4/5/10

Could Legal Publishing Survive on iPad Only Books?


In the past 25+ years, there have basically been three types of electronic legal publishing. First there was the "terminal" publishing, where the print material was transcribed into a vendor locked format that could only be accessed through a specific machine that you purchased directly from the publisher. Next, the vendor "program" publishing where the resource was no longer locked into a specific machine, but rather ran on your personal computer through a vendor supplied program and accessed the information through an Internet connection or through locally based CD-ROM resources. Finally came what we know refer to as the "Cloud" computing model, which is simply the latest buzz word for accessing the information with a standard Internet browser through a secured connection. Many of us think that the first two methods of publishing have gone away, but if you think about it, both seem to be finding a resurgence in popularity, and publishers are wondering if they can exclusively move some of their products away from print and survive solely on a vendor locked format like the iPad.


Like it or not, it does seem that the idea e-publishing finally reached a tipping point with the Amazon Kindle where people (including myself) finally bought into the idea that they could actually read an entire book in electronic format. In my opinion, there were three or four reasons behind the Kindle succeeding where other e-publishing formats failed.
  1. E-ink made the text readable
  2. Having the support and backing of Amazon made me comfortable
  3. Downloading books wirelessly made it easy
  4. No monthly fees to maintain the Kindle satisfied my 'cheap' side
Let's face it, the Kindle represents a paradigm shift in how readers view the traditional publishing world, but it was simply the first transition in what will probably be a decade’s long shift.
The biggest complaints I've heard about the Kindle is the fact that there is no backlighting, the e-ink is black and white only, the size is too small (Kindle I and II) or too bulky (Kindle DX), and that although the text looks like the print in a book, the "look and feel" of the book is just not there. Now with the iPad, it seems that all of those issues are answered. So was the Kindle simply an opening act, simply warming up the crowd so that Steve Jobs could swoop in with his iPad and wow the crowd with what they really paid to see? Probably... but it is too early in the game to know for sure.
How about on the publisher's side of the issue? Does the iPad give them something that the Kindle, or PDF, or other forms of electronic publishing not offer? If you think about it, most legal publishers completely ignored the Kindle publishing phenomenon. Why was that?? What exactly does a legal publisher need from an e-publishing format in order to be comfortable putting their material out there? My basic knowledge tells me that they want the following things.
  1. E-publishing should be cheaper than print publishing.
  2. The publisher must be able to set the price.
  3. E-publishing should allow me to protect the Intellectual Property of the publisher's work.
  4. There has to be a public acceptance of the e-publishing format.
  5. There has to be a de facto publishing standard that all legal publishers adopt.
For legal publishing, the Kindle probably came up short in all of these topics; maybe with the exception of number one (cheaper to publish). How many of these do the iPad answer?? Perhaps all of them... although it may be too early to tell on number four's public acceptance issue and number five's vendor format adoption.
The biggest problem with legal publishers relying on the iPad as their platform for electronic publishing is that they are really locking themselves into a partnership with a company that is extremely proprietary --closed systems vs. open. There is also such a cult of personality surrounding Steve Jobs, which you have to wonder what will happen to it once he is no longer around to guide it. Legal publishers also have to consider what to do when the next big product is released... say the HP Slate. Pretty much all of that work that was put into making the publication work in the iPad format will have to be done all over again to make it work in the 'next big thing.' Same as with all those companies that created iPhone apps who then wanted to make it available in other formats. They basically had to start from scratch to make it work for a Blackberry or Android or Palm. Most didn't even bother to convert it, thus locked themselves into a single vendor format with a small but vocal user base. If legal publishers go with the iPad, will they find themselves locked into a closed format and simply not port their product over to other formats simply because doing so creates tips the scale of issue number one above? It's definitely something they'll need to think about. The e-publishing revolution has definitely begun... it will be interesting to see which side the legal publishing world decides to join.

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7 comments:

Jason said...

Greg,

I do believe the iPad could be a winner for a couple of reasons. First, it's closed, which means I am assured that every lawyer with my content application has the same experience. Second, it's closed, which means I don't have to worry about multiple platforms, different OSes and hardware specs, etc. And third, it's closed and the OS is designed to facilitate interaction with content by the least restrictive means possible.

Whether it will be depends largely on the adoption rates among lawyers (which we've seen go through the roof with iPhones). I think the important point in this regard is that iPad content apps probably won't drive lawyer-related sales of iPads. (Although, as publishers, we might be able to drive sales if we subsidized the cost of an iPad when you buy our content as apps.) Lawyers will have to find other productivity/personal reasons for having it (beyond general "coolness" factors). And this is where it gets dicey because if they are staring at an HP Slate running Windows 7, they may say "I need something that works with my desktop computer, and this here Slate fits the bill."

Riva said...

Greg - I'm not understanding why the Kindle doesn't meet most of your points.

1. "E-publishing should be cheaper than print publishing." E-publishing should probably be cheaper than print regardless of platform (which you said).

2. "The publisher must be able to set the price." The publisher/author CAN set the price with Amazon - that's what the Agency dust-up was about. Even if the publisher isn't part of the "Agency Five", the e-book provider can set the price (within guidelines, but they look pretty liberal to me).

3. "E-publishing should allow me to protect the Intellectual Property of the publisher's work." I am not a Geek, but I don't think Apple's use of ePub is any safer than the Kindle's DRM'd files.

4. "There has to be a public acceptance of the e-publishing format." I don't think anyone has truly achieved this yet, but I think Amazon is closer than anyone else has been so far.

5. "There has to be a de facto publishing standard that all legal publishers adopt." I'm not sure how you're defining publishing standard here, but Amazon already has Kindle apps available for the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry, and they're working on the Android app.

I'm not sure that any device is going to be the tipping point for legal publishing going to e-books. I think it may hinge more on acceptance by the lawyers.

Or, have I totally missed your point?

Greg Lambert said...

Riva,

You've made some good points... let me explain where my thoughts are on the five points.

#1. I made an assumption that e-publishing would be cheaper in the end because of 'printing' and 'distribution' costs that should be significantly less. Turns out that I may have been wrong on this based on a personal conversation I had with Jason Wilson at Jones McClure. Jason said that there are a number of 'other' costs involved in getting a electronic version prepared (formatting, markup, programming, etc.) that may wipe out some of those printing and distribution cost savings.

#2 - Although Amazon does allow the vendor to set the price, there is an expectation from Kindle users that the price will be $9.99 or less. Perhaps a legal publisher could survive the "Kindlistas" who usually attack publishers who don't meet their expectations.

#3 - The Amazon DRM is pretty good, so perhaps I could give them this point.

#4 - The format (look, feel & navigation) of the Kindle works really good on a book that you read from cover to cover. However, name me the last book published by ThomsonReuters or LexisNexis that any of your attorneys read from cover to cover. They tend to skip around, look for specific sections, and flip back and forth from section to section. It 'can' be done on the Kindle, just not very easily. I think most attorneys that have a Kindle understand the limits of that ability. With the more flexible iPad touch screen, this type of interaction should be easier (should be!!)

#5. By 'de facto' standards, I was thinking more along the line of a standard publishing tool that allows a publisher to create a result... then port it to multiple platforms without having to restructure the data for all the different products. Kindle "might" be able to pull this off since it has so many versions (I'm still waiting on that Android version!!!)
This will also be an issue with the iPad and its closed architecture format. Legal publishers still aren't comfortable with the idea that every different product (iPad, Kindle or HP Slate) might cause them to have to reformat all of their publications for each different format. My concern is that this would mean that publishers might have to 'pick a format' and exclude the others because the cost become to high. If there were a way to 'create it once' and then distribute to all formats, then legal publishers might have more incentive to push their materials out via e-publishing.

Ernie the Attorney said...

Whatever the current costs of electronic publishing are now (e.g. formatting, programming etc.), those will in all likelihood go down. There is no reason, technically speaking, why there can't be a simple tool that authors use to format and convert their works into a widely accepted e-pub format.

Perhaps the widely accepted format exists, but I'm not sure what it is. Once that format is so widely known that it has a brand name that is equivalent to, say, PDF, then we're getting somewhere.

I can plunk out a song on my guitar and edit it in Garageband and tweak it and then upload it to the Internet. I can sell the MP3 as an online download or I can burn it to a CD. Making music is much more complex (or it used to be) than formatting text and printing it out.

Once we (as a society) settle in on some publishing standards that will work on the predominant e-book readers then authors will be able to do what pimply guitar-plucking teenagers can do now.

Even making movies, it seems, isn't as hampered by the issue of standards as electronic book publishing. This is should not be a major technological hurdle. The cost savings are there, we just need to get past the format humps and societal adaptive phase.

But e-publishing will continue to grow. And newspapers will continue to struggle until the update their approach.

Jason said...

Ernie,

You're correct that the costs for publishing in an electronic format will go down, and if all you're doing is writing a simple book that you want converted for use into multiple platforms, you can do it now cheaply. But legal publications are a unique breed of book because they are so meta rich, and getting all of those tags in properly and consistently so they can be exploited by the attorney (e.g., by search) isn't cheap or easy. I can't wait for the day that it is.

Jon said...

I don't think publishing legal books on the iPad requires locking yourself into Apple's proprietary systems. First, if you decided to use the Apple distribution service so the books can be read in iBook, it's important to know that it uses the open, non-proprietary epub standard. So the same books could be used on any reader using that standard (which unfortunately does not include the Kindle).

More importantly, I think a legal publisher could easily produce their own app through which you would access the publications of that publisher that you choose to purchase. In my field (benefits) what I need is primarily statute (ERISA & Code), regulations (DOL & IRS), and DOL class exemptions. Right now I work with books from BNA and Thomson, but I would not care if I had to restrict myself to a single one of those publishers if it meant I could have all of the resources I need available on my new iPad in a searchable form. BNA might have to produce different apps (an iPad app, an Android app, a WebOS app), but the content distributed through those apps could be the same. Which would mean the publisher wouldn't be tied in exclusively to one distributor, and would have some bargaining power with those distributors.

dj said...

Unnotated codes are available for iPad already. Search "Mike Kinney", "Tekk" and "lawstack" in the iTunes store. Kinney's codes are optimized for the iPad. Tekk and lawstack are very nice apps and hopefully will be full screen on the iPad soon. Texas Supreme Court website has PDF downloads of our rules of procedure and evidence. In addition, there are very good PDF viewers that are practically free. Goodreader is great if you don't need to annotate (highlight text). If you prefer to be able to annotate or highlight, try Iannotate PDF. I use both. Ease of Loading pdf's on the iPad depends which viewer you are using, with Goodreader being a little better because of Dropbox support. Today I loaded 400 pages of depos in PDF as well as a number of pleadings and it took maybe a couple of minutes and consumed negligible space. I really like the form factor and functionality of the Ipad.

 

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