ABA's Restrictive New Archive Policy

ABA's Restrictive New Archive Policy.

Erik J. Heels comments on the ABA's decision to restrict access to the WWW archives of its print magazines to members only:

ABA did recently redesign its website and much of the content that had
been available for free to the general public is now available only to
ABA members. On one hand, you could argue that people who come to the
ABA website to view free content are more likely to join the ABA and
that removing “old” content makes it more difficult to attract new
members. On the other hand, you could argue that providing the full
text of articles to members only provides an incentive for nonmembers
to join the ABA (and I have it on good authority that this is the
position that the ABA is taking).

Perhaps in the long run,
the ABA's approach will be vindicated in the marketplace. I doubt it.
More likely, it's one of those decisions that looks good in the short
run, but turns out to make things worse instead of better:

  • In
    the long run, restricting access to archives may make it more difficult
    for ABA publications to recruit authors. Speaking as an author who's
    published articles in multiple ABA paper publications, including
    Judge's Journal, Experience, GPSolo, The Public Lawyer and Law
    Practice, the decision makes writing for ABA magazines less attractive.
    Like most of the ABA's authors, I write for ABA magazines, and other
    legal publications, primarily as a public service, with the incidental
    benefit of reputation building. Restricting access to the online archives reduces both motivations to contribute to ABA publications.

  • To me, and, I suspect, others, restricting access to
    the archives makes ABA membership less valuable. I learn about articles
    through a form of “push”–receiving the paper version via the postal
    service. Having learned about the article, I may use the online version
    for various purposes, including archives. I don't really want to keep a
    lot of paper magazine articles around. In this regard, the ABA's move
    is a step backward.

Does restricting archive availability
really help sales of paper products? Other organizations have found
exactly the opposite. As Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian explain in Information Rules (Harvard Business School Press 1999):

National Academy of Sciences Press put more than a thousand of its
books on-line and found that availability of the electronic versions
has boosted sales of hard copies by two or three times. The MIT Press
had much the same experience; it claims that making electronic books
available on its Web site approximately doubles their sales.


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