I got an email earlier this week announcing that another bevy of law schools have set up “Working Paper” series at Bepress. Pitt set up a Working Paper series at bepress, and despite my initial skepticism, I’ve come around to the view that this is a good thing.
Here’s why: Many more people seem to be looking at my work via bepress than via SSRN. I’ve posted drafts at bepress as well as at SSRN. In some cases, I’ve posted the same manuscript in both places. Bepress sends me occasional emails to let me know how many times each MS has been downloaded; I can watch the numbers at my SSRN page. For my most recent piece, three times more copies have been downloaded from bepress than have been downloaded from SSRN. There’s no way to know how many of these copies were read, but obviously I’m happy to see that some people seem to be interested.
Why the difference? Possibilities include — (i) this is just a fluke, and/or I’m an unusual case; (ii) it derives somehow from the different ways in which bepress and SSRN advertise their contents to law faculty and others; (iii) it derives from the different ways in which law faculty are subscribed to bepress and SSRN mailing lists; (iv) the bepress numbers can be gamed dramatically, or they are even more unreliable than SSRN numbers. That doesn’t exhaust the possibilities, of course.
If this little numerical difference does represent something more than randomness or gaming, I’m curious, also, about whether it represents something interesting about online archiving and distribution of scholarship. Will the relative influence of bepress and SSRN be reflected elsewhere? In scholarly trends themselves? In the pace of new research? In interdisciplinary writing? In law review selection processes (The blogosphere has numerous anecdotes from law review editors who are watching (or consciously ignoring) SSRN downloads)? In the blogosphere? (The Legal Theory blog, which I use as both a supplement to SSRN announcements and as a filter, keys off of SSRN postings.) And if my own numbers are not purely idiosyncratic, and if others experience the same or similar things, is bepress likely to draw posters and subscribers away from SSRN? Or will we end up with something like a friendlier Lexis and Westlaw for preprints?