Publishers lay down the law

<p>Although acquisition activity has increased in the law publishing market, Sonny Leong, m.d. of Cavendish Publishing, believes there are still openings for crafty independents. </p><p> The past few years have seen some serious acquisition activity in UK law publishing. Blackstone Press was bought by OUP, and recently Lexis-Nexis Butterworths decided to get out of academic law publishing--selling its list to OUP and the Law in Context series to CUP. Informa Publishing has merged with Taylor&amp;Francis to become T&F Informa. Other textbook publishers are scrambling to develop this area of publishing or looking for potential acquisitions. So what is happening out there?</p><p>Legal history</p><p>In the 1980s, there were only two main law publishers--Butterworths and Sweet&amp;Maxwell. Both enjoyed a cosy relationship, publishing for the law student and academic market. Students and lecturers alike had little choice in book selection, purchases or writing. Butterworths and S&W had sewn up the market. Under the Conservative government, universities were undergoing a sea change. The binary system of polytechnics and universities was disappearing, semesterisation and modularisation were being introduced, and this opened up new publishing opportunities. Law books that were written for a whole one-year course were deemed to be too much for one semester or even one module. Publishers such as Blackstone Press and Cavendish seized the opportunity to publish titles for the new market environment.</p><p>Blackstone and Cavendish brought out whole new series of titles for the student and academic community, and were successful in penetrating the markets once held by Butterworths and S&W. They were aggressive in their marketing, promotions and pricing model, and gained many adoptions in various subject disciplines. Within a few years, they have established themselves as market leaders in their own right.</p><p>Developments in technology enabled legal information to be disseminated in a variety of electronic formats, ranging from CD-ROM to online delivery. This allowed Butterworths and Sweet&amp;Maxwell to convert their primary law materials from print to digital formats and deliver them directly to their end users. The legal profession and judiciary welcomed these new products, and more and more products became available electronically.</p><p>On the corporate front, Butterworths teamed with Lexis-Nexis, and Sweet&amp;Maxwell with Westlaw. These alliances pushed forward the development of electronic products for legal practitioners. Information managers had to be trained in accessing new legal databases, and law schools came under pressure from the profession to offer legal skills courses as part of their undergraduate studies. The professional courses for students intending to qualify as solicitors and barristers were redesigned to be more practical and skills-based. This enabled publishers such as Blackstone, Jordan and Cavendish to develop and design their materials specifically to those courses. Some of these publishing arrangements were with providers of these courses.</p><p>These course providers made such materials available to their students as part of the course fees, and some went as far as providing students with laptop computers fully loaded with their learning materials. Having paid course fees in the region of &#163;7,000, students were not inclined to buy any other books, leaving publishers that used to publish for this market few opportunities.</p><p>Good education</p><p>There are currently 82 UK universities offering legal education courses and about 45,000 students studying law or law-related subjects. With no shortage of take-up by students, this area will see increasing growth. There will always be a market for the printed book in the teaching and learning of law. A well-stocked law library is the aspiration of most law schools, and law librarians will be requested to build their collections in existing and new law subjects.</p><p>According to the recent Publishers Association student book buying survey, law students spend an average of 20% more than any other student on books. Law student numbers have gone up year on year, and law book sales have been steady or increasing, according to the main academic booksellers. If that is the case, why did Lexis-Nexis Butterworths dispose of its academic list? Textbook publishers know only too well that their publishing model is dependent on volume. Before the Butterworths' acquisition, OUP had a significant market share of the law textbook market, but now has a good 50%. Does that mean that there will be more disposals and acquisitions in the near future, resulting in only two large publishers in this area?</p><p>Indie articles</p><p>The two independent law publishers, Hart and Cavendish, have been carving out niches in the market, both increasing their publishing output to protect their position. Cavendish has been pioneering content as ebooks as well as print. Users are allowed to purchase the entire ebook or chapter-by-chapter through its own website or third-party aggregators. This is attractive to students who may not buy any book at all but prefer to use sections of a title.</p><p>Law publishers have always been creative editorially, and prepared to take risks in publishing in new areas. Challenges will always be there for the independent publisher, but with nimbleness and agility to create and publish for the market, they will face the future confidently.</p>