October 18, 2012
Grappling with the Current Law eBook Status Quo as an Institutional Buyer
Unlike our general public library colleagues, law librarians are just beginning to grapple with the management of Law eBooks. That's because our vendors, after a couple of failed attempts, became very careful before diving into the eBook marketplace in a systematic fashion. Business models had to be crafted. Target markets had to be identified. Sales cannibalization of current offerings had to be questimated. Platforms had to be created.
The current strategic objectives are clear:
- Maximize potential recurring revenue streams based on the vendor's current subscriber base.
- Lock-in potential eBook users by way of vendor platforms and enhancements like link-thru to vendor research services
The only real difference is buyer-focus. Individual consumers and institutional buyers by (1) owning the eBook and being able to loan eBooks by an offered vendor-provided eLending solution (Lexis) or (2) selling licensed-only access to the individual consumers (eg TR Legal)
Note well, at Boston 2012's PLL Summit, a TR Legal rep mumbled something about "looking into" eLending as a panelist when asked the question from the audience. WK's panelist ignored the topic of the session completely, opting instead to give a pitch for the Company's eBook platform. To his credit, only LN's panelist actually addressed the topic at hand and had the guts to say "print is dead." By that I believe he meant that Law eBooks eventually will replace their p-Book editions as the dominant content delivery system. Professionally, I happen to agree with that forecast; Print-on-Demand will be "Plan B." But there is still a lot of work to do for eBook-ing content integration that maximizes the technological benefits of professional grade enhanced Law eBooks as well as managing a Law eBook collection to resolve institutional buyer issues.
Test driving Law eBooks in the private sector. Bess Reynolds descusses the eBook trials her law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, ran with LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and Wolters Kluwers in 2011 at The Challenges of E-Books in Law Firm Libraries. In her article, Bess identifies a number of Law eBook problems experienced by the library from the perspective of being the provider of eBooks to the firm's users. She concludes that "the vendors have made the entire experience of acquiring, distributing and supporting e-books far too complicated. ... [L]icensing and digital rights management ... add[s] additional complexity. Pricing is another issue to consider, with Thomson specifically charging a premium for e-books over print. Lexis is keeping prices the same, and Wolters Kluwer offers discounts if you purchase both formats."
For the moment, according to her linked-to June 2012 survey of 85 law firm librarians, the adoption rate of eBooks is low. While I believe eBooks sales will increase eventually, adoption rates will be constricted by a number of issues Bess identifies. They include tie-ins to vendor research services not accessible by end users, eBooks being vendor platform dependent, and the inability of institutional buyers to manage their own eBook collections by integrated hosting such as Adobe Content Server for user discovery (which, of course includes eLending) and library collection management purposes.
Law eBooks in the public sector. In a recent internal planning and budgeting memo (lightly edited for LLB publication below), I addressed enhanced Law eBooks in the context of a county law library that funds p- and e-resources for government stakeholders which are delivered to their workplaces and local attorneys and members of the general public in our county law library. The issues Bess presents in the context of law firm libraries are similar to ones government libraries have.
The current state of the art in enhanced Law eBooks is beginning to require serious consideration for longer term planning purposes. The following factors, however, must be taken into consideration. The review is fairly detailed because Law eBooks are not similar to general trade eBooks.
Unlike general trade titles, the pricing of enhanced Law eBooks is equal to or greater than print title editions. The possibility of volume discounts for specific titles remains an open question at this time. The availability of desirable eBook titles from each publisher’s sales catalog is increasing.
Enhanced Law eBooks link to each vendor’s own “next generation” database service and thus are fully functional only if the eBook user has access to that vendor’s service.
Only one of our major vendors (Lexis) provides its eBooks with an electronic lending solution at this time. There is an opportunity here to reduce print spending in the library collection as well as for our in-office users by acquiring that publisher’s eBook titles for electronic lending eventually.
Cannibalization of print sales and database sales by increased sales of Law eBooks as they become more popular will increase the cost of print and legal database research services in the future.
As with all technological innovations, acceptance of enhanced Law eBooks will be slow but will increase. For many resources, enhanced Law eBook are more usable than the database versions of the same content. Law eBooks also may become a viable alternative for their print editions used by in-house users in their workplaces.