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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bepress: The Other Legal Repository

SSRN has gotten a lot of favorable press recently, and justifiably so.  The academic database has revolutionized access to published and working papers.  Unlike Westlaw and Lexis, access is generally free for all users.  And the SSRN download counts give authors a sense of how many folks are actually looking at their work.

The debate about the importance of those download counts is too voluminous to cite comprehensively.  But there are those folks who believe SSRN download counts should be used as a measure of scholarly impact, and other folks who are concerned about that use.  All the hype, however, is definitely good for SSRN.  And if the only download counts that matter are SSRN download counts, then SSRN has pretty much cornered the market.

But there's another player out there in the legal repository market: the Berkeley Electronic Press, or bepress.  Bepress has its own legal repository that offers free downloads, and they do keep track of download counts.  In fact, they provide those download counts to authors via email.  But the counts are nowhere to be found on the public website.

I recently emailed bepress to ask them why they do not publish their download counts.  Jean-Gabriel Bankier, the manager of the bepress legal repository, was kind enough to respond:

We do not publish paper download counts in general, though we may do so in the future in some limited cases.   We do see great value in such counts for authors and that is why we send out monthly download figures to them.  However, making such numbers public runs the risk of those numbers being used to assign worth to a paper, faculty member or institution, and also of authors trying to game the system to increase their downloads.  We are not persuaded that scholarship is bettered by such rankings.

I also spoke with Gregg Gordon, CEO of SSRN, via email about the download counts.  He also was kind enough to respond, in several comprehensive emails, to a variety of questions.  I asked him specifically: would SSRN be willing to join a system where all of the download counts received by an article, including SSRN and bepress, were calculated together for an overall score?  Here was his response:

The download question is a slightly tricky one.  We encourage sharing of data and, as you know, make significant amounts of our data available on a close to real-time basis throughout our web site.  I am not sure why other sites do not provide download information and have not the opportunity to discuss it with them.  The important thing to realize about download data is that it is susceptible to gaming and other sites may not want to have their download data scrutinized.  Although very rare, we have had a few instances where we have identified an individual trying to increase download counts for themselves or others.  In those situations we discuss the matter with the person and make adjustments to the numbers.  This is a time consuming process but critical if your data is going to be trustworthy.

Given recent discussion about what should constitute gaming the system, we may see more scrutiny of what types of protections legal repositories are using for their download counts.  For the moment, however, bepress has chosen to stay on the sidelines of this particular contest.

Posted by Matt Bodie on November 17, 2005 at 10:05 AM in Information and Technology | Permalink

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Matt Bodie recently emailed BEPress to find out why they do not publish their download counts:Jean-Gabriel Bankier, the manager of the bepress legal repository, was kind enough to respond: We do not publish paper download counts in general, though we [Read More]

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Comments

Great post. But just because the list is only available to the author doesn't mean that downloads can't be gamed and trumpeted by that author. Comparability, on the other hand, will be more difficult.

Posted by: David Zaring | Nov 17, 2005 1:18:01 PM

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