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Let's get small

01 March 2011 / Daniel Selwood
Categories: e-books , ePub , IoD , iPad , Kindle , orange handbook , Tolley , TPA , yellow handbook
DANIEL SELWOOD has some big news about Tolley’s textbooks

The latest Tolley annuals covering income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax are all thicker than War and Peace, the newly formed 2020 Tax Commission recently revealed to the shock of almost no one.

In what it optimistically called research, the organisation – a union of the Institute of Directors and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, both pressure groups – revealed that detailed collections of contemporary UK tax legislation have more pages than a 19th century Russian work of fiction.

They’re all books, so they’re comparable, right? And the majority of intelligent people choose their reading material based solely on its physical attributes, yeah?

Well, here’s something that’s bound to cause buyer-confusion, then: Leo Tolstoy’s literary epic and Tolley’s esteemed tomes can now be rendered in the same small size – be it that of a paperback novella, or a diminutive magazine, or the height of an overgrown can of pop.

You see, the publications are available as e-books that can be viewed on many different – and differently proportioned – portable platforms (and desktop computers). Naturally, this column is going to concentrate on the tax literature.

It’s available from LexisNexis (LN), owner of Taxation, for the same price as the paper equivalents. (Discounts are available on some bundles and bulk orders.). The textbooks are sold in the ePub standard, which causes text to reflow and reformat to best suit the screen on which it’s being displayed. It’s an open, free and friendly format, making it popular with publishing houses.

That’s not to say it allows for a Tolley e-book to be dropped on to a device and opened immediately. There are small steps, covered in the LN site’s FAQ section and in YouTube videos, which must be taken before the intake of info can begin. (Note the guide for the Barnes & Noble NOOK; it betrays LN’s position as a US-based company.)

For an iGadget you’ll need the gratis Lexcycle Stanza app, while for the Amazon Kindle and a BlackBerry, the (fairly rubbish but free) MobiPocket software will be necessary to convert the ePub files to PRC container format. Try a test run with LN’s free FAQs e-book.

Having to go through the rigmarole is a little frustrating when all you want to do is get stuck into a book. And there are plenty of books waiting to be assailed. Not only are there the volumes that the caused the 2020 Tax Commission so much despair, there are also – and some readers might get more than a bit excited about this – the almighty yellow and orange handbooks.

Imagine: no more creaking, bowed bookshelves; no more lower-back pain. Those cumbersome editions, which when piled on top of one another are more than a foot tall, can now be read via Kindle (or another e-reader such as, say, the NOOK), iPad or smart phone (BlackBerry, iPhone, etc) – and even on a PC or a Mac.

Here at Taxation, we were excited at the prospect of content in bag-friendly/pocket-pleasing dimensions, so we tried it out on a couple of devices: a Kindle and an iPad.

We were mostly satisfied with what we got (regardless of the fact we work for the firm that publishes the texts). It was great to be able to annotate sections without use of a highlighter pen or Post-it notes, although we weren’t allowed to cut and paste text – which would be handy for advisers writing letters to clients (or articles for Taxation).

Quickly flicking through pages without fear of tearing their tissue-thinness was a joy, and all the links shot to exactly where we wanted: each part of an Act was presented with a list of its sections directly beneath. It might have been better, however, to have had simply a rundown of links to parts, which when clicked offered up their sections.

The formatting was fine – surprisingly good, in fact – albeit with some needless space, as if the books had been converted from the print edition rather than specially created for e-book readers – which they almost certainly had been.

This gripe and all the others were minor, mind. Overall, the thumbs were up, and we’re already looking forward to the next iterations of the e-volumes. Until their release, we’d be thrilled to learn the views of readers who’re already packing copies on their portable devices.

UPDATE 4 March: Techie barrister Anne Fairpo, a regular to this column, has sent in a tip: 'Try Bluefire Reader for the iPad if you want to read e-books that are protected with Adobe Digital Editions DRM.  It's is a pretty standard e-reader app... but that ability to read DRM'd books makes it extremely useful.'

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