Self-Publishing of Legal Schoalrship

March 24th, 2011

Professor Bainbridge has an interesting post on trends in legal scholarship toward self-publishing. What are the benefits?

Why not self-publish them? I can see several reasons that self-publishing would be a good idea:

  1. I get all proceeds instead of royalties of 15% of book sales.
  2. Law reviews don’t pay for articles. An article self-published would generate income.
  3. I get to control marketing. I was really disappointed by the (lack of a) marketing campaign for one of my more recent books. If I self-published, I’d control the marketing campaign.
  4. I control the price. If I want to maximize the number of readers, I set the price low. If I want to maximize revenue, I can set the price somewhat higher.

What are the drawbacks?

Publishers of legal scholarship tend to act as gatekeepers with respect to quality. Oxford is routinely ranked as the #1 academic press. Having two books published by Oxford (ahem) thus is a signal to one’s employer and other relevant observers that one is doing good work. The signal is objective and unbiased, which gives it very useful credibility.

Bainbridge has some specific knocks on law reviews in particular.

The same is true of law reviews, I suppose, although it’s less clear why. Unlike professional academic presses, which have multiple levels of grown-up editors that must be persuaded and make use of peer reviews, law reviews mostly are staffed by twenty-something second-and third-year law students whose knowledge of the law, legal profession, business, and so on is typically modest at best. If the Harvard Law Review turns down an article that Chapman’s law review accepts, all it really tells you is that kids who on average scored higher on the LSAT liked your article less than did kids who on average scored lower. Why their choices send signals worth paying attention to is unclear, at least to me, which is not to say that I’d turn down any offer of publication the Harvard Law Review would care to make. I may think that the market is absurd, but I’m still an economically rational actor.

Bainbridge links to Eugene Volokh’s series of posts from a few years ago about the future of legal scholarship in the digital age.

I think law reviews will start to more heavily promote their online editions. They take pieces that are timely, turn them around quicker, and offer them free of charge to everyone. My experience publishing with PENNumbra was an absolute pleasure. The article went from offer to published in about 3-4 months. You could never see that turnaround time for a traditional journal. Interesting stuff.