In the last year, I recently wrote what I hope will be an important contribution to some legal literature. Anyone familiar with legal literature will know what I mean when I say it has a rigid tediousness to it – half the text is littered with footnotes, the papers are too long, they are not very readable — resulting in many papers never getting read beyond a small community.
I ended up choosing to bypass the journals and just publish the paper online. I didn’t want to go through the gatekeepers who controlled access to the journals and modify my paper to fit their preferences, and I had a sense more people would read — and more importantly interact with — my views if it was online where readers could get access to the paper through search engines, hyperlinks on blogs, and social sharing. Certainly, there was a trade-off: I gave up the prestige associated within publishing within a prestigious title, but overall I wanted people — and not just those within a hyper-specialized subset of the legal community who read these journals — to read it as the views expressed in the paper had general application and more were likely to have practical currency if viewed by a general, practical audience.
I felt a little affirmation in seeing this quotation from the work of George Mason professor Ross Davies on the WSJ website about how law review circulation has plummeted to less than a university paper:
In 2011, for the first time since the U.S. Postal Service began requiring law reviews to track and report their circulation numbers, no major law review had more than 2,000 paying subscribers. The Harvard Law Review remains the top journal, but its paid circulation has declined from more than 10,000 during much of the 1960s and ’70s to about 5,000 in the 1990s to 1,896 last year.