Print Law Review Subscriptions Continue To Decline

LLB posted about a new law review metrics paper uploaded to SSRN called The Increasingly Lengthy Long Run of the Law Reviews: Law Review Business 2012 -- Circulation and Production.

The paper is the usual metrics paper on the decrease of print law review subscriptions. Interestingly, in the abstract, the authors question law reviews that "report relatively low paid circulation numbers to the U.S. Postal Service (which appear only in tiny-type government forms buried in the rarely read front- or back-matter of the reporting law review), but then tout higher sales numbers in promotional sections of their websites."

It's a trend that calls for more attention. It makes sense that the overall sales of print law reviews are continuing to diminish, especially since law reviews are increasingly making their content available for free online. But I like the idea of open access for law reviews, and the increase of online content is a good thing. And professors are paid a salary to produce the content in the law review, so it's not much of a revenue loss at about $40 a pop for an annual subscription.

We do need to consider other revenue streams for law reviews, though. If the subscription money dries up, law reviews may need to charge more in royalty fees for access to content on the databases (WEXIS). The problem, there, is that the databases do not leave much room to bargain. I think that in most cases, it's a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. Other law reviews are charging for their online content, but that doesn't comport with open access considerations unless the author is free to upload to other databases like SSRN.

One thing is certain, as HeinOnline continues to digitize law reviews, more and more libraries will forego their print subscriptions in favor of digital access. And libraries, generally, make up the largest group of law review subscribers. Law reviews need to start considering a time in the very near future when print subscriptions are canceled in total.


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