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The eBook Revolution


Cite as: July 2012 86 (07) LIJ, p.27

Legal publishers are embracing technology that lightens the load for lawyers.

Going to court just got a whole lot easier with the introduction of eBooks to the legal profession.

Instead of carting their body weight in books and documents into court on trolleys, lawyers are able to appear with just a tablet – those same books and papers accessed with the click of a button.

Australia’s legal publishers have started to publish ebooks and make available interactive ereaders with which to read them. And not just read but search, bookmark and annotate, rendering hours of laborious study, not to mention colour-coded sticky notes, a thing of the past.

LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and CCH are among the biggest publishers of legal books in Australia. All have embraced the ebook revolution with 2011-12 marking the launch of their ebook publishing programs. All report an enthusiastic uptake of ebooks.

LexisNexis has 150 titles available as ebooks and aims to have 250 by the end of the year. It has also just launched LexisNexis Red, a referencing tool with ereader capabilities.

LexisNexis Pacific Content and Business Development executive director of strategy Tyson Wienker said: “This is a pivotal time. Ebooks are making the work of lawyers more effective. They are changing the way lawyers work on a day-to-day basis. The future is less about the form and more about content, and making the experience as seamless as possible.”

The benefits of ebooks are: offline access; referencing capability; editing options (highlight, bookmark, annotate); search ability; instant updates and sharing facility.

Thomson Reuters launched its first ebook in January and anticipates offering a further 40 titles by the end of the year. In February, it launched ProView, a free ebook platform.

Thomson Reuters Product Development, Legal, Tax and Accounting commercial manager Anita Sibrits said: “It’s in response to customers telling us what they want.

“Australians are quick to adopt technologies where they resonate. We were good adopters of mobile phones. I think there is going to be less and less paper going to court. But you have to think about how many screens you can manage to have in front of you. Some people are still very happy with paper. But the new technology allows you to have more resources at hand. We are in a time of transition.”

CCH launched its first selection of ebook titles at the end of 2011. Now, CCH publishes every new book in print and ebook format, according to its director of Books Jonathan Seifman. CCH publishes about 65 books a year in Australia and will launch its own ereader platform later this year.

“The bulk of our sales is print books. It will take a few years for the see-saw to move towards ebooks. Legal professionals like the feel of print but they don’t like carrying heavy books to court or to client’s offices. The ability to have your entire library on a laptop or iPad is really useful,” said Mr Seifman.

Smokeball, the online legal publication system, introduced ebooks in November last year and now has 12 of its most popular practical step-by-step guides available as part of its subscription service.

Leap Legal Software (which owns Smokeball) group marketing manager Jane Oxley said: “There has been a big take-up. For us it is more an extension of what we already do but we will make more ebooks available as time goes on.

“Ipads are increasingly used in court. It’s great to have these ebooks at your fingertips and have access to them offline. We introduce ebooks as the need arises, as customers tell us what they want,” she said.

Publishers’ own ereaders each have their own features which are tailored to suit legal professionals. At this early stage in the ebook cycle, navigability is an issue, with some users of legal ebooks suggesting all legal publishers should standardise navigation.

Ms Oxley said: “I think a standard will come eventually. There are so many devices now, a lot of them use different formats but there will be a couple that stand out and everybody will fall into line with their format.”

Legal texts in ebook version in Australia cost the same as the book. If you buy both, you commonly pay full price for one and a percentage for the other.

Publishers say when you buy a legal text, it’s the content you are buying – not the form it comes in. Printing costs are the least of it. Specialist authors and editors, technology, cross-referencing and links all add up.

So is the physical book still of value? Mr Wienker said: “There are people who always want hard copy.”

Ms Oxley said she thought people did have an emotional attachment to the physical text. However, when it was a book you used for work, that attachment was lost. “I think the book in the legal industry will die. It’s already happening.”

Time – and technology – will tell.

Carolyn Ford


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