Ebook Readers and the Life of Legal Academia

I sometimes think that my life is dominated by paper, binder clips, and redwells. Being an academic necessarily means that I read a lot of article, and having a blind hatred of reading articles on a computer screen, this means that I print them out. The result is that I am constantly surrounded by stacks of paper, and on a recent trip to Chicago I was reminded of how inconvenient paper can be as I schlepped a heavy bag stuffed with article-containing redwells through the airport. My wife has also repeatedly complained about the binder clips that often litter the house.

I am not particularly enamored by the idea of ebooks. I like the feel of paper and binding. Indeed, I have fairly strong opinions about such things and will pay extra money to get an edition of a book in the physical format that I enjoy. I am still convinced that my early attraction to the law came from my fascination with the row upon row of calf-skin-bound reporters. Nevertheless, I am considering buying an ebook reader on which I can download PDF versions of papers from SSRN, Hein-Online, JSTOR, and the like to read. I am hoping that some of the more gadget-inclined of Co-Op’s readers can give some advice. My understanding is that the Kindle locks you into Amazon’s proprietary world. However, I think that the Sony readers allow you to read PDFs and other formats. Has anyone tried to run their SSRN addiction through a Sony reader? What is the reading experience like for PDF files? Are casebooks available in ebook format? (Class prep on a plane without lugging a doorstop-sized case book is appealing.)

Given that I will spend much of next semester on an airplane between Ithaca and Williamsburg, I’d like to eliminate paper as much as possible from my consumption of scholarship. Is this possible?

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12 Responses

  1. Nate, we’re in the same world! I recently bought the Sony Reader Touch for this purpose. Why? Because there is too much DRM in the Kindle, and it’s tethered to Amazon.

    When students send me papers, I transfer them to my sony reader using a third party app called Calibre. Sony’s software is not so good (at least for the mac).

    I can make annotations on papers, etc, and then discuss them in person with the student. The annotations do not transfer well. Calibre doesn’t support them, and if you export them w/ the Sony software, they come out as text divorced from the student’s paper. Thus, I sometimes retranscribe my annotations using Microsoft Word and email the paper back to the student.

    The ebook reader is very nice. It’s not backlit, so you need some illumination to see it, but it is easier on the eyes than a monitor. Also, Sony’s allows you to download books from public libraries, Google (out of copyright), Gutenberg, etc. So, I’m reading some really good public domain books right now.

    This saves about two reams a month. Now, is that a good environmental choice? I’m not sure. Electronics are really bad for the environment 🙁

    The other program that I now use religiously is Zotero, a plugin to Firefox that is way better than Endnote. It interoperates well with Jstor, SSRN, etc.

  2. Also, Calibre has macros that enable the automated downloading of hundreds of full texts newspapers. It even formats the file so that you get a list of headlines with links to full text articles and photographs.

  3. barristershandshake says:

    I have a Kindle2 and I email .PDF’s to myself and they immediately show up on my Kindle. I’ve probably read 10-15 law review articles this way. I can also read them on my iPhone and they seamlessly sync to the Kindle so if I have extra time while waiting in line but don’t want to whip out the Kindle (or dont have it with me) I can still get my reading done.

    For details on how the Kindle works the personal document transfer see: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200375640&qid=1256926496&sr=1-1#email

  4. Carolyn Blakelock says:

    You might want to check out Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader. It takes PDFs, and has wifi as well as the cellular wireless. If you want a larger format, PaperLogic has partnered with Barnes & Noble to market their Que, which is closer to a full sheet of paper size. The Que is aimed at the high-end professional and it is supposed to support annotation and collaboration.

  5. Joe says:

    I feel your pain. I much prefer the feel and lack of glare-caused eye strain that books offer. Plus they look great on bookshelves. But they can get heavy to lug around.

  6. Bruce Boyden says:

    Re: printouts if you can print to a large printer/copier at school you can lighten your load by doing the following for PDFs in journal format:

    1. Using Adobe Acrobat, the full version, crop the white space around the text. (Go to “Document” up on the menu, then “Crop Pages”.) With scanned PDFs you may have to be a little generous with the margins because the text moves around a little.

    2. Click print. Under “Page Scaling” select “Multiple pages per sheet.” Next to “Pages per sheet” select “2”.

    3. Select the big printer/copier. Click on “Properties” for the printer. Find the options for 2-sided printing, and change the “binding” to “Short edge (top)”.

    4. Hit OK, then OK again. What you should wind up with is 4 readable pages per sheet of paper, front and back. A 100-page article shrinks to 25 pages, which can actually be stapled.

  7. Nate Oman says:

    A follow up question for ebook reader users:

    How do PDF’s display? For example, if I have a PDF does show an entire page in a seven inch screen, or does it transform it to text?

  8. Marc Blitz says:

    If you can survive a few more months without an eReader, there are new eReaders slated to come out in 2010, at least one of which (The Que, by Plastic Logic-http://www.plasticlogic.com/) is specifically aimed at professionals who want to store and annotate their own PDF and, I believe, Word document files. iRex is also worth looking into ( http://www.irextechnologies.com/products/iliad ).

    Personally, I’m hoping some of the tablets predicted to come out in 2010 — especially the long-awaited tablet from Apple ( http://gizmodo.com/5370252/apple-tablet-to-redefine-newspapers-textbooks-and-magazines ) — will be able to function reasonably well as eReaders, but have greater capacities for creating and editing files than existing eReaders do.

  9. Gerard Magliocca says:


    I’ve been reading law review articles on my Kindle DX. It’s terrific and very easy to get PDFs from Westlaw.

  10. Kindlert says:

    Nate, one problem with the Kindle (and I don’t know if this is true or not with the Sony or other readers) is that it doesn’t have page numbers for books. (It uses a proprietary page location system.) That means it’s very hard to read a scholarly book on it, if you ever intend to cite it. To get the pin cite, you’ll have to run to the library. The device is great, but this feature drives me batty. I don’t know if page numbers translate on PDFs, so you should check on that.

  11. Nate, on the Sony, the PDFs I am reading are text based. You can either view them page by page (full page with tiny text) or it will reformat and make the text whatever size you want. Page numbers of the original document still appear, so you can track where you are, but it is a little disorienting.

  12. rebecca bratspies says:

    I have not yet tried downloading pdfs to my Kindle, but it seems like it will be fairly simple to do. I agree with Kindlert–it drives me crazy that books on Kindle don’t have page numbers. if I had realized that, I would probably not have purchased ones. As it is, I have my research assistants tracking down page numbers for me.