February 18, 2009
Twenty-Five Year Decline in Law Review Subscriptions
In Law Review Circulation, Ross Davies (George Mason), Green Bag Almanac & Reader 2009 at 164, reports on the sad state of law review compliance with the USPS's requirement to report total paid circulation each year. His survey of the top 15 law reviews from 1979-80 to 2007-08 shows significant gaps in reporting circulation numbers -- about 25 percent of the total reportable years for the 15 law reviews have no data in his table, Total Paid Circulation, 1979-2008 for the Flagships of the U.S. News Top 15, according to my reckoning. Davies also observed that in some instances reported circulation numbers are not plausible because they are remarkably stable (e.g., Yale's circulation numbers in the 1980s and Vanderbilt's numbers in the 1990s).
True enough but what is remarkable to me is the dramatic decline in law review paid circulations during the last 25 years. Omitting the law reviews listed in Davies' table that did not report circulation data frequently enough to be useful (but keeping Yale and Vanderbilt's data despite the plausibility issue), I took a quick (as in blog post quality) look at the trend in paid law review subscription from 1983-84 to 2007-08 for Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Boalt, Penn, Michigan, Georgetown and Vanderbilt using the data Davies compiled.
The extent of the decline in paid subscriptions for these eight major law reviews surprised me. The total number of subscriptions for the law review combined declined 66%, from 29,083 in 1983-84 to 9,897 in 2007-2008. Another way to look at this is Harvard Law Review's subscription count in 1983-84 (8,762) almost equals the total number of paid subscription for Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Boalt, Penn, Michigan, Georgetown and Vanderbilt in 2007-2008.
Table 1 displays the cumulative subscription count in five year increments of the nine listed journals for the 25 years covered. [Click to enlarge] Check out Davies' article for earlier data.
Table 2 displays the 25-year decline in paid subscriptions for each title in five-year increments.
I discern no leveling off or end to this trend based on the above two tables. Do you?
Table 3 displays the 25-year decline in paid subscriptions for each title as a percentage of the title's 1983-84 paid subscription base. Note the declines for Harvard, Columbia, Michigan and Georgetown, all 70% or higher.
So where have all the paid subscribers gone? As a cost savings measure, law review subscriptions are relatively inexpensive. One doesn't get a huge payoff by canceling them when collection budgets have to be cut. But have academic and law firm libraries canceled their subscriptions when they made shelf space available by sending long runs of bound law review volumes to the dumpster? Has the ready availability of digital law review collections on LexisNexis, Westlaw, HeinOnline and law review websites eliminated the need for subscribing to law reviews? All likely possibilities but the sheer number of canceled subscriptions is larger than the law library subscriber base even if we take into account that many law libraries once subscribed to multiple copies of some of these titles. For a decline this substantial one has to think alumni are not subscribing as they once did. And then there is the irrelevance factor. Maybe law review articles simply are not as relevant to members of the bench and bar as they once were. Maybe it is time to cast aside the law review publishing model and replace the 200-some titles with a handful of peer-review law journals.
I think most every academic law librarian has roamed the law review stacks at least once thinking what a waste it was to be storing runs of unread and uncited law review articles, thinking only a select few titles will ever be used. Representatives of that select few are listed above and the long-term decline in their paid circulations should give us all something to think about. [JH]
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Law Librarian Blog has an interesting Feb. 18, 2009 posting entitledTwenty-Five Year Decline in Law Review Subscriptions.It discusses Law Review Circulation, Ross Davies (George Mason), Green Bag Almanac Reader 2009 which documents the declining subscr... [Read More]
Tracked on Feb 18, 2009 11:14:00 PM
This presentations shows everything, this is a great article and report. It helped me alot on my research. Thanks for sharing
Posted by: legitimate paid surveys | Aug 25, 2010 10:46:10 AM
Very informative. Thanks for sharing this information on subscription. Thanks for showing the tables showing what happened. It's helpful on my studies.
Posted by: surveys online | Aug 5, 2010 11:50:05 PM
It is hard to make people subscribe or maintain subscription in this time hard times.
Posted by: legalheiress | Apr 21, 2009 10:16:31 PM
Print subscriptions have been declining for all scholarly journals for quite some time. In the association and society marketplace declines of 6-8% per year are not uncommon. The rate of decline has increased with the continued migration to online publishing formats and reductions in library budgets. The larger scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing field has been actively addressing this problem over the past 10+ years. As presented in Mr. Davies research many journals have seen print subscribers drop by 50+%.
One of the keys for todays publishers is to ensure that they have a sound archiving strategy in place to ensure long-term access to their content. This may be a campus or university library archive, or through one of the online commercial partners. Many publishers are now making use of print-on-demand technologies to maintain print as an option for those who wish to receive it, and others still are reducing frequency yet inceasing the size of each "archival" print issue. Publishing models are changing rapidly, however the options to maintain a successful program are available. All of these alternative models require careful evaluation of subscription pricing and/or author fee models to ensure the long-term viability of a publication.
Posted by: Kevin Pirkey | Feb 19, 2009 8:03:27 AM
we now live in an electronic world -- most major law reviews are available with a lexis subscription; also, many law reviews are now on-line for free. why pay for a subscription twice or when it is unnecessary?
does anyone have a list of all of the law reviews that provide free access over the net?
Posted by: michael rose | Feb 19, 2009 1:19:44 AM
In this tough times, people are limiting expenses to the basic necessities of the family. For some, subscriptions to magazines have become a luxury that could not be sustained in this crisis.
Posted by: LLB | Feb 18, 2009 11:33:08 PM
Like other reviews, the St. John's Law Review circulation has declined in the past ten years. Few law school libraries have cancelled. Most library cancellations have come from courts or firms. The number of alumni subscribers has also declined as people die, retire or do not renew. In addition, few alumni appear to be interested in starting subscriptions. About ten years ago, letters were sent to alumni who had served on Law Review inviting them to subscribe. The positive response was only about 5%.
Posted by: William H. Manz | Feb 18, 2009 11:04:29 AM