In the very near future, legal publishers’ front lists are going to explode with new digital titles for your consumption. They will grow by the dozens in every product category, enough to make your head spin, and they will never know the feel of paper. Each title will be increasingly granular, like an ALR annotation (e.g., Copyright Infringement in the Fifth Circuit: Proving Substantial Similarity). But along with the titles will come the promise of better filters for determining which “product” is right for your task. After all, discoverability is key, and the current tools available don’t really fit the bill.
What you may 1 not be told is the provenance of the commentary, and more specifically to your concern, is this really a new product? Odds are, the answer will be no because publishers won’t want you to know that you probably own or already purchased access to much, if not all, of the same content, assuming that you have. (Hint: it’s going to be a smaller part of a larger collection or multiple products). But honestly, the provenance is most likely less relevant than the actual utility of the product.
Because publishers are spending more on marketing, sales, programmers, and legal journalists 2, there just simply isn’t anything left for good ol’ traditional editorial work. Market demands have shifted, and publishers are reacting as best as they can to deliver the right combination of goods and services. But they are still left with a vast collection of material written for a different kind of lawyer—products that used to carry fantastic margins—that must be repurposed. There is no acceptable model where these products simply die.
With the right ePub development, sales, distribution, and consumption platform, the ability to slice and dice to create becomes increasingly seductive. There is very little friction between conceptualizing a title, creating the product, and delivering it to the consumer, assuming you care little about its overall “flow” and utility to satisfying the user. The friction increases, of course, as you apply more editorial resources to restructuring and rewriting old, existing content to satisfy the new breed of legal research or lawyer. Technology does not make content better, editors do. If a publisher doesn’t care that much though, it’s sort of like a phishing scam, you just need a few bites to make it worthwhile. And seeing how there is no good web destination for legal product reviews, most titles’ lack of utility will remain obscure, thus making them potentially profitable. At least from where I sit.
Now, I don’t want this post to be interpreted as suggesting that legal publishers are going to take advantage of consumers 3, but I want it to serve as a signpost for possible changes in the publisher-consumer relationship. 4 Many clamor for digital to ease the burden of carrying books to the courthouse or home, interfiling, desktop distribution, lending, and so forth, but fail to recognize that giving up on traditional gauges such as binding, page length, return policies, and such will make it difficult to evaluate products unless some other kind of scale is demanded and implemented. But if the lack of investment in editors is any indication, we are going to see a bevy of products like no other time in the history of legal publishing.