Disaggregation and legal publishing

Here’s a neat thought: disaggregation of legal texts. Law books probably lend themselves better to this approach than other disciplines precisely because of the law’s extreme specialization. I can see a defence lawyer downloading only those entries in Martin’s Annotated Criminal Code that deal with DUIs, entirely bypassing the sections dealing with murder, aggravated assault and other crimes that her client base hardly ever brings in.

The larger question this portends is the future of the professional textbook itself. Just as the pop-music album eventually will be replaced by individual track download sales — relieving both artist and listener of the tedium of all those “filler tracks” — I can see massive legal texts being replaced by specialized PDFed chapters that are, in effect, mini-books on very specific subjects.

Carswell’s current business model doesn’t support commissioning, editing, selling and printing a 60-page book on, say, defending a securities class action launched by investors outside North America. But a 60-page mini-book that costs almost nothing to produce yet can find a very small and specialized niche market with huge demand? The profit margins on that model look real good. It’ll be “Legal Publishing Meets the Long Tail,” and the results could be both dramatic and a boon for lawyer consumers.

This post originally appeared as a comment to a post at Slaw on June 19, 2007.