Saturday, January 21, 2012

A review of eBooks from LexisNexis

Shortly before Christmas I realised my long-lost copy of Cross on Evidence would not be returning to my chambers, and so I took advantage of the LexisNexis sale to order a new copy.  I decided to get it bundled with an eBook so I could carry it with me to court on my iPad.  For reasons I am yet to understand, I did the same with Pearce & Geddes Statutory Interpretation in Australia.

I have been underwhelmed by them.

It is not clear to me whether the problem lies with LexisNexis, with the Bluefire Reader software LexisNexis has chosen as its eBook software for the iPad, or both.  But there are problems aplenty.

Let's start with Statutory Interpretation in Australia. This is the how the top of the title page appears.

This is how it appears in portrait mode.

If a publisher can't even format the title page properly, there is something seriously wrong.

Turning to more functional aspects of the book, I was expecting to be able to read it as if it were the hardcopy. At least, I wanted the ability to do so if should I so desire.  But you can't. There is no way to paginate the eBook as it is paginated in the hardcopy. This is what it looks like.

Personally, I find the page markers visually distracting, but perhaps that's just me.  I did try and force it to paginate in the same way as the hardcopy by reducing the font size.  This is where I ran into the next problem. Using the Bluefire Reader settings to make the font size smaller did not change the font size at all. I tried again, and still the font size remained stubbornly the same.  Only the "lorem ipsum" text in the settings dialogue box changed font. I persevered, until this happened:

The footnote marks are hyperlinked, and so tapping on the footnote number takes you to the text of the footnote (not instantly...there is a lag).  The footnotes are in fact endnotes, and so the context is lost when you go to the text of the note.  There is no "back" button, and returning to the main text is achieved by tapping on the footnote number.

The absence of a  "back" button is not a difficulty with footnotes.  But it is a massive headache for other parts of the book that are hyperlinked.  For example, the table of cases at the front of the eBook has hyperlinks to take you to the passage of the book where the case is referred to.  However, there is no way of getting back whence you came, other than by going back to the table of contents and starting again. Quite frankly, that is bonkers.

It becomes even more bonkers when you click on a hyperlink in one part of the text that then takes you to another part of the text.  Unless you remember where you were in the book before you tapped the hyperlink, there is no way of getting back. None.  At least none that I could see, and none referred to in the user guide.

The Bluefire Reader allows you to copy text, but pasting it seems to lose the formatting, an irritation if the text includes case names that are italicised.

It allows you to select text and create a bookmark.  The selected text then appears yellow.  Somewhat laboriously, you cannot tap the highlighted text to pull up the notes attached to the bookmark. You have to go out of the book to the list of bookmarks, then find the relevant bookmark to read the notes. The bookmarks cannot be tagged, and the notes are not searchable. This is a serious limitation on what ought to be a useful function.

Finally, one thing you can't do, despite the permissions on the eBook allowing you to, is print. You can't print from this book on the iPad, and instead have to copy and paste into another program and print from there.

Now to Cross on Evidence. This is what page one (and part of page two...this book has the same problem in not being able to read it as if it were the text) looked like.

Seriously, what is going on here? For some reason LexisNexis has decided to publish this text in a sans serif font.  Yes, you can go into the settings and turn off the publisher's formatting and then set the font yourself. But why change the default font from that used in the hardcopy? At least in this eBook the settings function that allows for a change in font size worked

You may notice that the text itself has some serious issues.  Firstly, can you see the word "inadmissibleat" and "ayear"? The absence of a space so words run into each other is not isolated.  There were three examples in the first three paragraphs.  It goes the other way as well, with "climacter ic" appearing instead of "climacteric".

Footnotes work in the same way.  However, for some reason they are formatted in a way that increases the linespacing where they appear, creating a visual awkwardness that cannot assist in reading the text.  I also noticed an issue with this book that I did not experience with the other, and that is frequently, tapping on the footnote number to return to the main text in fact resulted in the book turning to the preceding page. The footnote marks themselves were often more difficult to tap precisely enough for the hyperlink to activate.

Within the text and in the footnotes for some reason case names, legislation and latin phrases were mostly, although not always, not italicised. 

The same issues in relation to hyperlinking within the text appear in Cross on Evidence as in Statutory Interpretation in Australia.  But not all of the internal cross-references were hyperlinked: again, there appeared neither rhyme nor reason for why some were and some were not.

All in all, I was underwhelmed by the eBook implementation of both texts on the iPad, with serious flaws in the formatting of the text (presumably by LexisNexis) and serious limitations in the Bluefire Reader software. Sorry LexisNexis, but these are not worth the outrageous prices you're charging.

1 comment:

  1. The major legal publishers' efforts with electronic resources are nothing short of abysmal.

    Legal materials are especially well-suited to an electronic format, because the subject matter requires such frequent updating. I mean, why in the name of all that is righteous do we still need loose-leafs? So awkward, wasteful and unnecessary. They should be completely redundant. The very idea of clipping open a binder and switching around pages every month is so clearly now just a stop-gap that we were stuck with for a century or more, until we were able to figure out a more efficient way of creating an organically changing reference book. The same can be said for annually updated texts, where you throw out a whole book and buy a new one every year.

    Now of course we can create an organically updating reference book - we have technology that is exquisitely suited to it - but the legal publishers won't, because it doesn't suit their sclerotic business model. How much would you pay for a neat, efficient civil procedure reference app? I'd pay plenty, and I'd even buy an iPad just to put it on. I'd even pay plenty to get the reference and periodic updates as a basic, indexed pdf. But, no. You either pay hundreds of dollars a month to get your package of papers to painstakingly insert, or you pay EVEN MORE to get access to an online version that is too slow and clunky to be suitable for court even if you have a reliable wi-fi connection.

    Or, again, for annual textbooks like the two reviewed here, what you get as an 'ebook' is essentially an exact electronic copy of the non-updating text of the paper copy, awkwardly shoe-horned into a format that somehow achieves the difficult feat of being LESS versatile than the paper version.

    To add insult to injury, even though the marginal costs for each copy are close to zero - as opposed to the dead-tree version with all the costs of printing, binding, shipping, warehousing and pulping unsold copies - they charge as much or MORE for the miserable excuse for an ebook.

    I haven't bought a single ebook from the major legal publishers, and don't plan to. Like many other industries, their response to changing technology is a good test of how responsive they are to their own market and their own customers' needs. And the resounding result is that they really just want to keep selling us massive piles of paper, whether we need it or not, and if we don't like it we can go jump.