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Friday, April 16, 2010


A couple months back, against all odds and in spite of my own skepticism that it would ever happen, I sent out a batch of article reprints.  They were so dusty from sitting in a distant corner of my office that my poor RAs had to wipe the dust off the copies before sending them on their way.  As I was endeavoring to finally get this done, a colleague noted that in the future, she is going to send out her next set of reprints in digital form.  This means writing a nice personal email to the recipients (not a mass email) and appending a .pdf file of the final version of the article along with each one.


In retrospect, it does seem strange that in a world where everything that can be done digitally is, we still stick to analog formats when it comes to reprints (at least I think we do—I clearly just did, and I get plenty of reprints in analog form but none digitally).  The more I thought about this, the more reasons I came up with that e-reprints may be the best way to go.  They’re cheaper (no postage), faster (no snail-mail delay), and less wasteful (countless trees saved via e-delivery).  It may even be easier for users to have an e-copy to file right into their hard drive, so they can read it on their computer or Kindle (and possibly cut and paste the text of block quotations into forthcoming work), rather than having to keep track of countless little reprint pamphlets.


I can think of a few reservations people might have about electronic reprints.  One may be that sending out e-reprints seems a lot like spamming people, and may be exactly like spamming people, if it’s done the wrong way.  Part of the charm of getting reprints is that it’s a personal touch.  I may be in the minority on this one, but I really appreciate when someone’s thought to include me on their reprint list, even if the article isn’t really related to my work.  Mass email sends just the opposite message (impersonal rather than personal), but I don’t think e-reprints have to have this quality if they’re done with the appropriate personal touch in the body of the email.  There’s also something nice about having a physical copy of an article to read, but this is entirely a matter of taste, and I think increasingly people prefer to start with an e-copy of a file, which can always be printed if the reader so chooses.


So, are e-reprints really superior, or are there problems with them that I’m overlooking?  And if they really are the way to go, why hasn’t the practice caught on?

Posted by Dave_Fagundes on April 16, 2010 at 01:41 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Sending an e-print "shifts" the cost of printing it out to your receiver if, as is often the case, people prefer to read your 50 page document in a print form rather than on their computer screen (especially if travelling, etc).

Posted by: MTTLR | Apr 19, 2010 2:05:54 PM

Good questions, Dave. I'm also often remiss in sending out reprints. While I'm thinking about it, I should print up some letters, shouldn't I? But that raises secondary questions. What's the statute of limitations on reprints? If it's a 2007 article, is that okay? 2006?

And I did just publish an article in an online journal, which basically requires me to use the "e-print" form if I'm sending anything. (Though I've also printed up a few copies and handed them to interested folks at conferences.)

Posted by: Kaimi | Apr 17, 2010 4:01:01 PM

I'll put in a vote in favor of print copies as well. Don't most of us receive by SSRN email links to almost all papers that are even plausibly in our field? If one falls through the cracks, there's always Larry Solum or a subject specific blog to help you out. The print copies are useful not because they are a Spencian signal or something, but rather because it bombards your eyes in different ways. It's like political candidates who send mailers in addition to running tv ads.

Posted by: D.Schleicher | Apr 16, 2010 4:06:30 PM

Can we call them "e-prints"?

More substantively, I think I agree with the earlier commenters--if reprints are superior to e-prints, it is precisely because of the transaction "costs" involved in reprints. Maybe it's somehow related to why giving your mom a physical gift card from Barnes & Noble is nicer than sending her a gift email from Barnes & Noble for the same amount. (And yes, I know, Mom, it's even nicer to pick out an actual book.)

Posted by: Sarah L. | Apr 16, 2010 3:26:49 PM

Isn't it likely that your email will be filtered by many systems because of the large attachment, especially if you are sending to someone you don't know personally (and so haven't emailed with before)?

Posted by: Jennifer Hendricks | Apr 16, 2010 2:26:27 PM


I agree with you on the improved versatility of the e-reprint. My tendency is to put anything I want to read on my Kindle because it's the tool I'm most likely to have with me when I have downtime that I could fill with quality reading. It's a joy not to carry or wrestle with individual photocopies or pamphlets (although I miss highlighting them).

That said, even a personalized email is easier to prepare and send than a personalized mailing. The cost of keeping up with your colleagues with an "analog" reprint (both in time and money) requires you to more carefully select who receives a copy. A digital reprint, disseminated online, does not entail the same costs. Thus, in a digital reprint world one might naturally expect everyone to get more reprints, and especially those scholars considered most influential in the relevant field. This would be an unwelcome change for those who already feel like they receive too many reprints.

Perhaps effect is similar to the pressure that online dissemination technology puts on private and fair uses, which are exempt from the author's exclusive grant of rights under section 106 of the copyright act. Making a mixtape for a friend or potential romantic interest in high school takes an investment of time and thus seems more like a fair or private use, or at least one that is less desirable to police and enforce, than mass emailing a digital mix of the same songs to everyone in my address book.

One other thought is that the advent of SSRN and the law blawgs might make the reprints less important for keeping scholars abreast of your work. If I want to follow someone's scholarship, or follow a particular strand of legal dialogue, I can do it in real time by following key blogs or regularly utilizing key search terms. The reprint thus becomes less important as an information / scholarship tool, emphasizing its use as a personal connection / networking tool. In that light, the personal touch of an analog reprint is more attractive and possibly more effective.

Posted by: Jake Linford | Apr 16, 2010 2:14:25 PM

FWIW, I enjoyed receiving the hard copies and probably looked at them more carefully (and was thereby realized that they might be relevant to my current project!) than I would have if you had mass-emailed them to me.

Posted by: Jessie Hill | Apr 16, 2010 1:56:42 PM

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