Case Studies

Author David Harris Publishes Subscription-Based Books Using Pressbooks

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A New Digital Publishing Model

David Harris and his business partner, Kenneth Alexander, produce and publish a series of books on current Canada employment law, E-mployment Law Books. The two continually update the books as new developments in the law emerge. Rather than buying the books once, customers buy a perpetual subscription and receive new versions as they are updated.

Why is digital publishing perfect for the types of books you produce?

Legal content is dynamic. Judges refine case law constantly. Digital publication allows for several important advantages. The first is to allow for an immediate update of content to the reader. The second is that legal books are a case study of precedent decisions. The ability to hyperlink to the original decision allows the reader to have one-screen access to the original content. Like any digital reader, there is also a convenience factor in having content with you 24-7, in your pocket.

You were the editor-in-chief of Canadian Cases on Employment Law for more than 30 years. How has the digital age changed the book publishing process?

The former model was to provide the reader with a three-ring hard-copy binder and then send paper updates with instructions to “remove page 45 and replace with page 45A and 45B,” etc.–a cumbersome process left to an admin person who usually left it on his or her desk when they were brain-dead. The user could not be assured what he or she was reading was the current version. Digital publication eliminates these issues.

You publish physical books too. What is their utility given the unique value proposition of a constantly updated ebook for your buyer?

There is still a comfort level in having the hard copy on your desk. It looks darn good on the bookshelf.

How does Pressbooks help with your workflow and book file production process?

I experimented with alternate providers before landing with Pressbooks. The ability to make revisions myself on an as-needed basis is a huge advantage. The content looks great and is easy to navigate. The finished product is harmonized with print-on-demand, which is crazy good.

The subscription aspect of your publications is incredibly innovative, enabling you to charge more for a typical reference book for highly specialized and current information that changes frequently (presumably contributing to the sustainability of your business model). Are there other types of books would you recommend explore a similar model?

Any source material that is in a state of flux is ideal for digital publication.

How do you fulfill the subscriptions? Do you send new files to subscribers whenever they’re updated? Or does the book live somewhere readers have access for their subscription period, and the updates automatically appear? In Pressbooks, you could make subscribers users of the book with reader clearance–is this a feature you’re utilizing?

The model I am using presently is to alert readers to revisions and then send the updated e-book in the format they have chosen. I am in the embryo stage and I have not had sufficient time to determine the correct [method]. I expect revisions will be made at least monthly in each publication and hence I do not see the need for automatic updates on a pre-determined frequency. Reader clearance is an alternative I am still considering.

How has the ability to update your books frequently helped you compete in your market?

This remains to be determined, but I see this as a big advantage in the marketplace as lawyers are constantly in need of updated material.

What is it like to be both author and publisher, and what advice do you have for others considering becoming self-publishers today?

I have the advantage of equity in the legal publishing business due to my “Wrongful Dismissal” text, which has been published in the traditional format since 1978.

Self-publishing still presents hurdles. Naturally enough, the content must be excellent. Marketing remains very important. Many potential buyers may be reluctant to buy from an “unknown” writer. This is a hurdle which must be overcome, perhaps by offering sample content, testimonials or any other means you can contemplate.

Learn more about E-mployment Books at