Tuesday, July 26, 2011

AALL 2011 - E-books and the Future of Legal Publishing

These are notes are from a panel discussion session with Scott Meiser of LexisNexis, Dan Bennett of Thomson Reuters Professional, and Steven W. Sutton of YBP Library Services, A Baker & Taylor Company . The session was moderated by June Hsiao Liebert, Coordinator, John Marshall Law School. Note: these are my selected notes from this session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own. I welcome your comments and follow-up thoughts!

This panel discussion was in a Q & A format, with questions from the audience at the end.

What is the future of ebooks?

Meiser of LexisNexis:  People using ebooks in their personal life are expecting them in their professional life as well. There is a continued blurring of lines between online and paper content, also expectation of apps. Are of licensing will need to evolve, as will lending evolve.

Bennett of Thomson Reuters: They have taken an app approach: current ebooks standards are not satisfactory for professional level content. Current standards for ebooks are from the consumer side. Professionals expect things like footnotes and tabular material (sometimes works, sometimes doesn't). The ebook readers don't understand their updates; consumer grade ereaders just don't support this. This will be messy; different readers support different things.

Steven Sutton at YBP Library Services - Good future for ebooks based on current sales. Space is becoming an increasing issue. Also, patrons have changed; today's students expect access 24/7 and expect to have it on their computers.

Survey of audience: How many are academics who have bought standalone ebooks (as opposed to those accessible from databases)? - about 1/8 of the large audience.

They have launched demand-driven or patron-driven acquisitions. A whole new service, a new way to buy ebooks - part of the collection development strategy.

What kind of licensing models are you implementing; how are you implementing digital rights management?

Meiser of LexisNexis:  new ebooks start to look more like software than hard copy books. Start to look at unlimited access, pay-per-use, lending directly from the publisher. These are new options, and they will continue to explore. Customer demand will drive the model.

Bennett of Thomson Reuters:  He agrees. There will need to be different types of models for different content. You initially come at this from a print model, but it is constrained in ways that do not exist with ebooks. They have heard there has to be an archival version of the content, you cannot "rip it back" in the future.

They expect managing the rights "in the cloud" so you can see what you have access to.

Sutton of YBP: working with clients to understand the license agreements from their providers. They have to educate their customers on how to read the agreements so they can sign. They would ideally create one license agreement that would cover everything. Aggregators have the same problem - when you buy content from the aggregator, what are the implications of the agreement?

What difficulties are there in converting a book to an ebook?

Meiser of LexisNexis:  The technology part is easy for them to do; it is the adoption and working with it by libraries that is going to be the difficult to part. What makes sense in what format, and what licensing model is going to be difficult for them to figure out. Consistency is going to cause difficulties for libraries.

Bennett of Thomson Reuters: Page numbers are incredibly important to people, and even when you have content that cites to paragraph or section numbers, you still get people quoting page numbers. There will be a period of transition when some clients will be looking at print, and some looking at ebooks.

Sutton of YBP: They have to be better at describing the digital; the ebook may not be exactly the same as the print and need to be able determine and describe the differences.

The challenge of the Expresso Book Machine was just getting the files. They have a whole new division internally to look at the files and make sure they are formatting correctly.

If you had a crystal ball, how long do you think your companies will continue to produce print?

Meiser of LexisNexis:  He doesn't think ebooks are going to be even half their business in the near future. He doesn't see print disappearing.

Bennett of Thomson Reuters: High value books - there is a place for some of these in our world. There will be a "long long time" before the hard copy book disappears altogether.

Sutton of YBP: Turn the question around; how are you going to satisfy patrons who want print when you have bought ebooks?  You may want to print on demand, possibly just chapters as needed. There is a question coming up as to whether they can discount books if they buy the ebooks; this is a pressure they are getting.

What types of content do you plan to put into ebooks first?

Meiser of LexisNexis: Customers expect all of their content to be online. The expect all of it to be available by first quarter of next year; 75% done by end of this year. Some of their books they can't afford to reprint in paper which they can put into ebook, so there should be more varied content.

Bennett of Thomson Reuters: A lot of value to give books that attorneys use every day in a format they can use on their ipads. Textbooks - they are doing some casebooks already.

Sutton of YBP: Encourages publishers to make their content either in digital format or at the same time as print. Customers want the option, they want no embargoes. Embargoes means libraries are forced to choose. Make titles available in a timely fashion as ebooks. (Show of hands: everyone in the audience agree).

What platform will your ebooks use?

Meiser of LexisNexis: Are aiming to be device agnostic, publishing in both ePub and Mobi as long as both models are used. Readers don't have to learn a new platform. They expect there will be a faster evolution than they could ever support so they are not going to get into the eReader business.

Bennett of Thomson Reuters: Didn't want to dumb their content down to consumer grade level. Delivering a number of platform features. Notes and annotations need to move to subsequent versions. Full text search - they have the full text search of Westlaw sitting on the iPad. They have their own platform that they can't deliver to the level they want to their own content.

Sutton of YBP: They re-sell the ebooks as they are; they do not try to standardize. They try to help clients understand what they can do with the various platforms.


Q: Have you started working with your authors to introduce multi-media components?

Meiser: Yes, with their more tech-savvy authors who can see the need.

Bennett: Thinks they will.

Q: Is there a reason why books themselves can't be multimedia apps?

Meiser: need to look at whether it should be a book or an app

Bennett: for the volume of titles they have Apple would not let them put out that many apps, but they have done it for Black's Law Dictionary.

Q: How soon will things no longer be out of print.

Sutton: "About an hour." :)   - Google is doing a lot of this.

Q: But what about out of print in the future? 

Sutton: In the print world, "out of print" meant the publisher felt there was not enough business to continue it.

Bennett: There will be no incentive to throw it away, so it will not be a problem.

Blog post update August 1, 2011: The link to Dan Bennett's profile on LinkedIn has been corrected.

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