posted by Ethan Leib on October 7, 2005 at 09:27 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I'm entry-level appointments chair at my law school, and I'm currently buckling under the weight of over 1000 AALS forms and c.v.'s, dozens of letters, draft articles and reprints from potential candidates, not to mention all of my other professional correspondence and reading. I would love to be able to answer all my mail, but I'm just not managing it. This was true even before I started doing appointments. My school is an upper-tier school, but even so I don't have the kind of clerical assistance that is typical at even a medium-size law firm. With e-mail, I have a chance of keeping up.

For me, it would be far more useful to receive an e-mail with abstract and URL link to the article, than to receive a hard copy reprint. E-mails are far easier to acknowledge than hard copy mailings; and electronic articles are far easier to store, index for later reference, or forward to interested colleagues, making it far more likely that they will get read [because who has time to read reprints as they arrive on a FIFO basis]. Most journals I have dealt with will allow the author to post a PDF copy on a personal webite, and even if you publish in a journal that doesn't, the advantages of electronic format still make a Lexis or Westlaw link much more usable than a hard copy reprint.

I may be idiosyncratic in this regard [like Bernie, I stopped buying reprints years ago and mostly rely on e-mail lists to discover what's current in my fields] but we are moving toward a paperless world and just as it makes sense for a writer to take care to make prose accessible to a reader, it makes sense [even apart from courtesy, which runs both ways] for those sending out correspondence to do so in a way that eases the recipient's task of responding.

Posted by: Anon appointments chair | Oct 14, 2005 9:25:27 PM

If you can keep copyright and post the final version to SSRN (Dan Hunter at Wharton maintains a growing list of law journals that permit this routinely; many more will do so if asked), that seems an easy strategy and feels sufficient to me. I used to send out gazillions of reprints; I stopped a few years ago. The more publicity-minded could then email all their friends with, say, the abstract and the link, and maybe I should do this, but I confess that I don't. If you can't keep copyright, then it's a closer call, it seems to me.

Bernie Black (I help to run SSRN, so my conflict has now been duly noted).

Posted by: Bernie Black | Oct 10, 2005 10:42:26 PM

On copyright: has any journal ever done anything serious to cause grief to an author who has sent out their own article reasonably to others/put online? Ever? Can you imagine the backlash against such a journal?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Oct 10, 2005 11:26:35 AM

To Tim Z-

It's nothing personal. I teach at a first tier school and get about half a dozen offprints in the mail every single day, most from strangers. I also get about ten phone messages each day and eighty email messages, not to mention the students who drop in, etc. And, you know, I have a family, classes to prepare, articles to write... And I am not unique. There is just no way for most people to respond to every offprint we get, even to acknowledge receipt. I'd do as Doug suggests: email drafts. I don't always have time to read and comment on those, but at least I try to email back.

Posted by: lawprof | Oct 9, 2005 7:51:10 PM

Ethan, you make some good points about why send reprints out to others who can access Westlaw/Lexis. But the free 25-50 copies that the journal gives are still useful, if for no other reason than tenure time. Or so I've been told. . . .

Tim, you make a good point, and I think now I shall make an effort to e-mail an acknowledgment at least of reprints that I receive.

Posted by: Tung Yin | Oct 8, 2005 2:27:32 PM

Nearly a month ago I mailed about 60 reprints of a recent article to folks who teach/write in the subject area. One might think that common courtesy would prompt recipients to acknowledge receipt (I included my e-mail address in the letter for convenience). But the response has been less than 10% (kudos to Harvard prof Liz Warren, who -- through the years -- has always replied with a thoughtful letter). Very disappointing, indeed. To paraphrase George Constanza, "PEOPLE, WE'RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY!"

Posted by: tim zinnecker | Oct 8, 2005 1:38:09 PM

In retrospect, it was mostly a waste of time and money; the people I sent the articles to before being on the market were non-responsive and sending it while I was on the market was redundant because committee members still had to access it on Westlaw or Lexis to get extra copies. This leads to one proviso, I think: if you publish in journals not on Lexis or Westlaw, it may make some more sense to do as much self-promotion as you can bear. For example, I am publishing an article in Law & Philosophy, which, although well-respected in its field, does not have wide or easy circulation. My instinct is to make people aware of it when it appears.

On the other hand, from the perspective of someone who doesn't have a job, it takes only one: that is, if one person reads your stuff, likes it, and mentions it to someone on an appointments committee somewhere, that can turn into an interview, which can turn into a job. So perhaps it could be helpful for some. If you don't mind wasting the time and money (I'm cheap and niggardly with my time), it could help.

Tim: I appreciate the mantra, "save your copyright," but we don't all have the market power individually to achieve that (good for Lessig, but the rest of us still have problems) and journals don't universally give it. In fact, some journals are getting even craftier and trying to selling PDF "reprints" for distribution--indicating that they would basically view my PDFing my own article (and then e-mailing it) as a copyright infringement. What's your view on the possible fair use defense?

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Oct 8, 2005 11:57:02 AM

My strategy has always been to send out my papers in draft form, rather than in published form. Thus, in addition to posting drafts on SSRN, I usually send paper copies to 10-15 people who seem likely to be interested in the topic. The logic on my end is that I want people to read my work while I can still make changes. If I get a devastating comment it can quickly become part of the paper -- "I initially thought x, but aha!" -- rather than ruining my week. Another related strategy I use is that I am now begining to post most of my work on blogs prior to writing it up. Thus last week, for example, I wrote those several posts here on "Irreparable Benefits" as a way of testing that idea out before I pour a few weeks into the full paper. Ditto last year for my "How the Law Responds to Self Help" paper, which I previewed in seven posts over at Crescat. I admit that it is easier to do all that once you have a teaching job, rather than when you are on the market; but I, at least, do read papers from people who are not yet in academia, assuming the subject matter hits close enough to home. (And certainly I read blogged ideas from people who are not yet but likely to be academics, ie. Will Baude or Derek Slater.)

Posted by: Doug Lichtman | Oct 8, 2005 9:35:52 AM

Ethan--in retrospect do you believe that sending your reprints to various folks, pre-academic appointment, was worthwhile? I am considering sending a recent article of mine to the academic four winds (people I cite, people who might be interested, most folks at my law school, etc.) and I'm wondering whether it's really worth the trouble.


Posted by: md | Oct 8, 2005 8:23:11 AM

Its a good question. I hate moving reprints -- I can't bear to throw them away.

But as for the copyright problem. Make sure that you keep your copyright in your articles!! Never sign them away! Then you can repringt to your heart's content.

Posted by: Tim Wu | Oct 8, 2005 2:56:48 AM

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