Legal Publishing Is Vogueing

Look around everywhere you turn is heartache
It’s everywhere that you go (look around)
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know (life that you know)

“Vogue” Madonna

Legal Publishing is vogueing again and Madonna’s lyrics must have been written for the legal publishing industry!

Here at Law Librarians News publishing legal books is a development that has come back into play in a big way in the last 12 weeks or so.

Management at various publishers may well raise their eyebrows at our comments if and when they read this. But it really does feel as though the old fashioned legal title has suddenly come back into fashion.

It feels as though years have passed without the majority of legal publishers bothering to shout from the rooftops about newly published titles. But suddenly, in these autumnal days of 2013, we can’t negotiate our inbox due to one press release after another about this or that new legal book produced either in print format or as an online book.

The major exception to this drought-till-now rule being Kluwer, who carried on with a fairly healthy publishing programme after the 2008 financial disaster. Although, in our eyes, they didn’t really push and market their titles as much as they should have due to a desire to make their client base aware they were up with the times ( and their competitors) with lots of talk about furious digitizing and the creation of new online legal products just to keep up with the Joneses.

So why the sudden desire to talk about and publish subject specific based titles after years of database building, workflow management software and the endless other “magic bullet” legal business and management software solutions?

Here at LLN we think there may be a number of reasons for a return to the old ways as we move towards the middle of the second decade of our brave new century

This year the never ending attack on “editorial” may have finally reached its nadir. Even back in 2000-2002 there was a noticeable distrust by management of well paid editors. They were supposedly surplus to requirements and initially law students were hired to supplement and even replace editors in order to save costs.

Then, we presume, law students became too expensive and so the vogue of outsourcing to “editorial” companies with no knowledge of legal content raised its head as the next best cost saving option. “Cost saving” has now run its course as all involved realise that it’s actually much cheaper to have a few well-educated and -trained editors rather than lots of poorly paid individuals with few skills and lots of turnover.

So . . . are we seeing the resurgence of the well-researched, -written and -edited old fashioned legal title as the best back up to all the new legal legislation and developments happening around the world at the moment?

We aren’t getting too excited in case it is all a flash in the pan, but we do hope that once again people are seeing value in titles written and edited by people whose knowledge and skill base lies in the legal industry .

Maybe we will even see , as in the past, certain new titles go to a new edition on annual basis. For example, Chitty on Contracts is now in its 31st edition. Publishers should, as a matter of course, be able to develop new titles with this length of shelf life as a way of giving readers continuity; and as publishers knew in the past, this is one of the better ways to guarantee future annual revenues from clients. As long as they actually provide proper new editions everybody will be happy.


  1. Nice idea Sean but I’m not convinced, though I’m pretty certain that Madonna thinks of nothing else. If there’s a reason, I suspect it’s more to do with the fact that most of the big publishers operate to a December 31 year end. Getting a few books out in the last quarter or even December 24 is always a good way of grabbing a bit of additional turnover and profit in the budget year to satisfy head office and ensure the bonuses. With subscription business there isn’t that short-term opportunity as even if a new sale is achieved, the revenue tends to be spread over the following 12 months. With books you can recognise 100%. So, not so much as a flash in the pan but a way to fix the flakey numbers until January 1. Wondrous things happen in the last quarter of the year, including many of the job terminations that we see, often for the same reasons.

    I agree with you that any sensible publisher would focus only on online and annual books. Everything else represents the past, less efficiency and less profit.

    My own next Slaw column entitled “Ever Cuddled an Aardvark? Ever Studied Zymurgy?” seeks to explore the ides that you too raise as to whether or not legal publishers are developing the knowledge and skills base to allow for development of new publishing ideas. I would take a mixed view as to where things are going:

  2. I can’t say I’ve noticed any sudden increase in publishing legal monographs. I have noticed that a much higher percentage of the monographs being published are collections of essays as opposed to single-author treatises, and there’s been a surge in the number of casebooks being churned out. Neither of these formats contributes much in the way of permanent value for our collections.

    After several years of relatively controlled price increases (as a consequence of the recession?), I’ve also recently noticed a significant increase in the price of academic monographs. And it seems that many traditionally “academic” publishers are getting on the “professional publishing” bandwagon, with publications priced beyond the reach of academic libraries. That new 31st edition of Chitty falls into this category.

    I’ve also noticed that many publishers are starting to charge more for the digital versions of their books than for the print. Until now, an ebook with a single-user licence was usually the same price as the print volume. Whatever happened to the prophecy that digital publishing would bring prices down? And when will we see ebooks we can really work with and that aren’t compromised by unreasonable licensing restrictions? Even when we want to acquire ebooks, the poor quality of ebook access and functionality are compromising their potential and killing the market. Is it any wonder ebook purchasing has plateaued?

    I’ve never cuddled an aardvark. Nor have I seen much from our publishers in the way of new publishing ideas. Annuals, looseleafs, same old, whether in print or online. Why must profitable publishing always translate as “less for more” for the information consumer? Outside of CanLII and the BC Courthouse Libraries (both non-profits) and Hein, I see little evidence of fresh thinking in law publishing or access to legal information. I just feel I’m being hoodwinked.