July 13, 2011
The World of Actionable Actions, Part III: Who Protects Individual Buyers of Commercial Legal Resources When Their Legitimate but Ill-informed Expectations Aren't Fulfilled by Their Acquisitions?
The means to achieve our major legal publishing vendors wet dream of selling directly to consumers, instead of being mediated by expects (ah, that would be us), has arrived. It's call eCommerce and eCommerce sites like West-Mart illustrate that our vendors are adapting the Amazon model for targeting the individual consumer. Hell, West-Mart has even implemented a "Top 10 Best-Selling New Titles banner," "Deal of the Day" discounts with "free shipping" (LOL), "Customers With Similar Interests Also Looked At" prompts and consumer review commenting for some titles. Of course, the latter could backfire if law librarians start posting critical evaluations of offerings. Hum, not a bad idea. Would they be deemed inappropriate?
Then, again, if vendors like the one who sells "trusted legal resources from Thomson Reuters" also implement something along the lines of Amazon's "Top 1,000 Reviewers" program we might have a bit of problem. See Laura Hazard Owen's What Shoppers Don’t Realize About Amazon’s Reviews on PaidContent (There is "new evidence suggesting that Amazon’s customer reviewers—particularly the top 1,000 reviewers—do not always make independent decisions about which books and other products they write about." Citing Trevor Pinch (Cornell University Department of Science and Technology Studies) and Filip Kesler's How Aunt Ammy Gets Her Free Lunch: A Study of the Top-Thousand Customer Reviewers at Amazon.com.) Note well, many of the reviewed products and services are provided for free to those top-ranked Amazon reviewers. Naw, our vendors won't do that, right? But I wouldn't be surprised if a vendor like TR Legal steals a marketing "free lunch" now being offered by Amazon. In exchange for providing “guest reviews” for Amazon imprint titles, Amazon says it will promote the review author’s books. On the New York Observer, see Emily Witt's Amazon Publishing to Authors: ‘Review’ Our Books and We Will Promote You. Of course, I doubt TR Legal will promote a review author's book if it is a Lexis imprint.
Clearly, a new era in pitching directly to individual buyers of legal publications in print and online has arrived -- has "finally arrived" from the perspective of our major vendors. They can now sell directly to them without too many worries that the buyers may not realize many of their purchases are unfit for their legal research purposes, at least until authors sue West. (BTW, perhaps you can find Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure -- Law, Commentary and Forms on West-Mart because I didn't.) Individual buyers may still have sticker shock but, as in the case of TR Legal, there is always the "Assured Pricing Plan." What next, Land of 10,000 Invoices Visa cards?
Hey, I not "picking on" TR Legal but in this case the Company is desperately seeking to be the "market[ing] leader" in this new eCommerce era and clearly is spending more time and effort on marketing and sales to individual buyers than on improving editoral quality. Of course, those costs get rolled into their pricing models.
TR Legal is a step ahead of the rest of the pack for the moment. Could it be because no other company has been it as hard hit as TR Legal in the Shed West era? Could it be because that despite after the fact apologies, the Company's marketing gurus and sales reps really don't want end users to know their librarians name. Could it be because the great untapped market until now is the individual consumer who historically tossed snail mail new product announcements and sales catalogs into the garbage bin with all the other snail mail spam but now visit the amazonian West-Mart.
"[E]ach party must take care not to say or do anything tending to impose upon [i.e. take advantage of] the other," wrote Chief Justice Marshall in the landmark caveat emptor decision in Laidlaw v. Organ, 15 U.S. (2 Wheat.) 178 (1817). In a nutshell, this requires that the means of intelligence ahead of a sales transaction must be equally accessible to both buyer and seller. In Laidlaw, the issue was tobacco. Today it can be applied to our vendors' smokin' hot need to stop the decline in guaranteed revenue streams. How? By selling to the individual consumer who does not necessarily have the expertise ("intelligence reports") we have. Hell, TR Legal is even advertising Wright & Miller on Fark! Fark, really? What next, 2:00 AM infomercials featuring Johnny and Jenny Westlaw?
|Screen capture taken on July 1, 2011|
Do law librarians as buyers of legal publishing products have a professional obligation to warn individual consumers when some products and services are "less than useful" in terms of editorial content; when print format switcheroos are not accurately advertised on the eCommerce site, even months after a format change has been executed and shipped (from this screen capture to this screen capture to currently this for Smolla's Federal Civil Rights Acts 3d, for example), when some pricing simply isn't worth paying for content received, particularly for updates, and when the fine print of "assured pricing plans" is structured along the lines of adjustable rate mortgages?
I think there is a need for consumer advocacy by law librarians here but I doubt AALLwill do anything about it. Hell, that's probably too out-of-the-box for an association that already fails miserably to effectively advocate for its own institutional buyer membership. [JH]
Earlier posts in this LLB series:
- The World of Actionable Actions: Institutional Buyers, Individual Consumers and the Legal Publishing Industry
- The World of Actionable Actions, Part II: Addressing Vendor Inefficiencies Because Format and Quality Matters