April 14, 2010
Your WestlawNext License Can Be Just Like Your Westlaw License. Part III: Is That Enough?
Unfortunately the West rep is a bit of a marked man or woman. In addition to the substantially less than "rock-solid and sharp" WLN pricing information generated by TR Legal's marketing debacle, the backlash from the unrelenting 12-13-14% nominal annual price increases from the print side of the business during this economy can make WLN a very tough sell for that so-called "modest premium." Institutional buyers are asking some tough "what does WLN really cost" questions.
Getting on the Same Page. About these earlier days of WLN, one has to wonder, as Greg Lambert did in a comment to one of his posts, "It would seem that either the local reps are "making it up as they go" or the overall goal for pushing out WestlawNext is to be vague and confusing on pricing, but rock-solid and sharp on the presentation of the product." I'm sure all account reps will be on the same page eventually.
Our job as institutional buyers, of course, is to also be on the same page. While TR Legal might like that page to be hand delivered to law librarians by their sales force with price quotes in hand, having clear, precise, information for WLN negotiations with your rep is the responsible way to conduct business, particularly with a company that wants to be your business "partner."
Can TR Legal provide a reasonable and rational estimate for the WLN premium based on your existing contract that is supported by providing complete usage data for the past 12 months should you ask? I don't see why not. Because you can craft licensing agreements for WLN similar to your existing Westlaw ones, the Company has a wealth of usage information to base WLN cost estimates on. Another way to state this is: if TR Legal can bill you, they should be able to provide good estimates for you under a WLN license that's similar to your Westlaw plan, and they should be able to do that whether your institution blocks or does not block access to out-of-plan resources because out-of-plan WLN pricing has been established.
There is of course one big assumption here, namely can you compare Westlaw apples to WestlawNext apples or has TR Legal changed the offerings to such an extent that this is impossible? Offerings may have changed but my hunch is there will be enough apples to compare. If so, the big question is, will TR Legal provide the usage data with the specificity needed to make informed WLN decisions so both vendor and institutional buyer are on the same page?
Instead of cost projection modeling to decide what you want in your WLN plan, whether you want to increase or reduce your plan's scope based on past database usage, and whether you want to block or not block out-of-plan resources, I expect one is more likely to hear from West reps something along the lines of "it's probably going to cost you X percent more (or between $X and $Y more per user account) for WLN and here's a couple of options to consider -- add this to your plan, subtract that from your plan, etc." In other words, the hand-delivered, one-sided page from TR Legal that doesn't really take into account the feature that makes WLN most interesting, namely its new search engine and whether it has any potential utility for end users at the institutional level without having to pay an arm and leg to find out.
If I was a law firm librarian working in a firm where there was absolutely no client-push back on online cost recovery, I might say, "hey, no problem, here's a blank check, give me all of WLN based on our current plan and we will see what happens with out-of-plan charges." But those days are waning. More likely I would be saying "we've got a problem here because our clients have wised up to fact that we have been TR Legal's retail outlet by passing on online search charges to them."
Wouldn't It Be More Beneficial IF. I've seen WestlawNext. I like it's across-all-resources feature (OK, like some others, I'm really disappointed that there has been no substantial improvement in secondary source usability ...). I would like to know if our library's current Westlaw plan which blocks access to out-of-plan resources could someday be replaced with one that takes advantage of WLN's search engine. I would like to expand or reduce in-plan resources to reflect database usage based on a cost-benefit analysis and budgetary contracts in a timely manner. So here's my WLN checklist (and in some instances, wishlist) for conducting business in a way that may be more beneficial for everyone -- vendor, buyer and end user -- before, during and after WLN negotiations have concluded:
1. Let WLN loose for a reasonable temporary access fee and time period -- all 40,000 databases with institutional buyers having ready online access to usage-by-database and by login during this period.
2. As this trial period is coming to a close, let institutional buyers select plan components and pricing scenarios for some cost modeling estimates. Eventually, vendor and buyer will reach some agreement on in-plan resources with or without out-of-plan blocking based on institutional usage of WLN's search engine.
3. Let there be near real-time usage-by-database and login reporting online during the term of the agreement so buyers can make informed evaluations on the decisions they have made.
4. If out-of-plan resources are made available, let the buyer have the option to select which ones - some or all. Most definitely West will offer deep discounting off its listed pricing schedules for out-of-plan resources but some buyers still may want to exclude some out-of-plan resources.
5. Let there be real-time cost messaging for accessing out-of-plan resources under the terms of the license so a researcher can make a cost-benefit decision before deciding to view a document based on what it will actually cost, not just that it will be an additional cost
6. Let there be an itemized expense statement at the conclusion of the search session so the researcher is informed what his or her WLN search session cost.
7. Let the institutional buyer decide at the user account level who has and who does not have privileges to access out-of-plan resources.
8. Let the institutional buyer decide whether a one year license or a multi-year license with or without optional second and third years is most suitable for the instiution.
My bottom line is maybe your WestlawNext license should be something much more than what your current Westlaw license is and WLN negotiations should proceed in a substantially more constructive manner than Westlaw negotiations have in the past. [JH]
Earlier posts in this three-part series entitled "Your WestlawNext License Can Be Just Like Your Westlaw License:"
Another excellent WestlawNext post, Joe.
The only thing I would add is that implementation of your "modest proposal" would be equally beneficial to solo and small firm lawyers as to the "institutional" buyers discussed in your post.
Unfortunately, I'm afraid that, given what we know about how West prefers to do business, your modest proposal will see the same level of implementation as Swift's.
Posted by: Lisa Solomon | Apr 14, 2010 10:04:58 AM