The new year comes early in Canadian legal publishing circles – as early as July in fact. Even now, legal publishers are preparing to roll out new editions of their popular annotated statutes and consolidations of statutes with the year 2011 in their titles.
How did this come to be? And just what is the point of it all? It is the summer of 2010! In the eyes of a lay person, it looks as if the legal publisher has made a mistake. Not so.
The advent of annuals
Not all that long ago, with a few exceptions, annotated and consolidated statutes were published only when changes were made in the law. That changed when legal publishers realized that the legal profession was happy to see new editions published every year. Annuals saved the profession valuable time that would have to be spent updating statutes and regulations from the cut off date of the most recent edition. Annuals eliminated uncertainty with regard to the currency of an annotated or consolidated statute. With the realization that time and effort (and therefore money) would be saved, annuals came into their own.
As the number of annuals increased, legal publishers decided that greater prominence needed to be given to the year of publication in the title. “Get your new edition here!” became the mantra of their marketing departments. Hence the twenty first edition of Tremeear’s Criminal Code is known as the “2010 Tremeears’s Criminal Code” to be followed soon by the “2011 Tremeear’s Criminal Code”. In the early years in its life, it was sufficient to refer Tremeear’s by the number of the edition.
In the beginning it made sense
In the beginning, it made some sense. The timing of the launch of the new edition was set for the end of the calendar year. The publication would be delivered to the customer in November or December with the new year prominently displayed on the cover. Throughout the year that followed, the customer would have the benefit of a publication that appeared to be current, frequently with updates provided by the legal publisher when changes occurred in the law.
Over the years, however, decisions were made again and again to move the publication date earlier and earlier in the calendar year. The reason for the change was increased competition. As more legal publishers launched annuals on the same subject, it became a race to see which publisher would have their edition available first. “November or December” first became “September or October”, and now is “July or August” for many titles.
Is there an issue?
The annuals are being published at the right time of the year. Given that parliaments and legislatures generally adjourn for the summer after a rush of legislative changes in spring, summer is the logical time to publish a new edition of an annotated or consolidated statute. The “issue” is the inclusion of the calendar year on the cover. Even with the specific cut off date for the content of each annual included in a publishers note or the preface, it remains misleading to refer to next year in the title.
It is a small point, perhaps, but one that preoccupies the thoughts of both legal publishers and legal researchers every year about this time. Every one knows that the current practice doesn’t make sense, but no one does anything about it. In the circumstances, isn’t it time for the legal publishers be “innovative” and re-introduce the old practice of highlighting the number of the edition on the cover? A good place to start might be the next edition of Tremeear’s Criminal Code.