Digital Law Books in Canada

Although law-related (print) monographs in Canada are far from dead, perhaps we are at a tipping point now on the availability of law-related e-books. I recently made (an extremely) rough count of the number of e-books available through each of Quicklaw, WestlaweCARSWELL and Canada Law Book ((For this study, I am not considering the numerous “black binders” from CCH as “monographs”, although those binders are available online through CCH Online)).

I counted a total of 85 e-books, many of them being major Canadian legal treatises. Examples of an e-book from each of these vendors (where there are also print equivalents) include:

To put this in context, in Chapter 8 of the second edition of my Irwin Law book called Legal Research and Writing (which itself is available as an e-book on Quicklaw and as 1 of 12 digital books available directly from Irwin Law), I list by topic what I think are the leading Canadian law-related books or treatises, a list which resulted in just over 800 titles. Using that list as a comparator, we could say that roughly 10% (85 of of 800 titles) of the major Canadian legal treatises are available in electronic format, a fairly significant number in my opinion (remember I said “roughly” – I realize my statistical methods here are “quick and dirty”).

The usual factors to explain why books remain print-bound include the preference of many for the “feel” of a book (and the ease of flipping through pages); the fact that e-books are usually only best read on a large monitor (on a desktop), making them less portable than a print version; the lack of content in e-books; and the lack of a market and established distribution methods, a point made earlier on SLAW through a posting by John Davis.

In law, e-books have a number of advantages over their print equivalents: they can be searched full-text by keyword; for many e-books, hypertext links are provided for cases and legislation to allow the reader to click to get the full-text of the case or legislation; and e-books can presumably be updated more quickly and inexpensively than a print version.

Suffice to say, Canadian law libraries will continue for some time to order the print versions of books, even where there is an e-version available. However, perhaps we will soon see the same acceptance of law-related e-books in Canada in the same way most law libraries, lawyers and judges readily use and accept online versions of cases, legislation and journals.

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