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Fifteen Minutes that Changed Libertarian Publishing

January 12, 2010

Tags Media and CultureAustrian Economics Overview

Libertarian Papers was launched a year ago, in late January 2009. I assessed our first half-year a few months ago. At this time I'd like to explain how Libertarian Papers came to be. The timing is especially suitable, since Libertarian Papers was born one year ago today, in a 15-minute IM chat between Jeff Tucker and me.

It was late Monday night, January 12, 2009. Jeff and I were chatting about a variety of matters, including intellectual property and the then-uncertain status of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, which had been bogged down in editorial changes and delays. I had long been frustrated by the lack of online availability of scholarly articles.

Admirably, the JLS had begun to post its articles online soon after the print versions were published, and then eventually almost simultaneously (later, I helped persuade the editor of Reason Papers — which is generously hosted by the Mises Institute, and back issues of which we helped to put online — to adopt a similar strategy and eliminate the moving-wall delay between online and print publication). Also, I had a draft paper I had written, and I was frustrated with my options for publishing it. The JLS was slow, and its future in doubt. Other publications were also slow, and many of them not reliably or quickly online.

At 9:51 p.m., thoughts I'd had for months finally congealed, and I told Jeff,

So where is the outlet if I have a 35-page scholarly libertarian piece? … You know the solution? Bear with me — I just had an idea.

I went on to explain to Jeff that I could self-publish my piece, but it would not be an "official" publication: there would be no clear publication date, journal title, or way to cite it. One could slap up a PDF file on Mises.org's Working Papers section, but again there is no journal name or official citation. It occurred to me you could make a section similar to Working Papers — completely online — but with a journal name and some (minimal, formalistic) quality control.

I was initially thinking we could make this a section of Mises.org and just call it Mises Papers, or Mises Occasional Papers — so that the author would have a way to cite his "publication." Jeff instantly — and I mean instantly — liked the idea and saw the value in it. By 10:06 p.m. — merely 15 minutes later — we had worked everything out: the name (Jeff suggested Libertarian Papers instead of Mises Papers); publishing 100 percent online, with its own website (I registered our domain that night); that I would be the editor; that Mises.org would be the publisher; and that a Mises Institute web designer (Aristotle Esguerra, it turned out) would be tasked to help set up the website. We also decided that instead of minimalist quality control, the journal would be fully peer-reviewed so as to advance libertarian scholarship.

We already saw that the journal would have a unique citation format; that authors would love having their works online; that the time from submission to publication could be significantly lower than that of standard journals; that we had no need to have consecutive page numbering from article to article, or even a need to publish articles in artificial and pointless "issue" groupings; that each article would simply receive an article number and a volume number to uniquely identify it; that we would release not only a PDF but also a Word version, to make it easier for the ideas to be republished; and finally, that everything would be published open and free to the world under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (we would make it completely public domain if we were confident that would work; alas, copyright is sticky, and Creative Commons is the best we can do).

The reason these ideas tumbled out so effortlessly and quickly was that their time had come. Internet distribution and the digital-content revolution were in full swing; the Mises Institute was beginning to adopt its now wildly successful "open" strategy (beautifully explained by Mises Institute President Doug French in "The Intellectual Revolution Is in Process"; see also Jeff Tucker's post "A Theory of Open"); there was a need for a new scholarly libertarian forum; and I was willing and able to do it, in part because of my previous involvement as book review editor for the JLS and as editor of a number of legal treatises for Oxford University Press, where I had experience juggling deadlines and dealing with authors around the world.

"Libertarians everywhere love this journal, love its idea, and are ecstatic that it came into being."

By the next morning, Jeff had internal approval at the Mises Institute for this project, so that very day, web-design work began. Jeff and I brainstormed on the basic layout and structure, and on the theme: we settled on elegant black and white, and based it on a beautiful Canaletto painting set in Venice, which, as noted on our About page, "in one scene portrays commerce, society, freedom, individualism, civilization, civility, and intellect."

Meanwhile, I contacted various scholars to join our editorial board, and was gratified at the near-instant positive response. Our board consists of world-class scholars working in the libertarian tradition — a veritable who's who of Austrolibertarianism. The only thing that remained was to finalize the website and to acquire content for the initial publication. For the website, we used the wonderful, open-source WordPress architecture, which, I can tell you after years of dealing with Blogger or hand coding PHP files, is a pleasure to work with.

As for content, although our plan was to release articles one at a time on whatever days they were ready for publication, for the inaugural publication we wanted several articles, to make a splash. I obtained two articles from editorial-board members (Jan Narveson and Robert Higgs). By mining unpublished papers languishing in the Mises.org Working Papers section, we obtained an article, response, and rejoinder troika from Nicolás Maloberti and Joshua Katz. And we were able to publish two previously unpublished pieces by libertarian giants Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. All for our inaugural "issue."

For all the articles — except for the Rothbard and Mises pieces — we were able to have them quickly refereed by existing board members and other scholars. Judy Thommesen of the Mises Institute, who was experienced with typography and layout matters, helped me finalize the typeface and other look-and-feel and layout issues. All this came together only ten days later, so that the new journal's website went live on January 22, 2009. I staggered the first seven articles so that they came out an hour apart. I set up a Google email list, Facebook page, and Twitter lists, as well as the normal RSS feed, for people to "subscribe" to the journal digitally and for free. I announce all new articles by these means.

Ten days — from conception to publication! How astonishing is it that dedicated people can establish and publish a new journal in a fraction of the time old, paper-bound journals take to get a single new issue out? It would not have been possible before the Internet, obviously. The idea-spreading and truth-telling vision and passion of the Mises Institute was crucial as well.

After the inaugural publication, the submissions started rolling in, and they continue to roll in. We published another 37 articles in 2009, 44 in total, from young and independent scholars as well as from established libertarian thinkers, including five previously unpublished (or, in the case of Leoni, obscure and unavailable) works by towering thinkers such as Mises, Rothbard, Bruno Leoni, and Adolf Reinach. From the feedback I've received, libertarians everywhere love this journal, love its idea, and are ecstatic that it came into being. They see the vacuum that it had to fill.

Also in our first year,

Finally, let me note that we were lucky to recruit an army of libertarian volunteers to turn many of our articles into audio versions for our free podcast, and to help copyedit articles. These (mostly young/student) libertarians are amazing and give reason for optimism about the future in these dark times.

My personal gratitude, therefore, to our editorial board, outside referees, copyeditors, and volunteer podcast narrators, the Mises Institute, authors, readers, and other supporters.

Stay tuned for things to come! As always, comments and suggestions — and submissions — are welcome.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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