Blogging and the Marketplace of Ideas
I started blogging at Opinio Juris in June 2005. My first post was a postcard from India. Since that time I have published over 1,000 posts. During that same ten-year period I have also published dozens of articles and a few books. In light of that background, I thought I would use Opinio Juris’ ten-year anniversary to reflect on the state of law blogging within the legal academy.
In the early days, law blogging was controversial. Many serious scholars were wary of blogging. Crusty established professors at elite schools saw little point in it, and untenured professors were intrigued but nervous. The sweet spot were young newly-tenured (or soon-to-be tenured) professors at reputable non-elite schools eager to build their brand and willing to embrace the medium despite the risks. Chris Borgen, Julian Ku, and Peggy McGuinness seized the opportunity and were the first-movers in the international law blog space.
As soon as I started reading Opinio Juris I knew I wanted to become a permanent contributor. Why? Because professors are in the marketplace of ideas, and blogging presented a whole new medium to sell our ideas. If a scholar is serious about the marketplace of ideas, it is not enough to simply produce a great product. One also has to promote that product in a thoughtful, respectful manner. This is no easy task.
So exactly how does one sell ideas? In the old days, promoting one’s scholarship required an inordinate amount of time speaking at conferences. At those conferences we would spend ten hours of travel time in order present for twenty minutes about an article that we had been working on for fifty-two weeks. If we were lucky, there would be about a hundred people in the audience. The incremental payoff was meager, but with enough effort a scholar could build a reputation.
Blogging completely changed the equation. Now a scholar can spend two hours summarizing an idea, post that summary on a blog, and reach an audience of thousands. That audience is not clustered in a particular geographic region, but is spread throughout the world. That audience is not required to listen to your ideas because they are second-year law review staffers, but they eagerly seek out your ideas because they are sincerely interested in what you have to say. Conferences continue to have their place, but the cost-benefit analysis favors blogging.
After over a decade of experience, the payoff is now clear. There is no doubt that blogging promotes scholarship. Consider law schools where there are well-known, reputable scholars who routinely blog. Where do they rank on SSRN downloads? Invariably law professors who blog are near the top of their respective faculty download rankings. At law schools where there are well-known law professor bloggers—schools like Chicago, Georgetown, UCLA, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, BYU, George Mason, Temple, Pepperdine, Case Western, American, San Diego, Hofstra, and South Texas—again and again we see permanent bloggers are at or near the top for all time SSRN downloads for their respective faculty.
I seriously doubt that the quality of the scholarship of law professor bloggers is uniformly better than that of their colleagues who do not blog. But there is almost no question that law professors who blog have a distinct advantage when it comes to promoting their scholarship. If I write a blog post and make a passing reference to a recent article, (see, e.g., here and here) there is the distinct possibility that of the thousands who read the post, a significant minority will read the article linked in that post. If I write a blog post specifically about a recent article, I can almost guarantee a download bounce.
As others will discuss during this anniversary symposium, blogging serves many useful purposes. But one undeniable benefit is to provide a platform for law professors to promote their scholarship.
Scholarship is not about producing great ideas. It is about producing great ideas and communicating those ideas to the broader world. Some law professors have embraced a medium that gives them a megaphone to share their ideas. Other brilliant scholars choose to produce great scholarship and forego the opportunity to promote it.
Opinio Juris has carved out a unique place in the international legal academy where we actively promote the ideas of the permanent contributors, and others who reach out to us and use this space to share their ideas.