While access to legal journals in printed form is still desired, many have transitioned to a purely digital format. But what exactly does moving from print to digital entail? To better understand this process, I asked Susan Barker, retired law librarian from the University of Toronto and current acting editor of the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR), about her experience when the publication took the leap to online-only in 2015.
1. What were the motivations for CLLR to go purely digital?
When I came on board as editor in 2013, the decision to go digital had been tentatively made by the executive and I was tasked with making it happen. My conjecture is that the executive decided that the time was right to go digital. Our sister law library associations in the U.S. and U.K. had begun to create digital versions of their publications and it made sense for us to keep up. The journal was also in need of a redesign, so it made sense to piggyback the redesign with moving away from print.
2. What were the biggest challenges and opportunities?
Some of the biggest challenges I faced involved logistics and reinvention.
It was important to learn all there was about policies, the publication regime, and what impact the changeover would have on our constituency, our external subscribers, and our advertisers.
Also, the decision to go digital coincided with a change to a new management team. With gaps in information and changes to a number of processes, I had to make decisions without always having the knowledge I needed at hand.
Despite the challenges, there were more opportunities that came with this change.
Budgetary: Going digital meant that the CLLR went from costing thousands of dollars per year for printing and mailing to making a profit.
Exposure: Going digital made it possible for the CLLR to become open access. We now have a broader readership.
Look and feel: Going digital gave us the opportunity to upgrade the look. The cost of printing in colour would have been prohibitive, but these costs didn’t matter in the purely digital environment.
3. What helped you the most during that transition?
What helped me most during the transition was my experience, support from the executive, technology, and institutional knowledge.
Experience: I had already had experience in transitioning the TALL Quarterly to digital.
Support from the executive: The executive was supportive and generally hands off for the practical stuff – like the design, format etc. However, we always made sure we had their backing for major policy decisions, like platforms, and going open access.
Technology: Technology was there and easy to use – using InDesign, the ISSUU platform, and Adobe made the technical part of this transition very straightforward.
Institutional knowledge: There were many long-term members of the editorial board, including two former editors, who were able to advise me and fill me in on the logistics.
4. Do you have any other thoughts about that experience?
One thing that made it easier was that the changes were made incrementally and so we were able to make sure one thing worked before moving on to the next. Step 1 was the redesign in 2013. Then we moved to providing a PDF version while still producing in print. Then the print was discontinued and a PDF link was provided to members on our website and we set up access via ISSUU. The next step was to discontinue the print entirely. Once digital – we were able to go open access, no longer limit our readership to members and paid subscribers (although we only had a few of those) and to adopt a Creative Commons license. Finally, our partnership with CanLII made true open access possible.
While this is just one example of a journal going from print to digital, there are some important considerations Susan mentioned that I think can be applied to anyone who might still be contemplating moving online.
- What knowledge gaps need to be filled?
- Understanding digital publication best practices. Changes in processes, management, and training.
- An opportunity for reinvention and innovation.
- How will the change impact readership?
- Digital publication and open licensing allows for the content to be shared more widely than ever before.
- What are the cost implications?
- Digital formats allow for more possibilities and fewer costs in design features (colours, number of pages, multimedia), linking to other resources, and gathering usage metrics, for example.
Whether you prefer the traditional print reading experience, or think print journals are old-fashioned, the reality is that digital formats come with growing possibilities and the journal experience will continue into an increasingly digital future.
If you have been involved in a print-to-digital pivot at your organization, was the experience similar or different to what happened at CLLR? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.
Many thanks to Susan Barker for agreeing to collaborate on this post! I’m grateful to be able to work with her and the rest of the CLLR editorial team.