Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SSRN to Sell Hard Copies of Papers for $9.99 (With $0 Paid to Authors)

SSRNSSRN will soon start selling hard copies of papers in its database for $9.99, with no portion of this amount to be paid to authors, unless authors opt out by October 29:

In response to requests from authors and readers to purchase printed and bound hard copies of papers on SSRN, we will soon release a “Purchase Bound Hard Copy” service for most free PDF files in SSRN’s eLibrary. We have contracted with a New York company to do the printing, binding and shipping.

The price for one or more bound hard copies will be $9.99 per copy plus shipping. Free PDF files with a minimum of 19 pages and a maximum of 240 pages will be eligible for printing. The PDF document will be printed in black and white, “perfect bound” with a glossy color cover, and shipped to United States addresses only. A “Purchase Bound Hard Copy” option will be added on the abstract page of each eligible paper. The existing options, including free One-Click Download, will remain the same, and each purchased hard copy will count as a download.

Any author, who does not want to have his or her free papers in the SSRN eLibrary available for this new service, can opt out at any time by emailing the request to, or calling the SSRN office at 877-SSRNHelp (877.777.6435) in the United States, or +1 585 442 8170 outside of the United States, between 8:30 am and 6 pm Monday through Friday (U.S. Eastern). If you request to opt out of the “Purchase Bound Hard Copy” service, ALL papers that are authored or co-authored by you will not display the “Purchase Bound Hard Copy” option on your abstract page(s). Please notify us by Friday, October 29, 2010 if you do not want your papers included in the initial roll-out of this new service. You may change your participation status at any time in the future.

It is certainly odd that SSRN made such a dramatic change and requires authors to opt-out (rather than opt-in).  I am not an IP lawyer, but I am told that this service may violate some author agreements with law reviews. In any event, it is hard to see the potential market for such expensive hard copies, especially since readers can print out pdfs for free. And for those wanting a fancier printed product, Amazon offers a similar service for less than half the price. I wonder whether this move will end up hurting SSRN in the long run by causing more schools to create institutional respositories and bypass SSRN.

Update: From SSRN's Bernie Black (Northwestern):

We are committed to open access.  Authors can upload for free; and author-uploaded papers can be downloaded for free.  Print on demand helps us sustain that commitment, which is far from free to deliver on.  SSRN has real costs, which we have to cover somehow.  This will likely be a small way, but small ways help.  We’ve been very restrained on selling ads, as I’m sure some have noticed.  We are *not* in financial trouble; and open access on SSRN is *not* going away.

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Will TaxProf be entering this business also?

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 19, 2010 1:50:56 PM

Hmmm....A profit motive? I understand that there are overhead costs, but this just strikes me as wrong.

How did this ever come about? "Selling?" What? Why?

It's awesome how money knows not liberal or conservative, jew or gentile.

I'm going to go out on a limb. I think the guise of the legal academy is crumbling, and those in the real, respectable disciplines on university campuses welcome its demise.

Deadwood beware!

Posted by: anon | Oct 19, 2010 3:20:43 PM

I'm at a loss to perceive how SSRN users would find any value in this service. Maybe SSRN, at the least, should provide a fancy certificate of authentication on the cover page, or wrap the article in blue ribbon, or print the hard copy in a really cool font, or, if all else fails, enlist the author to inscribe the copy so the reader will have a true keepsake.

Posted by: Jake | Oct 19, 2010 7:04:43 PM

Assuming that SSRN has no exclusivity requirement if you post papers there, why not continue to use their service, while putting in a footer or footnote in the paper directing users to the BEPress? I understand that the paper will still be branded with the watermark, and that you may have objections to supporting a service that has such problems. But SSRN is, for better or worse, the reigning king of online papers, and continuing to put papers there might make them available to those who are unfamiliar with other services.

Posted by: Ron | Oct 20, 2010 2:39:53 AM