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Monday, May 09, 2011

On Pimping on PrawfsBlawg

Since Dan hasn't turned off my guest account yet, I'm going to wade in with one extra post, so that I can fully respond to AnonProf's comment: "I would appreciate it if Prawfs didn't invite guest commentators who use this blog to pimp their work."

First of all, let's pick a slightly more neutral term: Self-promotion. Am I guilty of that? Yes. I think it's fair to call what I was doing "engaging in a scholarly dialog," but if you want to call it self-promotion, I won't argue with that at all.

Now that's self-promotion.

Now, as a law professor, I'm a scholar and a teacher. The job of a teacher is pretty straightforward. It's to teach my students, thus helping to contribute to their intellectual toolkit – knowledge, skills, etc. As I see it, the job of a scholar is similar, just more diffuse. Scholars are to try to contribute to society's intellectual toolkit – adding to the storehouse of knowledge, helping to organize it, providing new ways to use it, etc. The function of a scholar, therefore, is necessarily public. You haven't really "produced" scholarship until you've gotten it out there. That means it needs to be made available, accessible, and visible. And that involves not only publication, but some measure of promotion.

So if promotion of scholarship is justifiable, why wouldn't self-promotion be? It seems to me the real difference between "self-promotion" and "promotion" is whether or not you have the resources to pay someone to do it for you. And I use "pay" in a loose sense, as in the microeconomic reality of the situation. Movie stars have agents, PR reps, and, on individual projects, studio or network marketing departments that do their promotion for them. Book authors have reps and publishing houses that largely do their promotion for them. Scholars have themselves and, if they are lucky, an institution with "communications" people. At the University of North Dakota, I don't have a team of people sending out glossy flyers about me or calling newspapers on my behalf. (AnonProf, if you have a team of communications people working for you, then God bless! I wish I had the same!)

So, I engage in self-promotion.

Some people, when they self-promote on PrawfsBlawg, toss in an embarrassed aside, such as "forgive the shameless self promotion." I've skipped those pleasantries. Perhaps that shows a lack of urbanity on my part. But I just see myself as a realist.

We live in a world of vigorous self-promotion. Tiger Woods wears a hat with a logo made out of his own initials. I mean, for crying out loud, if that's okay, how can I have done wrong by mentioning my new article and linking to it? I mean, Tiger Woods is even making money off his hats. My scholarship is posted for free download (here, here, here, here, here, and here, by the way).

Now, one difference (of the many) between Tiger Woods and myself is that I'm not self-promoting with one breath and asking for shelter from barbs with the other. When the news broke about Tiger's philandering, I thought it was hilarious that his friends were asking the media to "respect his privacy." I mean, the man has a line of hats with his initials made into a logo!!

That's not me. I say: Comment on, AnonProf. Dan called your anonymous comment "snarky and craven." I won't. But I would call it ironic. You see, in our online world, millions of people, like me, are putting themselves out there with their blogs, homepages, Twitter, Facebook, online CVs, bio pages, and the like. If that's a breakdown in civility, then, you'd have to admit, so too is the upwelling of anonymous potshots. Self-promotion and unsigned flaming are the ying-yang of the digital world. Now that I think about it, I suppose they bring one another into balance.

And oh yeah, one other thing. Thanks to my linking to my own article in that post, I've already gotten one very thoughtful bit of feedback on it, which will help me to revise my manuscript and put it in better shape for when it is published in final form.

To close, I'll just note that through my blogging on my own blog, Blog Law Blog, I've promoted more of other people's work than I have of my own on PrawfsBlawg. Not that I think I have to in order to mention and link to my own work. But, nonetheless, I have.

And, in case you missed it, that's BLOGLAWBLOG.COM, written by Eric E. Johnson (homepage, Twitter, Flickr, SSRN).

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on May 9, 2011 at 11:53 AM in Blogging | Permalink


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To what extent are reactions to this driven by questions of style and tastefulness? It's interesting that this discussion wasn't started by the countless subtly self-promoting posts (or apologetic ones, or tongue-in-cheek ones) that appear on this and every other blog ever written (since, after all, a blog is nothing but a vehicle for self promotion), but a very rare explicit, blatant, and unashamed act of self-promotion. Perhaps it's ok to self-promote, but one is obliged to be embarrassed about it, or to signal that one is responding only to a regrettable necessity?

I'm personally more inclined to admire Eric's honesty than scold him for his blatantness. But maybe because that's I have a fairly cynical(?) view of human behavior in public -- I tend to thnk that everything any of us do in the view of others has some element of self-promotion to it, or at least self-presentation manipulation. Just in the academic context, what explains the drive to publish in "better," more prominent journals, other than self-promotion? What motivates the trouble of showing up at conferences? Free travel, sure, and self-promotion. And how can the admirable desire to contribute to knowledge even be distinguished from self-promotion, since contributing to knowledge means contributing to the knowledge of others, drawing their attention.

(And I just had the thought: "this comment is getting long, and deserves more attention than it's going to get at this late date -- maybe I should post it on my own basically-defunct blog and give a link here. Courtesy or ego-driven self-promotion? Who can tell? There are no unmixed motives.)

Maybe the objection to the blatant comes from some kind of vaguely economic fairness intuition according to which one must "pay" for one's advertising space by also offering "original" content?

It would also be interesting, in this context, to know the extent to which one's reactions to this are shaped by class, culture, etc. -- dimensions on which there's some variance on the sort and amount of self-promoting behavior is accepted.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | May 11, 2011 11:53:17 AM

No more anon comments on this topic. They will be deleted.

Posted by: Dan Markel | May 10, 2011 4:00:09 PM

Were it that I had the time, the temperament, or the means "to read lots of journals."

And I'll be damned if I understand what it means to respond to AnonProf "more analytically." I suppose it's connected to a more "robust" response as well. I rather found the responses in proper proportion to the quality and tone of the original comment.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | May 10, 2011 12:04:16 PM

I find blog posts about articles virtually useless. There's a simple solution to identifying good articles--read lots of journals--and good books--read lots of books. I ignore almost all posts about forthcoming articles, postings on SSRN, "my article about x is not available on SSRN", and the like. The key is to get lots of journals in your mailbox and to read key articles (on your area of specialization and out of sheer intellectual curiosity).

Many of the posts in this thread are extremely defensive as if AnonProf didn't have a legitimate point of view. Try to respond more analytically and less viscerally. I'm not against self-promoting posts (more power to you if you can find the space to get them out to the pubic), but I think they are almost always a waste of time to read.

Posted by: anon | May 10, 2011 11:03:34 AM

Simple test: will readers enjoy what you're about to do, or resent it? If the former, do it. If the latter, don't.

My personal rule of thumb is that you get one bite at the apple. It's like movie trailers. The first view of almost any trailer is entertaining, no matter what you think of the movie. At worst, you know what not to see. But if you're seeing the same footage again and again at every commercial break, something heavy is going to get hurled through something breakable, and not just in the movie.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | May 10, 2011 9:56:22 AM

You guys have given me a good book idea: "REHABILITATING PIMPS!" (Can someone suggest a co-author?)

Query whether this post and comments are insulting to pimps?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | May 10, 2011 5:53:09 AM

I had the same thought Jeff. For the record, I got Orinrolled twice.

Posted by: Patrick Luff | May 10, 2011 5:34:45 AM

A potential audience of people not interested in reading the piece? That's not much of a potential audience. Perhaps the idea that, if you were the sort of person who didn't self-promote, you would write different articles, ones that would attract a bigger actual audience. But it seems unlikely to me that that's a *causal* relationship; rather, it strikes me (if true) as just a function of what sort of person you are. It's a kind of Predestination Theory. Since in the real world, Eric and I and others here ARE the sort of people who mention their work in blog posts, the die is already cast, so to speak. So there's not really much point in NOT mentioning scholarship that's apparently already tainted by our narrow interests.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | May 9, 2011 10:14:06 PM

If you want to take a break from reading stuff by law profs, check out this site: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1514555

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | May 9, 2011 7:29:52 PM

Orin Kerr has clearly won this argument. I am tempted to offer an alternative website contender that was actually a youtube video of Rick Astley, but that would be wrong.

Posted by: Jeff Yates | May 9, 2011 7:07:24 PM

Bruce, the answer to any negative comment might be "if it's not for you, it's not for you, so pipe down already." But another reaction might be to see it as input from a potential audience. One of the central complaints made about legal scholarship is that it is written solely for other legal scholars (if that); telling someone they can just avert their gaze when they complain about a blog post struck me as illustrating the same kind of mindset. And the irony is that the justification for promoting the other, too-little-read medium is that it's otherwise too hard to get an audience.

I view self-promotion as perhaps a necessary evil . . . for those who can bear it. Whether one should double down by posting about it, well, reasonable minds can differ.

Posted by: Ani | May 9, 2011 7:07:05 PM

Ani, re: point 4, I'm having trouble seeing how it's inconsistent to on the one hand, e.g., tell Zzzz not to read posts he/she is not interested in, and on the other, engage in "self-promotion borne of anxiety than no one is reading the work otherwise." I can't speak for everyone I suppose, but certainly when I mention something I'm working on on a blog, the idea is not to force people who aren't interested in it to read it; that seems a little bizarre. The idea is to let people who ARE interested in the subject matter know about it. Obviously the Zzzz's of the world aren't interested, so almost by definition such posts are not aimed at them.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | May 9, 2011 6:38:41 PM

As a follow-up, there's one more site I strongly recommend: Visit it often.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 9, 2011 4:19:37 PM

I agree with most of the above defenses of self-promotion. Four mild dissents.

1. Self-promotion via blogs strikes me as a little different than the self-promotion we traditionally see elsewhere, including by authors. Time was an author would be invited to participate in a dialogue with a host or an audience. Self-promotion via blogs is more frequently in the nature of a peremptory announcement, or (as in the complained-of post) "So long and thanks for all the fish, and please download my latest"; in such cases it leaves the impression that scholarly dialogue is at best an afterthought, or that tooting one's own horn is the compensation for a guest stint.

2. To a degree this is beyond the blogger's own control, but the feeling of self-promotion is heightened by the general self-promotion of the academy by other academics. It's pretty rare to have an author mention her or his recent article and have someone else say (for attribution) that it stinks, and very common to have someone else say (for attribution) that it sounds fascinating. This echo chamber effect makes self-promotion less appealing.

3. I have an aesthetic objection that perhaps motivated the original complaint. To my taste, there's something unappealing about any kind of self-promotion, regardless of whether it's done; to take a more common example than Tiger Woods, citing to one's own work is kind of like when athletes refer to themselves in the third person. This is an individual matter, but I see shades of it in the endorsements upthread.

4. If we are on the subject of irony, there's something a little rich about telling a commenter to stuff it, since they don't need to read the blog if they don't like, and self-promotion borne of anxiety than no one is reading the work otherwise. Perhaps it has something to do with the attitude toward readers?

Posted by: Ani | May 9, 2011 4:09:42 PM

This comment thread reminds me of a fantastic website that I urge you to visit.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 9, 2011 4:02:57 PM

The interesting thing about zzz's comment is that it indicates a certain view of what's worth reading -- what's worth reading is what "others" are already discussing. If "others" are not discussing it, the reason is not that they don't know about it, but that they do know about it and have not deemed it discussion-worthy. And if "others" don't think it's worth reading, then neither should the rest of us.

This is precisely a reason why I hope that my articles are read by an exceedingly small number of people, perhaps limited to me (the piece's most important audience, of course) and one additional person (if possible, hand-picked by me, with an interest in genial private conversation about the piece over cognac). In that way, I can maximize the chances that "others" won't be able to announce their unspoken disapproval.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 9, 2011 2:08:40 PM

I'm with Eric and most of the other commenters. The point of this and other substantive academic lawblogs is to generate an interesting, rigorous dialogue about the law and what it should be. The people who post here--self included--try to create that dialogue in a number of different ways, one of which may be to mention work we've just finished. If Eric had, for example, just posted the abstract of his work as if it were a freestanding post without any connection to the paper, I think we'd all agree that it would be a totally legit thing to do; the fact that it's connected to a paper doesn't seem to detract from its merit. If anything, it may be more convincing to write a post that is supported in detail by an article rather than just several paragraphs without any citations or evidence.

I can imagine a prof being overbearing in their style of self-promotion, of course. If a guest on Prawfs mentioned their article multiple times, or went on and on about how great it was, or crowed about number of SSRN downloads or something like that, I can see it being off-putting, but that's not what Eric (or any of us, self included--I've mentioned though not exclusively featured my work in posts during my April guest stint) seems to be doing. So a tactful post that simply mentions one's work as part of the overall project of pushing forward the dialogue about law strikes me as a totally reasonable and inoffensive way to use this forum.

The final point is that these posts are easily ignored, so if you don't like them, it's easy enough to just ignore them.

Posted by: Dave | May 9, 2011 2:01:32 PM

I think zzz and TJ are almost 100% wrong. The posts discussing actual articles are almost always among the most interesting posts on Prawfs. We should be *much* more embarrassed by the posts that engage in excessive navel gazing about the institutions of legal academia, random discussions of our individual writing habits, barstool political commentary etc. Volokh has a regular feature where they invite authors to blog their papers (I've done it -- see here http://www.mail-archive.com/[email protected]/msg15329.html) and it's one of the best features on their blog.

So, I say: Pimp away! It will raise the average quality of posts substantially. Also, Dan, you should ask one guest poster to do a series of posts about an article s/he has written once a month. Perhaps it can be called it the zzzz Honorary Article Discussion Series.......

Posted by: DSchleicher | May 9, 2011 1:45:39 PM

zzzz: your post makes no sense. those who direct you to articles are, in fact, alerting you to "actual analyses and thought-provoking discussion" written in long form. is it just that you only want to read *short* discussions? i suppose that's one possible purpose of blogs; but another (and i think more important) purpose is to draw our attention to real scholarly work that might be of interest.

and TJ: i will agree that i do feel mildly embarrassed whenever i self-promote on a blog, but I'm not sure that i *should* feel that way. it's not quite the same thing as being immodest generally, i don't think, because there is presumably a real value in bringing people's collaborative attention to our work.... it is, in a way, asking for help--which is in fact an act of humility....

Posted by: Ian Bartrum | May 9, 2011 1:30:21 PM

Zzz, I hadn't known about Eric's article, which I would like to read, until his blog post. So, it was a service to at least one regular reader of this blog. If you aren't interested, you are of course free NOT TO READ THOSE POSTS.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | May 9, 2011 1:24:52 PM

Zzzz, how is anyone going to find out about it to talk about it for you if you don't self-promote? Should we just hope that someone happens to read an interesting article while flipping through a journal and tell enough people to get the word out there? The fact is, there's far too much scholarship for that model to work, and so promotion on a blog like this is eminently necessary.

Prof. Johnson, I completely agree with you that the epidemic of anonymous internet commenting is an unfortunate phenomenon.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | May 9, 2011 1:02:56 PM

I stopped reading Prawfs regularly because too often it was just random professors' self-promoting posts. We like reading actual analyses and thought-provoking discussion, not seeing ads for Yet Another Law Review Article. It's as if you open the opinion page of the NYTimes, and all the op-eds were just the columnists hawking their own books.

If one's article was really that good and engaging, wouldn't others be discussing it for you? Why would you need to promote it?

Posted by: zzzz | May 9, 2011 12:51:41 PM

I'm going to disagree with Dan that Anonprof's comment is craven and snarky. It seems to me that Eric is making some good points, and overall there is nothing wrong with self-promotion on a blog, but it is still something we should feel mildly embarrassed about. The analogy to "glossy flyers" is telling -- I don't know anyone who thinks that schools sending out law porn should feel proud of it. Many schools do it, and they have a right to do it, but it is still something they should feel mildly embarrassed about.

Posted by: TJ | May 9, 2011 12:21:45 PM

It's an odd, odd view of the scholarly enterprise (but one that I've encountered before) that we are supposed to toil away for months or even years on our pet projects and NOT LET ANYONE KNOW ABOUT IT. It's a tragic fact of life that much of what professors produce is not read (and some subset of that is not worth reading) -- but that's not the ideal!

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | May 9, 2011 12:07:50 PM

Oh, okay. Sorry about that! I fixed it in the post.

Posted by: Eric E. Johnson | May 9, 2011 12:05:00 PM

Eric, just to be clear, it was me that called AnonProf's comment snarky and craven!

Posted by: Dan Markel | May 9, 2011 11:57:38 AM

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