August 19, 2010
If p-Books are Heading Down the Path of Oblivion for Legal Titles, Royalty Contracts for Tomorrow's Authors with Yet-To-Be-Determined Legal Vendors May Be the First Step in This Process
In my little county law library, one of my colleagues just bought a Nook and is delighted with it due in no small part to the availability of free and low-cost e-book titles and the gizmo's cost. Meanwhile I am waiting for the day when someone suggests we buy Kindles and/or iPads for e-reading. No, we will not.
Or asks us to license e-books for circulation. Well first WEXIS has to wrap its head around that idea and I doubt that will happen before they have squeezed every nickle out of individual practitioners once they first figure out how their distribution channels will work without "sharing" with Amazon or Apple.
Or when county personnel and/or judges request we purchase e-books for them. Professionally, I'm OK with that once there are some quality law e-books (meaning I'm not keen on some of the law "apps" out there because god know what editorial quality control exists) as long as the arrangement is that we reimburse them for their purchases if our Board approves that because the distribution channels are tethered to individuals' personal accounts with the main retailers like Amazon and Apple. In other words, the marketplace for e-books among the dominate players isn't yet very enabling for institutional buyers of law e-books.
All this is just a lead-in to Mike Shatzkin's recent post, The printed book’s path to oblivion. Now, I don't know who Shatzkin is beyond his About Page and being the founder and CEO of The Idea Logical Company, "a book publishing futurist company, specializing in consulting for a wide breadth of aspects of the publishing industry." But if AALL doesn't get Johnny Westlaw (dressed as Ben Franklin) and Jenny Westlaw (in costume as Betsy Ross) to present the keynote address at Philly 2011: Transparency and Accountability in the 21st Century, he would get my vote for keynote speaker.
Being an aging and decripit Baby Boomer law librarian I don't read his blog that frequently but it should be read. Shatzkin may be a tech evangelist but, if he is, his posts exhibit a fully functional rational mind, unlike, oh well, let's just say it, some others who tend be be a tad too enthusiastic about the brave new world in their predictions. See, for example, Nicholas Negroponte: The Physical Book Is Dead In 5 Years (Shatzkin's comment on that is " A deeper dive into what Negroponte actually said clarifies that he doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any paper books anymore after 2015, but that the ebook would become the “dominant” form by then. I think even that might be going too far.") In the above cited post, Shatzkin writes
It seems reasonable to me (although not to every forward-thinking observer of the march of digital events) that by five years from now half of immersive reading — straight text novels and non-fiction — could have moved from paper to devices.
But for those who question the idea that the switch from paper to screens will ultimately be just about total, let me offer a way to think about it.
The critical thing to remember is that, indeed, the book was more-or-less perfected hundreds of years ago. There have been improvements in printing, binding, typography, and paper quality that are not trivial, but that also represent no quantum leap in user benefit. Indeed, defenders of the paper book and advocates suggesting it has a permanent role, point to that fact as support for their belief.
I think it argues the opposite.
The ebook, unlike the paper book, advances every month, if not every day. Screens and the reading platforms they run just keep improving: they get cheaper, lighter, more flexible, more capabilities-rich and there are ever more choices of them. Battery life gets longer. They develop the ability to take your notes, keyed in or handwritten. They develop the ability to share your notes or organize your notes automatically. They’ve had built-in dictionaries for a long time (a feature of the very first Kindle nearly three years ago) and now they often offer the ability to get to Wikipedia or a Google search in a click as well.
About e-reader features that are important to me before I jump on this gizmo bandwagon because I'm not infected with early adapter syndrome, Shatzkin adds
If facing pages or pages that are flexible and “turn” are your requirement, the beginnings of that have already appeared. Facing pages is a feature of the iPad’s iBooks app and just about every reader now offers a choice of “effects” for page turns. The challenge of delivering highly designed pages with pictures and captions and call-outs and on-page footnotes is being tackled, notably by Blio but they’re not alone. One of the reasons I restrict my predictions about ebook penetration in 2015 to narrative books is that it is harder to see yet how fast the development of that presentation capability and the corollary ability to make and reflow those pages for different screen sizes will be. But it will come.
In addition to the above UI facets that keeps me from spending $$$ on an e-reader for the largely non-existent market of reliable legal e-texts, is the inability to integrate content into work product. Although we are now producing an entire generation of attorneys with a "copy-and-paste-without-thought" mentality thanks to the digital but not e-book text, being able to re-use e-text from e-books in drafting remains an important and time-saving work production function in the professional use of legal e-book texts. Eventually, the functionality will become available although I am sufficiently cynical to think that it won't happen until our major legal vendors have made as much money from individual practitioners as commercially possible before they venture into "growing" the market by doing so.
Near the end of Shatzkin's post, he writes
It is very hard for me to grasp why anybody would prefer a printed book 30 or 40 years from now. I’m sure by then screen technology will be able to simulate any aspect of the printed book that could possibly be of interest (except, perhaps, for the smell of the paper, ink, and glue, but, then maybe a companion air-wick would do the trick. I wonder if you can use the same aromas for all titles, or whether some customization will be required.)
The printed book will not “die” in our lifetimes: there are too many of them already around for that. And I don’t even think the ebook will be “the dominant commercial form” (Negroponte’s position) in as short a time as five years. But it almost surely will in ten and I’d say that in no more than twenty the person choosing to read a printed book will not be unheard of or unknown, but will definitely qualify as “eccentric.”
Acquiring Authors in the Forthcoming Legal e-Book Market. There is no doubt in my mind that his forecast is dead on for the mass market. By then, legal publishers too -- in 10-20 years a practitioner using p-books will be as eccentric as Captain Kirk's attorney [video clip]. However, the names of the vendors who provide legal e-books is yet to be determined. There is absolutely no reason to assume it will be WEXIS.The competition will not start with their sales catalogs of e-book offerings. It will start with vendors acquiring authors to write based on publishing contracts that will restructure royalties, that will "vaporize" familiar names which have been turned into brands by WEXIS.
There's a popular myth that persuading the authors to agree to putting online Mertens Law of Federal Income Taxation netted "winning the lottery" results, apparently because it was one of the first. I have no idea if that is true (note that the title is now produced by the 'Publisher's Editorial Staff," meaning West). But the future holds the distinct prospect that e-publishing secondary legal titles will be revolutionized. In my "Scooter Store" years, should I visit a law library and ask about Wright & Miller or Appleman's, or god knows whatever other title in our current print-to-electronic bibliography that once was a "given" mainstay, I expect to hear "what's that?"
I know one author-practitioner, for example, who was so fed up with dealing with Lexis for what I consider to be the best treatise on the topic that he went the self-publication route for the second edition of his work in print. No doubt he lost sales by not having Lexis' marketing support but with e-book publication comes marketing by search engine results, an online click-to-purchase web presence and substantially lower distribution costs. Click "buy" meaning license, access in 60 seconds, sold.
In the not too distant future, authors not locked into WEXIS contracts will be looking beyond them to other vendors who offer them the best return on their investment for legal e-book publication. [JH]