E-books and e-readers are constant topics of discussion. Every new device released results in a flurry of activity; one only needs to think of the recent press around the new iPad 2 and the Blackberry PlayBook. Tablets and iPads are frequent topics here on Slaw. And in May, Amazon reported that since April 1, 2011, sales of Kindle books had exceeded the sale of print books.
When I was at CALL recently, a show of hands indicated that more than half the audience owned at least one e-reader. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about their e-reader or tablet of choice. I love my iPad; I can actually read what’s on screen! I mostly use it to catch up on email or access the Internet. But I haven’t used it yet for any e-books, either for personal or professional reading.
There’s no doubt that e-books have enormous potential. Check out this impressive TED demonstration of a digital book.
From what I can see, most legal publishers are actively considering whether to publish e-books. Our CLE colleagues in Massachusetts have embraced every format: they sell in print, CD, e-book, and an online library. Irwin Law is offering their entire collection as e-library. (To be honest, I haven’t looked at this closely, but from what I can tell, they are offering a subscription to their entire collection rather than individual title downloads.)
On the other hand, Mark Lewis notes that legal publishers have been slow to publish e-books. Several legal publishers have produced apps for iPhones but I haven’t seen a full-on legal information app yet (and by this I mean secondary legal material in the form of an app). It may be that we’re still trying to figure out what sort of legal information is best published on a tablet or e-reader.
Opinion is divided on whether a tablet is the best format for legal publishing: check out this posting from Binary Law, and read all the different views expressed in the comments.
There’s a lot to consider before CLEBC jumps on the bandwagon. Most importantly, would an e-book format offer a better user experience that our online publication service? We’ve recently launched a new online platform that includes links to primary law, an excellent search engine, other finding tools, and a commenting feature. Is it worth the effort to offer all this in an e-book format as well?
What makes a good user experience for legal material? Sophisticated browsing capability is essential, as is full-text search. Federated search is also important. All this is available on our online platform on our iPad. True, an Internet connection is needed, but I’m convinced that ubiquitous connectivity will be the norm very soon.
I can see that an e-book may work well when portability is an issue; for example, an e-book of those big heavy books of annotated legislation that get taken to court would be useful.
When we’re designing e-books, it’s important to remember that an e-book is quite different from a print source. For instance, legal material needs to have some easy-to-use citation system. A resource with no page numbers (whether e-book or online service) should include a system of locators.
Publishing legal material as an e-book raises a few issues for our friends the librarians. I don’t think I can add to Susannah Tredwell’s excellent column on the topic.
Then there’s the question of the best business model for the e-book. No standard has emerged. Irwin Law offers a subscription to their entire collection, while Massachusetts CLE sells individual copies of their e-books at the same price as the print copy.
On model might be to follow our business model for print: sell one copy initially (that is, one download), and then offer update downloads for sale as they are created. Another model is to offer a yearly subscription which includes the price of the update (if any) but which ends at the end of the year.
For publishers going down this road, it will be important to determine a device-agnostic file format; that is, a format that will work on the Kindle, ipad, PlayBook, and other devices. I’m still waiting for a consensus to emerge.
Ultimately, I’m going to be driven by what CLEBC customers are asking for. I can see that the best potential for a really useful legal e-book resource is a collection of annotated legislation that is often taken to court. But as usual, I’m keen to hear the views of our customers on this issue.