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"E-books" on the horizon, say publishers

24 August 2007

The market for “e-books” in the legal sector is ready to take off as soon as some additional technological improvements are introduced to enhance the functionality of “e-reader” devices, according to legal publishers Sweet & Maxwell.

Following a product trial, Sweet & Maxwell are predicting that as the technology continues to improve, "uptake on a significant scale could be as little as two to five years away".

The concept of e-books has been on the horizon for some time but a viable product has been slow to materialise, the publishers report. That could change with the anticipated launch of an “e-reader” device from Amazon, which should help pioneer e-books in the general marketplace.

The advantages for lawyers would be avoiding the need to carry heavy, bulky textbooks around and being able to locate the relevant text quickly.

Panel trial

Sweet & Maxwell's trial involved converting two of their leading titles on commercial arbitration into e-books and launching the trial at an international arbitration event in Vienna. A panel of practitioners gave the e-books an extended trial.

The books were loaded onto “iLiad” readers, which use “electronic paper display” technology, a flat handheld screen which displays an image like the page of a book. Users can annotate the text and it can also be used as a notebook. The device can be used in synch with a laptop via a USB or wireless link.

The interim findings of the research suggest that, while traditional books are unlikely to go out of fashion, lawyers’ response to the concept and recognition of the potential advantages of books in electronic format is highly positive.

The panel was impressed with the readability of the e-book and its functionality in terms of the ability to annotate the text and underline using a stylus. However, for the legal market, improved navigation tools, such as a search function, back and forwards buttons and short cuts to the index or contents are needed before the legal market can actually start its transition to e-books.

Overall, given a more intuitive user interface and improved loading speeds, and provided the price of e-readers is not prohibitive, Sweet & Maxwell concludes that, while supply and demand for e-books may not yet have quite taken off, it is on the horizon.