SSRN Considered Harmful

You may recall that in November I decided not to post my papers to SSRN. I was disturbed by a number of their decisions that seemed to me to interfere unduly with open access to scholarship. While I planned to continue using SSRN itself to email out abstracts of my papers, its decision to place an intrusive SSRN-promoting watermark on every page of hosted papers was just too much for me. I therefore shipped my scholarly archive over to the Berkeley Electronic Press, and vowed to post to SSRN no more.

Well, I have now broken that vow. I recently discovered that SSRN forbids non-SSRN URLs in the abstracts of papers, so I couldn’t supply a BEPress or download link myself. When I attempted to upload a PDF with abstract, contact information, and non-SSRN download URL, they rejected the entire submission. The move is essentially protectionist; it uses SSRN’s dominant email abstract service to drive business to SSRN’s paper-hosting service. The overall effect of the combined policies is a form of lock-in that is in significant tension with open access principles.

Thus, I’ve just uploaded SSRN Considered Harmful to SSRN. It’s a short explanation of how SSRN’s policies impede open access and what SSRN should to to fix matters. I am attempting to engage SSRN in a discussion of this URL policy, and I hope that I will be able to revise this essay with an explanation that my criticisms are no longer accurate and that SSRN has become an appropriate place to post scholarship. Still, if that discussion does not work out and things don’t improve, the essay ends with a call to scholars to stop using SSRN. If you care about broad and free distribution of scholarship, please have a read.

UPDATE February 27: Interesting! The version I uploaded wasn’t watermarked. I wonder whether this is an optimistic sign that the watermarking policy is flexible or has been suspended, a fluke, or just a temporary status until the paper is reviewed by SSRN staff. Another optimistic sign is that I’ve dug up some papers on SSRN that are watermarked only on the first two pages. I’d prefer no watermarks, but this is a good start.

UPDATE February 28: I’m informed by a friend (and I’ve seen with my own eyes) that BEPress adds a cover page to some papers, including those in its ExpressO Preprint Series. I’ve been dealing with the Selected Works sites, which don’t watermark. Since only the former is generally open (the latter is in beta and is invitation-only), I’m concerned about the details.