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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.