Canadian Legal Publishers Meet With the Toronto Area Law Library Community

The Toronto Association of Law Libraries (TALL) held an event on Thursday evening at the University of Toronto Law School called Charting Our Course: The TALL Publishers’ Forum.

The publishers panel was comprised of representatives from CCH, Irwin Law, Canada Law Book, Carswell, LexisNexis and SOQUIJ. TALL had provided them a series of questions in advance and those questions were posited at the session, covering such issues as open access, pricing, licensing, digital rights management, and customer support. To their credit, the publishers participated despite being potentially exposed to a crowd of law librarians who have been concerned over a number of issues, including rising costs, duplicative formats (print, CD-ROM and Internet), and duplicative content.

It was a good session without too much overt “marketing” by the publishers. Most of them seemed appropriatively defensive. It is likely fair to say that the “conclusion” of the meeting was for more ongoing communication and dialogue between publishers and users. The publishers acknowledged, quite obviously, that they were in a service business and if they were not meeting user needs, they would lose business. They also pointed out that their organizations – like those of their customers – were also under costs pressures in the current economy.

My take away points are set out below (and represent my personal views, not those of my firm or others in the audience):

1) Small market: The Canadian legal market is small (compared to the USA), especially outside of Ontario, BC and Alberta. This is therefore a challenge for legal publishers who often need to deal with small print runs.

2): Duplicative formats: Economy aside, I do expect many customers to start cancelling print and CD-ROMs, especially where there is duplication in format.

3) Print case law reporters: I also think that private law firm law libraries (unlike academic law libraries) will increasingly cancel print case law reporters, sooner rather than later. Although there is obviously some value in publishers including value-added information when they publish cases (such as headnotes, indexing and classification), and there is value in them selecting only the more important cases, they can still do this in only an online environment. CanLII continues to make improvements in both content and technology and I remain fairly confident that continued improvements in search technology will help bring the important cases to the top of the search results.

4) Usage: there was an interesting contrast between some of the online publishers: those that base renewal of their subscriptions on heavily the customer used the product over the past year (i.e., if it was heavily used, the customer would pay more on renewal) versus those that based it instead on enhancements to the product, the costs to maintain the database and other factors. I have mixed feelings. I think actual usage is not a good indicator per se since high usage in terms of time or clicks might indicate not value but the fact that the publisher’s interface is difficult and confusing, making the user spend more time or make more clicks. And my sense is that some publishers will take usage into account when there is increased usage but minimize usage if in fact the customer’s usage has decreased from the prior year.

5) E-books versus electronic versions of looseleafs: The difference in Canada between a print monographic book and a print loose-leaf book is fairly obvious – the print book is typically not updated periodically until a new edition is released whereas the looseleaf publication is regularly updated. However, I had never twigged onto the fairly obvious notion that in an online environment, both the traditional monographic book and the looseleaf can be updated continously (i.e., online it may be there is no difference between a monographic book and a looseleaf where the author/publisher of the monographic book decide to update it continously).

6) Digitally borne material: for the first time in Canada, we are starting to see digitally born legal material. In the past, where there was an online product, there was usually an accompanying print version. Digitally born material raises interesting questions involving how publishers will price the material, how royalties will be calculated and whether and how the digitally born material will be preserved over time.

I invite others who attended the session to comment, along with anyone who did not. To be fair, you will have seen I have not singled out individual publishers with any particular rants or concerns and I would therefore ask that any comments to this post also be fair in not necessarily dealing with specific, individual publishers or complaints. Likewise, if publishers comment I would ask them not to neccessarily “market” themselves. All present would likely agree there were serious issues raised.

Note of disclosure for conflict of interest: Although I try to be agnostic in public when discussing the legal publishers, Irwin Law has published my legal research and writing book and I am an unabashed fan of them as a publisher. I guess I could also disclose that Carswell also published one of my books and I am a fan of many of their products; however, sadly, I tell people that my Carswell book is valuable as a “rare book” since it is “rare” nowadays that it actually makes a sale! Hence no disclosure may be required there . . . .

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Comments

  1. I was also in attendance last night, and was very interested in some of the discussion around DRM. I was a bit concerned to hear that one of the publishers is not planning to archive older editions of digital works as they develop their e-book collection. This may prove to be a mistake from a number of perspectives:

    – Cases may take a very long time to come to their conclusion, as the appeals process winds along. If an older version of a textbook was consulted in the early stages of a case, the “decider” may want to refer to that same language, and unless someone has the older version of the text available, this is going to be impossible to provide.

    – Some textbooks are a time capsule of the law as it operated at a particular time. How many of our collections still include the 1969 edition of Sutherland’s Company Law of Canada? This book reflects the law of companies in the pre-CBCA universe, and is the best, fastest way to recapture and understand a system that few of us have actually operated in.

    If your policies allow my library to archive e-books, this may be sufficient. Think also about how libraries currently operate, and create policies which will allow us to continue to interlibrary loan and serve self-represented parties in the courts and tribunals. Not all of your customers work with defined user populations.

  2. Thanks for posting on this Ted. The Edmonton Law Libraries Association had a similar session in November 2008. I believe it says a lot about our congenial community when we can gather in groups like this and share relevant and timely information with each other.

  3. Further to my blitherings above, there’s a podcast today at 3:00 on e-books in law libraries. Here’s the link:
    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thelawlibrarian