June 28, 2007
More on The Long Tail of Legal Scholarship
Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, has attracted enormous attention since its publication in July 2006. His insight is that technology and the Internet have transformed the focus of America’s culture and economy. Whereas pre-Internet firms turned out a small number of “hits” or blockbuster products (the “head” of the demand curve), today’s Internet-era firms offer a broader range of niche products (the “tail”). This Essay argues that the long tail theory can help both explain the current state of legal scholarship and chart its future.
Tom Smith's ongoing research project, The Web of Law, tallied citations to law review articles and paints legal scholarship as a hit-driven market, in contrast to the Long Tail theory's predictions: The top 0.5% of articles get 18% of all citations; the top 5.2% of articles get 50% of all citations; and the top 17% of articles get 79% of all citations. The tail ends abruptly, as 40% of articles are never cited at all.
In contrast, I mined SSRN download data and found a much longer tail than is present in the citations data:
Consistent with the Long Tail thesis, 97% of authors have had at least one download in the past year and 100% have had at least one download at some time. (This Long Tail is not present in citations data; 40% of articles have never been cited.)
The Long Tail of the SSRN download data is reflected in the following chart showing the number of new downloads for law authors ranked 1001 through 3501:
Bill Henderson (Indiana) is undertaking a massive project compiling 80 years worth of bibliographic data from the Index of Legal Periodical (ILP) with 85 years of biographical information from the AALS directory. He reported some preliminary findings yesterday, including that there are 314,331 authors and 750,000 articles (2.45 articles per author) in the ILP database. He noted:
Similar to Paul Caron's observation on The Long Tail of Legal Scholarship, the Top 1000 authors account for 9.1% of the entries (70,452). In other words, 1/3 of 1% of the authors produced 9.1% of the entries.
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