« Opening: Electronic Services Librarian, UC Davis Mabie Law Library | Main | Indoctrination in the New Normal of WEXIS Legal Professional Services Business Model Must Start with Law School Students: The Case of LMO Marketing in the Legal Academy »
February 3, 2011
The Saga of the AALL Price Index Continues: Task Force appointed to investigate if the Price Index is needed and is a value to AALL members
You remember AALL's Price Index, right? Well, perhaps only some old-timers do. Once upon a time it provided a useful measure of annual print supplement costs across the vendor spectrum. Then Thomson Reuters proved it really, really wanted to be a "partner" with the law library community by refusing to contribute data. Then is one of those rare instances of AALL demonstrating it had something resembling a spine, our professional organization quietly banned TR Legal from sponsoring our annual meetings because of our “partner’s” refusal. Actually, the Company’s rationalization for taking its course of action was because TR Legal really was our “partner” but only at the individual institutional buyer level. Quoting from the Company's official statement as published in LLB’s July 2009 post, Message from West on AALL Sponsorship Policy:
It’s true that AALL is not accepting sponsorship dollars from West for 2008-2009 because West does not participate in the Price Index for Legal Publications. It has been West’s position for many years that the retail pricing model laid out by the Price Index for Legal Publications does not accurately reflect the prices our customers typically pay. Our retail prices are easily and clearly available on the West Web site. However, we work closely with our customers to give them the information and flexibility they require to best plan their budgets and collections, and so we approach pricing on an account-by-account basis – which, by the way, is not uncommon in the industry. Our view is that whether an index is produced by a private publisher or trade association, more often it serves to confuse than clarify.
Few, if any, invoice-paying law librarians bought that corporate-speak from the Land of 10,000 Invoices. In his July 9,2010 LLB post, West and AALL Price Index, about this situation, Ken Svengalis, someone who has seen an invoice or two, wrote:
The AALL board’s decision to refuse West sponsorship of the Annual Meeting was a salutary development after many years of dithering. But now, it is faced with confronting the same issue all over again. On the eve of the Annual Meeting, it is hoped that it will give this subject the attention it deserves and demand West’s genuine, not feigned, cooperation. Over the years, West has insinuated itself into the sponsorship of dozens of Annual Meeting luncheons, SIS functions, and parties which are simply extensions of their marketing efforts. Until they come across with the supplementation cost data, however, these are all meaningless exercises that fail to address our most pressing concern.
Unfortunately the Price Index saga continued on. TR Legal agreed to provide pricing data for the 2009 Price Index. Fall-out from the publicity? Consequence of the Shed West Era? The Company was back in AALL’s good graces and was a sponsor for Denver, albeit TR Legal was too damn cheap to ante up the $75,000.01 to be a "gold sponsor." Hey, I would have contributed a shiny new penny if needed by the Company. Loop back up to Ken's comment about TR Legal sponsorship of the parallel universe the Company creates at AALL annual meetings. Of course, LexisNexis executes the same for marketing purposes, too.
Then in a moment of either utter AALL incompetence or off-the-wall "to infinity and beyond" naiveté, the Price Index Committee "discovered" it had not asked specifically for print continuation pricing when it reviewed vendor submitted data for the 2009 Price Index. Of course the Committee did not come right out and say that it failed to ask for this data (but one very knowledgeable and reputable vendor rep did to me in person over coffee in Denver; for a nanosecond I thought "no way" but after a sip of coffee I realized "of course" because we were talking about AALL). Here's what the Price Index Committee said about all this in its official introduction to the 2009 Price Index:
Thomson Reuters agreed to supply prices for the 2009 Price Index. They supplied list prices for new sets for the years 2005 -2009. Historically, prices within the Price Index have been for supplementation. After Thomson Reuters submitted new set prices, the [Price Index for Legal Publications Committee] Chair looked more closely at other publishers' prices within the Price Index. It appears that other publishers have also supplied new set pricing between the years 2005 and 2008. To clarify what is the proper pricing for publishers to supply, the 2010-11 Committee is drafting a set of written pricing standards. These standards will be sent to publishers in advance of their agreement to participate in the Price Index. The written standards will articulate the specific type of price that must be provided for each material type in the index.
Oops, vendors provided the data AALL asked for. Nothing more, nothing less. Meaning the 2009 Price Index isn't worth the paper one might use to print it out. Imagine the chuckles during vendor meetings upon receipt of the data request. Of course, who knows if one of the vendors called anyone in the walled garden of official AALL-land to ask "don't you want print sup costs anymore?" But imagine when this somewhat notorious TR Legal “bashing” blogger decided it was time to come to the Company’s defense in the sidebar to this post. That post includes more from the text of the 2009 Price Index Introduction. Due note well the frequent references to TR Legal and its supplied data while AALL glossed over its own omission to ask for print continuation pricing.
Transparency? Accountability? One has to dig a little deeper than time permits for most law librarians to find out what the hell our professional association is doing or not doing, saying or intentionally trying not to say explicitly. Even some hard working law librarians tasked with reviewing vendor submitted price index data for compiling the 2009 Price Index didn’t know what AALL asked for. When our association is this screwed up, is there any reason why the vendor community should take anything AALL does, beyond asking for ad revenue dollars, seriously. See Michael Ginsborg's Spectrum article, Ending our conflicts of interest to protect consumers of legal publication, and this LLB post, Professional Ethics Trumps AALL Acceptance of Vendor Cash Until the Status Quo is Changed.
And the sage continues: AALL Price Index Review Task Force appointed. In case you missed the December 2010 AALL E-Newsletter announcement because you were heading off for vacation as the holidays approached, our association's executive board has appointed a task force to review the Price Index:
The purpose of the task force is to review the index and recommend to the Executive Board any necessary changes to the publication. The task force will investigate all aspects of the index including its value to members. The task force has been asked to submit a final report and recommendations for the July 2011 Executive Board meeting.
Anyone recall a public announcement asking for volunteers to serve? While the e-newsletter announcement is accurate in its gloss-over of what this latest task force will do, the official charge is more specific:
The Task Force will investigate all aspects of the AALL Price Index for Legal Publications. This review shall include, but not be limited to:
- Investigating if the need for the Price Index still exists and is a value to AALL members;
- If the Price Index is of value to members, should it be produced differently;
- How could the work of the committee be more equitably distributed;
- If AALL should partner with another organization or individual to produce the Price Index.
Well, we know what value the Price Index had been when all major vendors were not contributing annual print supplement cost data. Thanks to AALL's boner last year, we certainly know what value the Price Index has when all major vendors contribute data but AALL fails to ask for annual print supplement cost data.
Oh well, AALL’s Price Index Task Force includes some old-timers who may remember what the Price Index once was. The Task Force also includes the current and past chairs of the Price Index Committee under whose combined watchfulness produced the fiasco that is the 2009 Price Index. But institutional buyer representatives -- that's what we are folks -- sleep easy. Have no fear. Rest assured because both the former and current AALL vendor liaisons are also members of the Price Index Task Force. Of course, no current member of CRIV is on the Task Force.
Soliciting Comments from Others. The "Task Force may solicit comments from members, the SISs or other entities as warranted." "As warranted," mind you. "Other entities;" let's see.
1. The Price Index Task Force "shall prepare a preliminary report for the Spring 2011 Executive Board meeting." That meeting will take place from Thursday, March 24, 2011 to Saturday, March 26, 2011 at the Union League Club in Chicago.
2. AALL's Vendor Colloquium apparently will take place somewhere in Chicago, apparently sometime this month if this aging and decripit Boomer law librarian's memory is recalling a phone conversation accurately.
3. The Planning Committee's Vice-Chair is our current Vendor Liaison and this Committee's Board Liaison is the former Vendor Liaison, if the AALL web page is current. As noted above, both also were appointed by the Executive Board to the Price Index Task Force.
4. Feel free to connect the dots any way you want. Personally, I'm reminded of a line from Casablanca. Captain Renault: "Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects." At least the current CRIV chair is a member of Vendor Colloquium Planning Committee.
The 2011 Vendor Colloquium apparently is not important enough to listed on either AALL's official calendar of events or on the Vendor Colloquium Planning Committee’s web page; not even listed with a "details TBA" annotation when I last checked. I guess we can call TR Legal's representative on the Vendor Colloquium Planning Committee to find out what the hell is going on.
Let's spend membership money. Meanwhile, give pause ... the E-Club is meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago! Have you ever been to the most exclusive private membership club in downtown Chicago? I've been to the Union League Club several times ... that would be when one of the founding members of the law firm I worked at came into town from his home in San Diego and asked me to meet him there instead of at the office to go over some projects we were working on because that's where he stayed. It was always a very "acceptable" as in circa-19th century scions of the British Empire experience.
Who is picking up the tab for meeting at the Union League Club? We are (if not, whose Union League Club membership is?). Anyone remember our association's budget issues, our membership's belt-tightening? Our association's chronic and ethically questionable dependence on vendor cash so as not to have to increase membership dues?
Any of our elected representatives or paid-for association staff think that one of Chicago's law schools or law firms couldn't provide a venue for this E-Board meeting at substantially less cost? Well AALL E-club members, at least try to remember the Union League Club's dress code. Even in the 21st century is only a bit more casual than the image displayed below.
So remember the Price Index. In the future when there are no print supplementation costs because print has been priced out of existence the Price Index may be as antiquated as the above Union League Club image. Then, as if not already, a Price Index of eLegal resources -- online search and eBooks -- will be needed. Does anyone even think that is going to be on the agenda of either the Price Index Task Force or the Vendor Colloquium? Oh, my bad, those terms cannot be disclosed under current licensing agreements and god knows "we" cannot interfere with how our vendors conduct their anti-competitive business practices.
The Price Index is not a relic from the past, at least not yet. It still has value to members. It can provide a useful objective standard if our association remembers to ask for the right data. [JH]
I have been to the Union League Club! It's where the program planning committee stayed last October. It's actually not *that* swank. I mean, they let me in, after all!
-- It's pretty damn exclusive Sarah. ya gotta be a fairly elite Chicago power broker to become a member, not a visitor. Hell, they let me in but only after I wiped my shoes, showed the greeter I was wearing a suit and tie and told him who I was meeting there for lunches and afternoon drinks at the bar! -- Joe
Posted by: Sarah G. | Feb 3, 2011 9:49:39 AM
I think it also extremely important to note that there were no private law librarians or court librarians appointed to this committee. The four members and the chair are all academics. Yes, they did make a private law librarian the Board Liaison for this committee but let's get real. I guess they don't think the Price Index applies to anyone but the academics. Just one more instance of how AALL is dominated by academics even though the private law librarian group is the same size.
Posted by: Caren Biberman | Feb 3, 2011 6:21:07 AM