Monday, February 16, 2015
TaxProf Blog op-ed: Goodbye to Tax Notes?, by George K. Yin (Virginia):
In Goodbye to Tax Notes, Michael Graetz bids adieu to one of my favorite sources of tax information because of dramatic changes in their subscription practices. He states that “there are many alternative sources of information and new outlets to publish the kinds of short articles that Tax Notes contains.” He mentions SSRN, ITPF, Paul Caron’s blog, and other possibilities. While I and my school are not happy with the subscription changes, I am not sure there are good alternatives available and would be happy to learn otherwise.
I don’t believe the issue is finding an outlet for our own work since (as far as I know) one can publish in Tax Notes without being a subscriber. Moreover, Tax Notes reaches practitioners and government people as well as academics. I doubt that non-academics subscribe to the various SSRN digests the way many academics do. Thus, posting a paper on SSRN is not the same as publishing in Tax Notes.
The main question is whether the information collected and disseminated by Tax Notes is replicated elsewhere. I’m dubious. In less than one hour on Monday, I can usually skim the weekly issue and quickly learn (or identify for future learning) much of what I might need to know in my professional work. Yes, the information is almost all available elsewhere, but I doubt I could capture it so quickly and efficiently on my own.
Michael points out that Tax Notes has been quite profitable and he is therefore skeptical that “this change in policy is prompted by financial necessity.” But since when are tax-exempt non-profits not to make (or maximize) profits? The question is what the organization does with its surplus. How are the profits used to further the organization’s exempt purpose? It’s not clear that giving a financial break to Columbia (or Virginia) is the best approach.
I actually have other grievances with Tax Notes aside from its financial changes. My anecdotal impression is that the magazine has changed its editorial policies, and replaced some “tax” editors with “non-tax” writers. Increasingly, the result is minor editorial changes to submissions of the type sometimes provided by 2nd and 3rd year law review editors: a little “clarification” that reveals the editor’s ignorance of the underlying tax issue. We should expect better work from a professional tax journal. As to the subscription policy change, I have suggested to my school that we limit what we purchase to keep the charge reasonable, but not cut off the subscription altogether. If Michael or anyone else can persuade me otherwise, I am all ears.