A few weeks ago, Larry Bodine commented that PDF was bad for law firm newsletters. While I agree that 1) HTML and plain text are perfectly acceptable for sending newsletters (that’s how I send out the Internet Legal Research Weekly), and 2) PDF files are not preferred for online reading (via Jakob Nielsen, I think PDF files get a bad rap from the source of Larry’s post.

Larry quotes Ralph Wilson, who writes:

“The real drawback to PDF e-zines, however, is the fact that they don’t open automatically in current e-mail programs. They come as an attachment — and many people (myself included) think twice about opening attachments, even if they know the sender. Too many PDF e-zines just don’t get read. And perhaps 20% of recipients don’t yet have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in needed to view PDF documents.”

I just don’t think these are compelling reasons to stay away from PDF files. First, although PDF files can carry viruses as attachments, they are extremely rare and are not the vehicle of choice for those who spread viruses. Further, the rule is “don’t open attachments from people you don’t know;” I am not aware of a law firm that sends out newsletters without you first subscribing to them on that firm’s website, so when you receive it you’ll know you requested it. And what’s so hard about downloading the Acrobat Reader? It’s free.

Finally, Jakob Nielsen is right: PDF files are superior for printing documents. If I needed to print out a newsletter, I would rather print out a PDF file than a newsletter created in HTML.

PDF, HTML, text: can’t we all just get along?