Academia Goes Online

More than two decades ago, economists developed portfolio theory and spawned a revolution. Now, three finance economists, Eugene F. Fama of the University of Chicago, Michael C. Jensen of Harvard business school, and M. Wayne Marr of Clemson University, have formed a company to transform how academic information is distributed.

Social Science Electronic Publishing Inc. publishes an economics "journal" on the Internet, which it hopes will widen the market for academic work--and make money in the process.

SSEP maintains a list of subscribers who receive abstracts of academic papers by E-mail. Then, the subscribers--investment bankers, treasurers, and consultants--can use E-mail to request a copy of the paper. Says Mark N. Broadie, professor at Columbia business school, who got hundreds of inquiries after his papers were disseminated by SSEP: "It's amazing the amount of interest out there that was untapped. And not just in the U.S. People in Australia, Europe, and elsewhere can now get access to information this way."

SSEP is about to launch a product on accounting and maybe later all the social sciences. As more and more papers are distributed over the Internet, some journals may abandon print, as the papers get wider distribution. And that may be good news. "We are changing the academic landscape. People used to publish to get tenure. Now there will be less junk because they will be writing for public consumption. People have to focus on good topics," says Marr.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.