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February 27, 2009


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Tim Zinnecker

Because many hiring committees continue to use placement as some barometer of quality, many profs (even those with tenure) who harbor any hope of moving laterally up the food chain will continue to play the "trade up" game. This has to annoy the student editors at lower-ranked journals who serve, to a great extent, as "first readers" for student editors at higher-ranked journals. We'd be laughed out of town if we tried to pull this "trade up" game with a clerkship offer from a judge. Is there any rational explanation for why we participate / condone the practice within the academy?

I will confess to playing the "trade up" game on more than one occasion. But in recent years, I've merely "waited" for a possible offer from another journal, rather than actively seek an expedited review. ("I don't want you to read it because I have another offer. I want you to read it and make your own decision.") Maybe I'm drawing a distinction that is without difference, but I feel better about myself when I don't shop offers.


Some really great issues. Part of selecting a publisher relates to marketing (and pricing), I think:

Jacqueline Lipton

I totally agree re student editors at lower ranked journals who are forced to act as first readers for higher ranked journals. When I have attempted to explain the trading up game to my colleagues in other countries, their jaws generally drop to the floor before they respond. They can't believe how much time and energy is wasted in this enterprise and how unfair it is on a lot of the journals. (And spare a thought for the poor specialty journal editors who are really enthusiastic about the subject matter, but lose out to general journals when schools tell tenure-track folks that even top specialty journals don't "count" towards tenure - a myth that has thankfully broken down at my school in recent years.)

And thanks, Al, for the reference to your blog post. That's terrific info.


For book publishers, quality does matter. There's a meaningful selection process, and who publishes a book sends a stronger signal about the quality and appropriate target audience of the book. I have published with a range of presses, and sales have been comparable across different publishers -- but the books on first impression are received by colleagues differently, and some presses are more capable of reaching some audiences than others. Certainly as a potential book buyer and reader, I take some publisher lists more seriously than others -- and some publisher lists I never even see.


I agree with the comments to this post. So I ask, why, oh why, do we put up with the trading-up game? As Bob Dole might say, I know, you know, the American people know that it's horse****. Why don't we all put a stop to it? Or are we just too many cogs in a machine we can't control? How? I say, we should all agree to take the first offer that comes in. Period. And senior colleagues, you have to do your part too: read pieces and evaluate them on their merits, not on the basis of what second year law students thing.

Ali Khan

Some count on the trading-up game to promote their careers. You may place your article in a top journal, but what if no one reads it or ever cites it. How must we judge? Isn't there incestuous citing game as well? P cites E but P never cites Malcolm X. Why is that?

I have been sending Islamic law articles through Beperss ExpressO. The experiment is mind-boggling. Each journal rejects anywhere from 90 to 99.6% of submissions. Top ten reviews receive over 3,000 submissions with only 12 to 15 slots to fill. That means they must reject over 99% of submissions. An author who submits to 100 law reviews may receive an average of 1 to 3 offers. That means on average, authors receive 97 to 99% rejections. (Sunstein is an exception, He can have two article in the same Stanford issue.) For most mortals, however, REJECTION is the currency of submssions. Try sending to 100 journal through ExpressO for a tast of rejection.

There are of course critics of the placement game, including local heroes who have been unsuccessful in scoring high. They say, placement is the color of the article whreas its contents are the character. Like in so many other places, they contend, the facial test is driving the marketplace of law ideas. Those who consistently score high scream "sour grapes!"

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