My eBook Reader is Skeuomorphic – But Should My Invoice Be?

Guest Blogger: Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase

My eBook reader of choice is Apple’s iPad, either using the Kindle app or Apple’s iBooks.  I am a big supporter of story and metaphor, and I like reading on my iPad, too. Skeuomorphic design, or design that attempts to mimic reality, has been the hallmark of Apple’s iOS operating system until very recently. The metaphor of selecting and opening a make-believe book, and turning pages that don’t actually exist, engages readers and allows them to feel comfortable reading in a digital space.

Publishers, though, tend to run into trouble when they try to extend this book-and-shelf metaphor too far, beyond the reading experience and into the distribution and pricing of eBooks. Harper-Collins drew jeers, and rightly so, in 2011 when they introduced a plan to sell libraries Mission Impossible eBooks, which would self-destruct after twenty-six checkouts. So far, and much less egregiously, legal publishers have for the most part been sticking to a similar, increasingly anachronistic model: selling one eBook at a time, to be checked out by one reader at a time, and which can’t be recalled if needed by someone else before it comes due.

One of the most important features of digital information is that it is not a scarce resource. In a physical library, a book must occupy its place on the shelf and can only be checked out by one reader at once.  But eBooks aren’t scarce resources – everyone in the organization could read an eBook without affecting anyone else’s ability to view it.

So publishers confront a choice: do we license eBooks the same way we sell print books (or “pBooks,” as Joe Hodnicki calls them) – or do we create entirely new business models that reflect the abundant nature of digital eBooks?

The design of our eBook readers is skeuomorphic. Must our eBooks be skeuomorphic as well?

On Monday, July 15 at the AALL Annual Meeting in Seattle, CRIV is hosting (and I’ll be moderating) a conversation about this topic with some of the leading thinkers about the future of legal publishing.  It’s session E1: Off the Page and Beyond the Book: New Models for Buying and Selling Legal Information.

The presentation is being coordinated by Todd Melnick, Associate Library for Public Services at Fordham University School of Law, and the panel includes Jean O’Grady, Director of Research Services and Libraries at DLA Piper; Jason Wilson, Vice President of Jones McClure Publishing; and Scott Meiser Senior Director of Research Information at LexisNexis.

Many eBook publishers face the daunting task of transitioning from a print business to electronic, and recent experience with newspapers, music publishers, and movies suggest that this will be a major disruption of the traditional business.  Of course, publishers will need to protect their businesses and their authors. But this argues not for porting the business of the past into the future.  It means creating business models for the future of legal information.

Just because we call our digital files “books” doesn’t mean that we use them, or price them, or license them like paper books. As Oliver Wendell Homes said, “We must think things not words, or at least we must constantly translate our words into the facts for which they stand, if we are to keep to the real and the true.”



One response to “My eBook Reader is Skeuomorphic – But Should My Invoice Be?”

  1. I just wanted to thank all the participants from our private and public library customer base for sharing their thoughts and concerns about the current pragmatic obstacles we encounter with e publishing and what you are looking for going forward. Only speaking for ALM, we acknowledge we still have some work to do to meet your demands and not sure we can address them all in the short run but what I can advise you is we are going to overcome our current technical shortcomings with a pricing model that will not make the e books scarce but readily available and affordable for our customers.
    Great time in Seattle and thank you to all the participants and especially to our ALM patrons. Your business is appreciated.

    Casey Walsh
    Sales Director- Law Journal Press

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