The Future of Print Books and Legal Publishing

Jared Correia interviewed Ed Walters in the latest Legal Toolkit podcast, providing a glimpse into the future of legal publishing. It’s a fun conversation for book geeks, and it serves up some great insights.

For example, big global publishers (Thomson Reuters, Wolters Kluwer) have found print books to be a drag on their business, but this has created an opportunity for small publishers like Fastcase. In fact, Ed described Full Court Press as “rushing in to fill the void” as traditional publishers abandon print. (I suspect this drag-creating-opportunity was at play in Fastcase’s recent deal to publish Wolters Kluwers treatises.)

Of course, Fastcase is not doing this haphazardly. It’s doing something smart: it’s using the data generated by its 800,000 users to identify trends. That’s how Fastcase decided to start RAIL—it saw lots of user interest in robotics and artificial intelligence, but there was no established resource for the subject.

Some things are terrific in print, Ed says, and let’s preserve those—others are better online. So Fastcase will be thoughtful about how it publishes content. What it puts into print will be special: books that are “exquisite, that are just beautiful designed objects—the kind of thing that you just cherish, that you love to have.”

Overall, I was encouraged by this conversation and the direction Fastcase is going. Though Fastcase’s move into publishing is unlikely to change anything on a local level (as I’ve already lamented), it’s pursuing a sensible strategy. It’s using data to drive decisions on new content, implementing single-source publishing, and being thoughtful about the form its content will take.

Other small publishers—state bars especially—should pay attention to these takeaways:

  • There’s opportunity in print legal publishing that the big publishers can’t take advantage of.
  • Fastcase is using hard data to decide what content to create.
  • Fastcase’s strategy is to work with the best authors to create the next generation of expert treatises, then use the COPE method (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) to publish the content in whatever form is best, print or online. Print publications will be special—beautiful, fun, and interesting.
  • For electronic publishing, ebook formats are not great. Many ebooks would be better as web pages.

Even if Fastcase isn’t going to compete with state bars in publishing local content—I have to admit, why would it?—I hope bar associations will take note and think about following its lead. If Fastcase succeeds in its publishing efforts, it will prove there’s still opportunity for small publishers.

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