Sunday, January 07, 2007

Publishing for profit

I get sent books from time to time to review for my Landlord-Law site and I recently received a copy of Regulating Conditions in the Private Rented Sector: A Practical Guide, by Caroline Hunter and Andrew Dymond from Arden Chambers published by Thomson/Sweet & Maxwell. I was quite looking forward to receiving this, as the authors are distinguished lawyers and it is an area of law which I write about quite a lot. However although it will undoubtedly be a very useful book for me which I expect I will use a lot, I am a bit disappointed.

My main gripe is that virtually half of the book is appendices, most of which are extracts from statutes. However is there really any need for statutes to be reproduced in text books any more, in this age of online legislation? Particularly since the UK Statute Law Database has been published (although admittedly it would not have been made public when this book went to press).

At £85 this is not a cheap book. It is about an inch thick and on first glance you might think, "OK, eighty five quid for an inch thick book of analysis on a new area of law from specialist counsel, that’s acceptable". But is it acceptable to be paying effectively forty pounds for a reproduction of statutes which you can get free on the internet? It would be very easy just to have a list of relevant statutes and the url of the Statute Law Database and leave it to the reader to look them up. This book is after all aimed at the professional legal market, virtually all of whom will (or should) have broadband on their desktop computers and probably also their laptops. But if the statutes were eliminated, would we still feel happy about paying eighty five pounds for a slim volume of just half an inch thick? Probably not.

The internet is changing everything. I suspect that lawyers, a deeply traditional species mostly still steeped in paperwork and pink tape, will one day wake up to fact that legal publishers are charging a fortune for something they can now get easily for free, and refuse to pay any more. However this may not be until the younger solicitors trained on computers and the internet start to make partner status.

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Contact said...

I have a good deal of respect for Andrew Dymond, we have instructed him quite often, but I completely agree with your point about the changing nature of legal publishing. The changes are barely taking hold yet but the direction is clear.

Nick Holmes at Binary Law had an interesting post about this here. I added some thoughts on my blog in November. Control over information sources is key and that will not remain the same.

Nick said...

I think the publishers would judge the marginal value of the Appendices fairly low and if they published without them, realistically the price would not come down much more than the marginal production cost. You think they have close to nil value and may be right in this case, but there are always those who like to have everything in one place (ie portable / of use away from the desktop).

What's more of a scandal is the cost attaching to source materials in multi-volume looseleafs. Not only do you pay £100s for this, you also have to spend precious time filing the pages. Publishers love looseleafs as their margin is extremely high on subscription renewals. The rest of us can't wait to see the back of them

Tessa said...

My point really was that if a book is padded out with statutes which you can get for free elsewhere, it makes it look as if you are getting more for your money than you actually are. In many cases the analysis and comment (which is what you are generally buying the book for) is really only a very small part of the published product.

Having the statutes is therefore a device for deceiving us into paying a high price for something which, if the padding were not there, we might consider too expensive and not buy.