Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Goat-Rope that is SSRN

Over the holiday break, I got another “Everyone Wins a Ribbon Day” e-mail from SSRN:
Dear Brian Huddleston:

Your paper, "Louisiana Legislative History Resources", was recently
listed on SSRN's Top Ten download list for LSN: Legal Information:
Authority, Citation, & Precedent (Sub-Topic). As of 12/30/2010, your
paper has been downloaded 48 times. You may view the abstract and
download statistics at

Top Ten Lists are updated on a daily basis. Click on the following
link to view the Top Ten list for the journal LSN: Legal Information:
Authority, Citation, & Precedent (Sub-Topic) Top Ten.
I got a message like this soon after I uploaded this paper, and it was a joke even then: that e-mail said my paper was in the top ten downloads for the previous two months, but I only had 11 downloads at the time. Yet I was in the top ten because, yes, there were only two papers within this subject “eJournal” for that two-month period, and mine was the second of the two. (And who the hell was downloading it? - its a pretty narrow subject to be browsing for something about Louisiana legislative history research on SSRN.)

The bottom line is that SSRN has so many subject-specific “eJournals” - seven related to ConLaw and jurisprudence, six related to employment law and related matters, etc., etc. - that ANY paper can just about be assured of being a “Top Ten” download for that particular eJournal soon after you upload it to SSRN. This fact is sometimes trumpeted by self-serving law professors who conveniently leave out the detail that their paper was a Top Ten download only in the “Law of Armenian Basket Weaving” eJournal and instead represent it as a overall “SSRN Top Ten Download”. But I’m not naming names...

This recent message from SSRN was all the more suspect since my “paper” is a year and a half old - I doubt its within the top ten of anything now. But yesterday SSRN President Greg Gordon sent the follow-up e-mail to, apparently, a whole mess of people who got a similar message:
We apologize for sending you one or more incorrect email messages
last week. While testing some new functionality, our servers sent
"Top Ten" emails to the top one hundred downloaded papers in certain
ejournals instead of the top ten.
Oops! Damn that decimal point! And how disappointing! - my 2009 paper was only in the TOP ONE HUNDRED downloads for 2010 in the “LSN: Legal Information eJournal, Authority, Citation, & Precedent Sub-Topic”.

Wait - I didn’t even notice that - the eJournal is “Legal Information and Technology”, but they rank the top downloads for EVERY “sub-topic” within that journal? There are about forty sub-topics under this eJournal, including a full dozen sub-topics about the “Practice of Law Librarianship” for all my fellow law librarians to bulk up their resumes with “Top Ten Downloads” boastings.

Realizing this, its not surprising I’m in the top 100 downloads for the “Authority, Citation, & Precedent” sub-topic: there are only sixty-three papers TOTAL under that sub-topic! And I don’t think I put my paper in that sub-topic - it has nothing to do with Authority, Citation, & Precedent - its about Louisiana legislative history and was a contribution to a 50-state survey that apparently is no longer going to be published in Legal Reference Services Quarterly. Does SSRN stick papers in these eJournals and sub-topics randomly?

And let’s not even get into the poorly-thought “opt-out” requirement for authors who don’t want to participate in SSRN’s new “Hard Copies for $9.99” service. There’s no way for authors to get any royalties on this, and apparently this will violate the terms of agreements that professors sign with most law reviews. SSRN said it needed to start doing this to help cover expenses, even though they’re bilking charging the majority of law schools $6000+ annually to sent out four or five e-mails a year with lists of recent faculty articles, aka the SSRN “Research Paper Series”. We've been debating ponying up for our own Research Paper Series but I've repeated offered to the Dean that I would do the same thing for half the price.

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