The Case for eBooks

The legal world can change monthly, even daily, as legislation ebbs and flows with debates, arguments, and emerging thought leaders. For decades, this constant evolution has created an expensive and time-consuming process for lawyers as they publish in-depth case studies to document legal findings. E-books provide a more efficient and financially acceptable method for updating text and publishing digital copies in comparison to other mediums, like blogs. Monetization, distribution, perception, and presentation are a few examples of what makes e-books a better vehicle than updating a blog or website.

E-books are a business strategy to sell your published work to an audience, whereas blogging is more commonly a hobby that involves giving your work to an audience for free. With this in mind, blogs can only be monetized through banner ad-clicks and website subscription revenue, whereas an e-book is monetized every time someone buys it. Also, blogs technically do not have distribution unless you are paying for SEO. The Amazon or Google Play bookstore comprise more tangible and relevant distribution because they index and pare down searches based on genres and content, as opposed to Google, which is essentially an index of every random thing on the Internet even remotely associated with your search words.

A publication is typically a copy-written, fact-checked, peer-reviewed resource. A blog, even with a good editor and reference links, is not an equivalent standard. The HR and legal professionals who are referencing works like Harris’ e-book collection (will elaborate in further detail) would be embarrassed if they went to court and began quoting a blog entry from the internet—the legal standard is to quote a publication. Blog entries are more commonly written like web pages, not book pages, and navigating a blog for an entire year can be an eyesore as you scroll from a January 1s entry to a December 31st entry. If a blog were formatted as an e-book, every entry would transform into a unique page in the book, creating organization that is more pleasing to the eye.

David Harris, a well-known employment lawyer based in Toronto, started working on an e-book in winter 2013. Harris began compiling and publishing his employment law knowledge in 1978, and had since been updating the text every few months, depending on changes in legislation. He found the process of reformatting and reprinting each new volume or issue to be tedious, expensive, and incredibly time-consuming. Through research and word of mouth conversations, Harris realized editing a digital document would be faster, cheaper, and much more efficient. He would no longer have to incur the costs of holding physical inventory, shipping books, or discarding old and outdated volumes. The rate of producing the text in a hardcover layout proves very costly in terms of manufacturing each 1000+ page title, then turning around and shipping the heavy volume out to a client, especially when you consider the average hardcover legal text weighs about 14 pounds.

One could make the argument:  why hardcover over paperback? There are a few reasons for this—some practical, some traditional. Most paperback binderies cap at 500 pages due to limitations with binding equipment, including but not limited to available cover stock sizes and perfect binding machinery. 1000 pages would result in an incredibly thick spine that is too heavy for paperback glue binding to hold over time. With this in mind, everyone in the field of law leans towards a hardcover standard for durability. Reference texts are used far more often than fiction novels, and therefore must withstand substantial wear-and-tear; paperbacks do not hold up over time in this sense. Traditionally, law is a field with a high sense of esteem. Lawyers, judges, and officers of the courts are people of tradition, wearing wigs, special suits, and uniforms reflective of their rank and role. Published legal texts of the past were bound with the fanciest of material: gold, leather, and silk were commonly used to create books that look beautiful on the shelf of a law office.

But Harris is not alone in his switch to e-books; other legal professionals and historians, along with clients looking to compile a series of books or lengthy memoires into one collection, often request 1000+ page e-books. A few reasons why:

  • Portability: Carrying a 1,000 page text requires a backpack or suitcase. E-books are digital, and can be transported on your cell phone in your pocket.
  • Inexpensive Distribution: Sending a physical book to an international market is not as cost-effective or immediate as the delivery of an e-book product. Harris, and his law text in particular, stood to save hundreds of dollars in logistics when switching from his physical hardcover to an electronic medium.
  • Content Flexibility: Editing books to update content and add new discovery is a luxury paperback and hardcover authors do not have because changes in the content of those two formats require printing an entire new inventory of books.

Harris’ e-book on employment law answers hundreds of possible employment law-related questions, making it unreasonable to consider having an “Ask David” blog or website that would require replying to thousands of people on a daily basis. Also, constant revisions are required as laws evolve, and the ability to make edits and deliver the revised content immediately, without the turnover required for printing and then shipping, is more sustainable.

In Harris’ case, the choice to outsource reformatting and reprinting wasn’t an option. Harris’ work is his own unique interpretation of case law and his system of organizing the texts on his office computer is not something to send an editor for formatting and reprinting. Harris has been revising and updating his content since the 1970s, which makes it difficult to transfer that workload to someone else cleanly, as TLAC learned while working with him on his e-book. Hiring TLAC to create his work in e-book format was the equivalent of Harris outsourcing the reformatting.

Updates are a constant issue in a legal practice, and Harris wanted to create a digital distribution platform where he could publish digital copies of his legal text books in a simple and readable format, while continuing to retain the credibility these impressive volumes offer. His e-books are often purchased by other lawyers, professionals, and HR executives. The e-books are a review of case law on employment law topics and updated regularly to hyperlink case law and statutes. In today’s modern digital age, potential clients often rely on a quick Google search to find standard legal forms, like NDAs, but e-books, like Harris’, provide topical one-stop shopping of knowledge related to the subject matter. Overall, e-books are a medium and collaboration resource to help lawyers market their own expertise and increase their digital presence in a modern, professional manner.

As for the client side, Harris learned: clients request full volumes rather than parts of e-book; clients are impressed with the knowledge gained from the mass volumes; and although electronic is clearly a plus for this changing knowledge base, it remains a slow process to convince some readers to give up the comfort of hard copy text.

It’s easy to realize digital is the road to travel; it’s not so easy to navigate the right route. Harris was not confident he could make the book look professional and readable on a smaller page without the help of an experienced agency. For example, the page size Harris was publishing on is 8.5×11 inches and the average page size of an e-reader device is 5×7 inches. Some devices allow you to manipulate the font size, but none of them allow you to manipulate the page/screen size. Once Harris committed to the idea of digitizing his book, he had to cope with the reality that his 1,000 8.5×11 pages would be “chopped up” into as many as 3,000-4,000 much smaller pages. Within the text, the position of information and flow of material was crucial to the end user’s understanding and comprehension of Harris’ work. Harris wanted to bring in a team with prior experience in scaling information down to a smaller size (like 5×7) without losing the integrity of the intended design.

Independent publishers can provide an efficient strategy to help transform current print documents into a standardized electronic publication. We coded styles, layouts, and fixed multiple typographical errors to create a very professional, digitally published e-book. We use very specific styles to compliment the content included within a publication. Different fonts can create different experiences for each reader. It’s our job, as the publisher, to help the client decide which font and style will be appealing to their target audience. Our preferred font happens to be Garamond Pro when dealing with legal material due to the long blocks of continuous text. This particular font creates a pattern of easily readable, credible, and engaging text. Further, we often suggest a dark blue font to make high-level content easier to digest. The color is easy on the eyes, and it doesn’t create a sense of urgency quite as much as pure black font does. We moved on to organize the text in a portrait style flow, organizing the outline by case background, final decision, and takeaway points, including highlighted content pulled into focus through bold or italicized text. No graphics are needed with legal text, as the body and table of contents provide enough credibility for the reader.

Harris chose to publish his text in a variety of e-pub formats. This is incredibly beneficial to the writer simply because there are so many reader devices on the market now. Harris did not want end-users to be limited to any particular device, therefore he opened up his title to a much larger reader-base market. One might question: why didn’t Harris just type up his own text and convert to a PDF version, free of charge? This seems like the logical option for the layman, however, many tablets do not include an installed PDF reader upon purchase, meaning most users will not be able to download PDFs to their personal reader. In addition, PDFs are often poorly organized into a library of readings and do not provide the same user experience provided by an e-book.

Your experience with reading a PDF file can be limited by the version of Acrobat you are running. For example, Adobe Reader does not universally support every feature of your PDF, but Adobe Pro will. E-readers universally support e-book features, like hyperlinking, glossary, and index searches, regardless of what version or device you own. There is no limitation with respect to those basic functions, as there are with Adobe programs. The cost associated with the software and time that will be required to create a PDF that supports hyperlinks and taking notes is in most cases equivalent to, or more expensive than, sending the same work to an agency, like TLAC, for e-book creation.

While many believe the novelty and usability of a physical book cannot be replaced, e-book technology has given printed text a run for its money. You can now offer the ability to self-highlight, self-promote, and self-credential all in one standardized digital text. While printed text is still very much alive, and often the main output method for many written genres, it cannot be argued that digital publishing isn’t on the rise.  We can’t let legal text become obsolete as the world of publishing fluctuates. The time for evolution is now.

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