The Future of Law Professor Blogging: A Reply to Dan Markel

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Dan Markel writes:

Solove counts about 235 law professors who blog now, noting a 16% increase over the last five months in the number of profs who blog now. He also notes that women are roughly 25% of the prawf blawging population.

To my mind, these stats seem inflated on a couple dimensions. Don’t get me wrong: I’m certain they are accurate in that Dan S. has dutifully reported all the information reasonably available to him. But I fear they are misleading in that various people (men and women) who are listed as bloggers are barely blogging, and certain blogs have relatively very few posts, and usually those blogs, and many others on the list, have very few readers.

Markel then observes:

[W]e should be cautious and not try to overstate the amount of enthusiasm out there for prawf blawging. It’s a wonderful thing that more people are writing for audiences beyond law reviews and opeds. And for the most part, I am bullish on prawf blawging’s future. But the growth of blogging by law profs is not, I submit, as robust as an uncritical view of the Solove Census suggests.

I agree with a lot of what Markel writes. In my census, I do not look at the frequency at which a law professor blogs, so ones who post only once in a blue moon are still counted. I adopt this policy because I don’t want to create some rule for how frequently one has to post to be deemed an “active” blogger. Nor do I have time to check to see how often folks are blogging. So Markel is right — my census is limited in that it is basically a head count.

I detect an underlying assumption in Markel’s argument — that the enthusiasm for law professor blogging is tied to the number of bloggers. I don’t agree with this assumption. Quantity does not equal quality. At least for me, there are only about 10 to 20 law professor blogs I read with any regularity.

So how is enthusiasm for blogging to be measured? I don’t know the answer to this yet. I believe that law professor blogging has a very good future — but I’m not sure that its future should be measured in numbers. The future depends upon the quality of blogging, and that is something my census cannot measure.

Markel also notes:

If the “true” numbers of vigorous prawf blawgers increase, then it obviously becomes more difficult to prevent fragmentation. Isn’t there a loss to our profession and academic community if so much blogging occurs that not everyone in our guild can follow the same daily conversations? Or am I talking like an old oligopolist

This is an interesting point, although I disagree that a lot of fragmentation will occur. Actually, I believe that the growth in the number of law professor bloggers will slow down in the future, and that the law professor blogosphere might eventually even contract a bit. In any event, only a limited number of law professor blogs have developed a significant readership and influence. I doubt that this number will dramatically increase. People have limited attention spans and not enough time to read every blog with regularity. Thus, my bet is that there will be some very widely read blogs in the legal academy and some that are popular among particular fields. And the vast remainder will remain very tiny and limited in their audience.

I wonder how many law professors will want to continue to blog if their audience remains very small. At least for me, I would find it very hard blogging to just a small handful of readers. I like blogging because it is a way to share my ideas with a wider audience. Some blog as a way to express themselves, but I can do this in other media such as law review articles. I blog because it is a way to reach out to a broader audience. How many law professors will continue to blog to a largely empty room when blogging consumes so much time? I don’t purport to know the answer, but my guess is that low readership will dampen a law professor’s enthusiasm for devoting the significant time and effort to blog with any degree of regularity.

Right now, a lot of law professors are trying out blogging and seeing if they like it. Some do it well. Some don’t. Some enjoy it and can integrate it into their lives. Others find it too time-consuming and taper off or quit. In the future, we’ll see who stays in the blogosphere and who goes. Like nearly everything else, the law professor blogosphere will sort itself out, and some bloggers will gain prominence and be widely read and others won’t. If I’m correct in this, then perhaps the law professor blogosphere will gel around a few blogs, and there may be even less fragmentation than there is now.

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