The end of print? – the law publishers reply

In the May/June issue, Nick Holmes suggested that particular types of print are under threat for a number of reasons and he questioned whether ebooks were the future. We asked key law publishers to respond.

Sweet & Maxwell, Thomson Reuters – Chris Hendry, Head of Advanced Media

Print is undoubtedly on a downward spiral, accelerated by the recession, technology and a shift towards a more data driven approach to legal research. Against these trends, it is entirely appropriate to question the role of print and wonder what will come next in a future shaped more and more by technology.

News is undoubtedly going digital due to the immediacy of delivery and the high levels of information satisfaction that can be achieved. Legal and business news will be consumed on whatever electronic device is most convenient at the time – smart phone, tablet or PC. Similarly, I see journal articles being read on tablets and the model may evolve as more and more eminent views are self published through blogs on the open web.

But what of books and looseleafs? Lawyers now have access to online databases such as Lawtel and Westlaw UK to conduct endless research to find the authority for a point, but, for many, books remain the place where they can understand and appreciate the relationship between authority and practice. Books are ideal for quick “look-ups” where one needs to double check recollections or confirm knowledge. Books are also great for gaining an initial orientation and insight to an area of law which may then lead to subsequent electronic searches. In short, books offer a quick and familiar way into an issue through an expert lens.

We believe that books will continue to have an important role to play in the professional life of lawyers. Some will continue to use their print versions and some will access them through online databases such as Westlaw, but in the next couple of years we’ll see more and more ebooks in daily use in legal practice. But ebooks have been the next big thing for years I hear you say and there’s no doubt that print has proved remarkably resilient. However, with the onslaught of the tablet, things are poised to change – perhaps almost as dramatically as the advent of the internet – changing our behaviours and working practices.

With an intelligently designed interface, the ebook experience on a tablet will surpass that of print. Everything that is done with print in terms of jumping about the text, writing notes, marking up important passages etc can all be replicated on a tablet and then improved upon. On a tablet, you could transfer your own notes and highlights to a new edition in seconds, you could copy and paste passages straight into documents or folders, download an important update (no more looseleafs!), link into a database, search for a specific term or case and you could do all this across a library of titles on one portable device. These new books will be living, breathing content sets which update organically and never gather dust on the shelf.

The ebook experience of today doesn’t quite deliver all this yet, but we’re working on it. I believe that we’ll get the user experience right and with a little time, we’ll get the all important access models right too. Tree-books won’t disappear completely, but ebooks are coming for sure.

Chris Hendry is Head of Advanced Media at Sweet & Maxwell, Thomson Reuters. He has worked as a publisher and in online product development within Sweet & Maxwell and his current role focuses on mobile and ebooks.


LexisNexis – Cara Annett, Head of Content Acquisition

The end of print in law publishing – who cares?

The internet’s disruptive influence and the recession are accelerating the death of the print format and most legal information sources work better online; so says Nick Holmes in his article in the May/June 2011 issue. A survey by legal publisher LexisNexis in 2010 (“Are Lawyers Early Adopters?”) revealed that the image of a lawyer in a book-lined library is indeed a thing of the past. 77 per cent of respondents favoured online or digital resources to “traditional paper-based law libraries”. So does the trend away from print matter? And is it a simple transition to online? And what of ebooks?

Certainly, some legal content is better suited to a digital format. Forms and precedents, cases and legislation, especially annotated statutory sources, present significant advantages from being available electronically. For example, users value being able to search for cases and statutes, and download and complete forms and precedents. With annotated legislation, the facility to hyperlink to all related sources makes research easier.

Hard copy looseleafs, on the other hand, are clearly increasingly unpopular. Legal publishers have launched few new looseleaf services in recent years due to lack of customer demand and high costs.

Holmes suggests that practice books may be spared the same fate as the looseleaf, but seems unaware that many such titles are experiencing similar levels of attrition. With legal texts this reduction in demand is exacerbated by the availability of identical content in online databases. Removing appended legislative content that is available digitally (as Susannah Treadwell recommends) from the hard copy version, and moving to annual book format, makes no significant difference to customer demand for the format.

Holmes is convinced that the practice book “shorn of all appendices” will survive in hard copy because:

  • without the expense of filing updates, it will be cost effective
  • other legal information is better on the web
  • ebooks have no future for lawyers because ereaders are only suited to linear reading.

What this fails to take account of is the cost associated with library space. In firms and institutions now each square foot of shelf space has a price tag. It matters not whether hard copy content is updated; every book diminishes the budget merely by inhabiting a physical location.

In addition, whether online legal resources are better for lawyers than print or offline digital versions is not yet fully clear. Internet access is, even now, far from ubiquitous (with no definite date for reliable wifi on tubes or planes) and access to online databases in court is still at the whim of the judge. The advantages Holmes sees in hard copy books – “indexes ”¦, [being able to] jump back and forth and put bookmarks and sticky notes on them” – are not often offered by legal databases. Ebooks, in contrast, require no internet connection, benefit from hyperlinking indexes and cross-references and permit annotations and bookmarking. In fact, as Shane Richmond observed in, The Telegraph (8 August 2011), it is “easier to annotate and highlight an ebook ”¦ annotating printed books ”¦ feels too much like spoiling them”.

This is why LexisNexis is investing in developing ebooks for lawyers. The flexibility of the open epub format we selected means essential legal resources can be instantly and always available to today’s highly mobile practitioner, on Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, or laptop.

Enhancements to online legal content continue apace and enable a different type of access to and research of legal materials, one that is compatible with use of print books and ebooks: all three formats presenting slightly different benefits and challenges. Print will be around for some time yet; indeed, for as long as customers want it and are willing to pay for it. And for lawyers who need to be able to annotate and search or who cannot always rely on an internet connection, ebooks are easing the path to digital.

Cara Annett is Head of Content Acquisition at LexisNexis. She has been at LexisNexis for eight years and in legal publishing since 1997. She oversaw the launch of ebooks at Cavendish Publishing in 2000. She launched LexisNexis UK’s first foray into Web 2.0, Company Law Forum, in 2007 and LexisNexis ebooks in 2009. She now works closely with LexisNexis’s lawyers leading the development of content for Lexis PSL.


Justis Publishing – Masoud Gerami, Founder and Managing Director

The love affair with paper has been cited and will be cited as a reason for the longevity of paper-based products. Although most of us accept that this physical touch has a role to play it is hard to quantify its influence. So what are the other potential reasons for the demise or persistence of hard copy?

One undeniable reason for the continued prevalence of paper-based information products is the lack of reliable communication networks. In some parts of the world widespread access to the Internet is not good and therefore there is much more reliance on hard copies. Whilst this has certainly been a reason so far, one would expect a diminishing influence in the future. Other factors, perhaps more theoretical but worth exploring, are: volume of information, type of information and perception of value.


Justis has been publishing legal information for 25 years, all in electronic format, covering large volumes and mainly converted from paper. The advantages of an electronic research tool where large amounts of information are involved are clear to all, and the corresponding paper versions are less and less appropriate. For smaller volumes, say a monthly or quarterly journal of an average size, paper will continue to resist the change since the advantages of an equivalent electronic version are not significant. Some people will continue to print and then read anyway. We recently published our first ever printed publication (also available online), but the entire archive of the series of law reports in question – a significant body of work – adds up to two bound volumes only. There are indications that some will only buy the paper version.


There has been a distinct lack of initiative and innovation in developing products which are designed for electronic delivery. New services should include time- and cost-saving features available through electronic services, incorporate the evolving business practices of user organisations and support the integration with internal and external data collections. This lack of innovation means that paper-based products have continued to remain a key delivery medium, but will not be able to compete with more advanced and integrated products and services in future.


There is a perception that investments and payments towards electronic services do not bring long-term value since they are mostly subscription-based products. Paper-based ones sit on the shelf in perpetuity. Amongst the user communities there is also a growing cynicism that moves towards electronic dissemination will entail much higher costs, and the evidence so far does support such views. So unless and until there are practical business models which suit both the publishers and the users, this perception will continue to be a barrier to a wider switch to electronic. Advances in digital rights management (DRM) technology and proliferation of smart delivery platforms will make a significant difference.

We at Justis have developed JustCite, an interactive citator which can only be delivered electronically, and have produced our first ever printed publication. The adoption of electronic services is undoubtedly increasing amongst legal publishers and professionals, but the above issues indicate that the end of print as a delivery medium cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy. Print and electronic will continue as two complementary media in this field for many years to come.

Masoud Gerami is a founding member of Justis Publishing and its Managing Director since 2001. He has steered the company’s Justis products through the CD era and the internet revolution, the development of the JustCite citator and, in its 25th year of trading, the release of a new series of law reports online and in print.