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There are a couple of trends that I’ve seen when talking with other law librarians about e-books. First, legal publishing vendors don’t seem to have a plan on what to do about e-books. Second, law librarians don’t seem to know what to do about e-books, either. My suggestions to the law librarian community has been to start figuring it out, quickly, or we are going to be stuck with whatever the vendors eventually come up with. Of course, even that could still be years away.

It seems that no one want to be the first to jump into the fray and define exactly how we want to organize, sell and collect e-book collections. Add to this the fact that there is very little demand by our attorneys to have e-books readily available in the law firm’s collection. To modify what my good friend Toby says, “find out what’s keeping your attorneys up at night… and it isn’t e-books.” That’s good news for the law librarian world, but it is a temporary stay at most. Eventually, new lawyers, and lawyers that get more familiar with their mobile and tablet devices will figure out the advantages of having an e-book library at the ready. However, if law librarians wait that long to prepare, then we fall into reactionary mode. If we start now, we can be better prepared for that tipping point.

So, back to the title of this post. The vendors could actually start the ball rolling on this demand piece of the e-book equation. Just like with online research, get the students hooked on the idea early, and then they will drive demand when they make it to the firms. I’ve ranted before that in the age of the iPad, why in the world should a 1L lug around a 50 lbs. backpack full of books? It makes very little sense, and it shows the lack of forward thinking by the legal publishers. My suggestion to the legal publishers is that you should look at the law book industry as your gateway to the e-book collection of the future. Work out the arrangements with the law schools so that they benefit by moving away from traditional print course books to an e-book model.

I’m sure there are a thousand reasons that the legal publisher could think of on why this wouldn’t work. However, that is hanging on to a dying publication model. The longer the traditional legal publisher waits to jump in this new model, the more likely a young, fresh, start-up will jump in there and fill the void. If that happens, then the cost of entry into that market skyrockets for the traditional legal textbook publishers (and, they’ll eventually acquire the startups at a premium price.)

The over-simplistic idea here is this: Placing e-books in law students’ hands now will result in selling e-book collections to these lawyers (and their firms) later. It’s coming, so either get in front and drive it, or stand back and wait for the chaos of customers telling you what to do.

Now, back to the law librarians. E-books are coming, make no mistake about it. I’ve laid out one possible scenario, but there are many others that you can imagine. Now, get in front of this shift in customer demand, or sit back and wait for the chaos of the lawyers and the vendors telling you what to do.

  • I for one am working with vendors to persuade them to move away from proprietary platforms for e-books.
    Please see my article in the AALL-ILTA white paper, the New Librarian on e-books in law firm libraries.
    On Friday the Law Librarians of New England are hosting a program called eBooks Revolution where I am speaking.

    We need to lead on this issue.

    Bess Reynolds

  • I don't understand. There are many titles available in ePub format. West has a bunch of rules sets it delivers through ProView, Lexis has a fair number of titles as well with simple social DRM built in. Is it just about adding titles to these lists, or is it about subscription management tools and better pricing? If the latter, then I don't see how the law student market could help speed adoption. Or is it something else, oh say, like the fact that legal research in most eReader platforms is a terrible user experience? That's a design problem, and again one students wouldn't drive.

    As best as I can tell, the Big Two are adding more ePub titles. Slowly yes, but it is happening, and it's not taking student demand to do it.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Thanks for this post Greg. I see academic law libraries lagging in widespread adoption of e-books. I think there are lots of factors, including platform compatibility issues, e-book business models, and demand. NELLCO has offered e-books to our members from several vendors over the years and their has been spotty uptake. I have been trying to convince vendors that one way to use consortia to help move the market is to offer access at next to nothing for our members. I've been proposing that NELLCO would pay a very minimal good faith fee out of our special projects budget for all of our 120+ member libraries to have access to their e-book collection for a sustained period (preferably two years) in order to truly evaluate use, format issues, etc. We would enter the agreement with the businees model already established for year 3 and with all libraries aware that after a two year pilot period they will have to pay to play. The problem is, if a vendor gets a handful of libraries paying full freight they lose incentive to experiment in this way, thinking they'll gain traction on their own. Unfortunately, they're missing out on the bigger picture.

    I am currently talking with PLI about this approach. They have been in the law firm market but haven't made significant inroads in academia. They contacted me to discuss how they might develop a model for law schools and I suggested this approach. In a conversation yesterday I learned that they are structuring their e-book model not as a one-time purchase with annual updates, but as an annual subscription. In essence treating it as a database of content rather than e-books, even though their e-books are digital replications of their print books. From my perspective, this model is a disincentive to acquire the e-books unless there is a real push from users.

    I think having so little consistency from vendor to vendor is a problem, but not sure there's a viable solution. Many horses already through the barn door. NISO announced an e-book special interest group, but not sure if they've made any progress. Anyone know?

  • Interestingly enough just this week we received our 3 hardcopies of the Burn's Indiana Annotated Court Rules along with a letter telling us it also includes a free version of the e-book. It goes on to say it is a lmited time program. My hunch is that this is Lexis' way of letting the user try the e-book our for free and perhaps decide to buy it in e-book format when the next edition comes out.

  • Alice Anderson

    CCH Australia is working with library management systems to provide libraries in Australia with eBooks that can be loaned to tablets, phones, PCs…

    My library recently worked with CCH Australia and our FIRST library management system to set this up in my law firm.

    CCH are pursuing other library management systems also. More information is available in this CCH press release –

    I hope the other law publishers follow this lead and move away from 'walled' proprietary platforms.

  • Great post Greg. You're spot on about the future being owned by ebooks (and digital referencing platforms like LexisNexis Red) and I agree students are a great place to start driving demand for digital formats. I've been conducting a lot of research recently into the use of ebooks in the academic market in Australia and New Zealand and have some insight relevant to your question, "in the age of the iPad, why in the world should I lug around a 50 lbs. backpack full of books?" A key factor here is open-book exams, which currently do not allow iPads or other electronic devices. So students are still required to lug around a book if they want a resource which they can annotate and subsequently reference in an exam. Some changes need to occur in our educational institutions before students can fully embrace the digital present.

    Matt Lawrence (Product Strategy Manager, LexisNexis Pacific)

  • Anonymous

    On one hand, the "why should a law student carry 50 pounds of books when they have an iPad or other tablet" seems rational. OTOH, for the average full time law student, you're probably talking about reading at least 1000 pages/week from a screen in addition to social media and their other lifestyle computing use. What is this doing to the eyes of a 20-something and how will this affect them when they're in their 40s or 50s? I know what it would do to my baby boomer eyes.

  • Some of the cooments are very much on point. However, I would like to add that libraries are not refusing to buy e-books. Rather the vendors do not yet have good solutions for the acquisition and management of e-book collections. They work on the one e-book/one reader/one deivce model. Fine for an individual but we have to purchase library copies for mutilple users.

  • I agree with Bess on the fact that libraries are actually wanting to buy e-books, as long as it can be cost effective and practical for the law firm environment.

    One of my perceptions is that law librarians are waiting for the vendors to figure that out… unfortunately, it will take much more interaction from the librarians' part to lead the vendor to where that sweet-spot for the law firm environment exactly is. If we don't guide them, who knows where we'll end up??

  • I believe we are in that transition phase. Once it becomes cost effective to change over to ebooks, firms will do it. With the next generation coming into the workforce I am sure we will see an increasingly digital shift.

  • Anonymous

    A recent promotion of Lexis for ebooks fell flat with my library as all the titles are already included in our Lexis academic subscription. Why pay extra for a downloadable edition when there is no demand from our faculty and sudents? We have stopped paying extra for print editions, so cannot see paying extra for this new format.