Going Digital: The Future of Reprints?
One of the great things about law review articles is that you can order a batch of reprints — separately-bound copies of your article that you can send out to a list of your colleagues. I have a large and growing database of various professors, policymakers, journalists, and others who receive copies of my articles — a fact that is not without some irony, since many of these people are in the information privacy law field, and I have written extensively on the problems posed by databases. Thus, ironically, I maintain a database with one of the most extensive collections of people who criticize databases.
It is common practice among law professors to send out reprints widely, as this is a way to present one’s scholarship to others in a highly-readable format. But reprints come at a considerable cost. Recently, I got the price quote for a reprint order for a soon-to-be-published article. Under the pricing scheme, I get 40 free reprints, but that’s not nearly enough for my database, which includes hundreds of people. For 200 extra reprints, it would cost about $744 and for 400 extra it would cost $1059. Wow! I nearly had a heart attack . . . and I’m not even the one paying the bill — my school picks up the tab. Anyway, if I handed a bill for over $1000 to my dean, the keys to my office might not work the next day. Plus, there’s the cost of postage, envelopes, and stationary.
So here’s my idea. I’m thinking of moving toward a system of electronic reprints. I could send out a PDF version of the final article in an email to everybody in my database. In other words, I’d shift from being a junk mailer to a spammer. . . .
In my email, I’d include the text of the letter I would have sent to accompany the reprint, attach the article in PDF format, and possibly include a link to the final version of the paper on SSRN. I’d still order some reprints — about 50 to 100 — and offer to send hard copies of the reprints to anybody who requested them. My guess is that I’d get a few people requesting the actual reprint, but most people interested in reading the article would just print it out from the attached digital version.
The pros to moving in this direction are:
(1) It’s much cheaper.
(2) There’s less wasted paper. Many reprints wind up in the trash. Under the digital system, only those who really are interested in the article will print it out.
(3) It’s much easier to send out a reprint — no signing hundreds of letters.
(1) Some people might really prefer reading the reprint rather than a printed-out version in the same formatting. And they might feel that it is an imposition to ask for a reprint. Or perhaps too many would ask for the actual reprint. Supplies would be low, and reprints cannot be ordered after the article is printed.
(2) Some people might find the email to be an annoyance. People are used to the current practice of sending physical copies, so they might not mind receiving something in the mail. I fear, however, that because people might not be accustomed to receiving a reprint by email, they might take offense to it. For some (hopefully not many), the email may add further unwanted clutter to their already burgeoning email inbox.
So I pose the question: Should I move to a digital reprint system? For those who receive reprints in the mail, would you have a strong preference for reading the actual reprint as opposed to a printed-out copy with the same formatting? Do you even read the reprints you receive?