September 27, 2011
Thomson Reuters Is Going to Win the Second Round of the Law eBook Slugfest
Looks like the first round goes to Lexis. While you can acquire a few TR Legal eBooks via Amazon (yawn) and you can acquire some CCH and ABA eBooks on their e-commerce site (ditto, yawn), by the end of the year consumers will be able to acquire 75% of Lexis' entire catalog in device agnostic formats from their e-commerce site. But this first round is just going to be a footnote in the history of professional grade law eBooks.
The second round is going to be won by Thomson Reuters. It's called the "Thomson Reuters ProView" eBook platform (note the omission of "Legal"). It will be the first enhanced professional grade law eBook in the market place by a major vendor if what I saw being demo-ed at Philly is launched for a substantial number of titles. TR is characterizing it as "professional grade" and for once I agree with this marketing characterization. TR ProView is in either alpha or beta (depends on who you talk to) and it is not extremely enhanced but it is the first step in the right direction. It will offer the following:
- Full-text searching
- Table of Contents
- Linking within the title
- Linking to WestlawNext
- Copying, highlighting & note taking
- Pagination options (match the print or eliminate scrolling)
- Content updating
Obviously not all of the above are a big deal but this a professional grade enhanced eBook format. Based on the ProView demo I saw offers interactivity in key. By that I mean, some citations will be embedded links to access content as long as the reader (human being, not device) has a WestlawNext account (and presumbably has access to the link-embedded source under the user's WLN plan). OK, OK, so you have to have a WestlawNext account. But (1) it is a brillant strategy to increase WLN adption and may be signaling that Classic Westlaw will be exiting the stage sooner rather than later (why should the product developers code for a legacy system?) and (2) we wouldn't expect TR to embed links to open law sources, just like we should not expect Lexis to do anything more than embed links in their next generation eBooks to Lexis or Lexis Advance (unless the Company want to increase sales of its enhanced eBooks).
I didn't see the pagination options in action, only scrolling during the demo, but this will be a plus for providing more content in context than the usually data slices we see in WEXIS database displays. Hopefully two-page displays will be available. Copying text into what besides an email remains to be seen, at least based on the demo.
Content updating? Well, after Rudovsky, I think buyers need to be concerned about editorial quality. For embedded links, one will still have to go to WestlawNext to determine if something is still good law. Even if content updating is somehow automated and automatically feed to the text, human editing by expertise greater that what was revealed in Rudovsky is required. Forthcoming? I'm skeptical.
Unlike the current iteration of Lexis eBooks, the ProView platform is not device agnonstic. It is coded for the iPad. This is probably the way to go because I believe the iPad is the device of choice among law practitioners despite not yet being much of a work production workhouse. See, e.g., The Rise of the Legal iPad.
As for internal full-text searching in ProView, I have no idea what is driving the search -- something generic as in based on iPad's search? Vendor custom-built, a varient of WestSearch capturing readily on-hand metadata or new metadata?
Even taking all of the above issues and concerns, Thomson Reuters ProView is going to trump what is available right now in terms of eBooking technology. (And some folks thought I would never have a good thing to say about products and services offered by the folks in the Land of 10,000 invoices!). Let's always give credit where credit is due and in this case credit is due TR for developing an ehanced eBook platform going to be professional grade in law.
Marketing Enhanced Law eBooks. It is clear that TR Legal is targeting the individual consumer for ProView. Let's take a very simple illustration from what the new platform offers. If you acquired the 20XX ProView title, you can add your own annotations to it. Not a big deal. However, one reason a practitioner may want to buy the 20XX+1 year new eBook edition from TR Legal is the buyer's annotations to the prior year's edition will carry over section by section to the later edition.
Brilliant! TR Legal has realized that some consumers do not buy successive editions, oftentimes because they do not want to lose their marginalia (which may include cites to statutory and regulatory changes). Of course, other reasons may be that editional changes from one year to the next may have nominal significance particularly in the context of the stick price shock for acquiring the latest edition. No word on pricing for TR Legal's enhanced eBooks but the tranfer-over function could be a selling point for indivdual consumers of these forthcoming ProView works.
Selling the Enhanced Law eBook. Pricing? Who knows but note well Lexis is selling its current generation of eBooks on its e-commerce site at full list price of the same pBook editions. While TR Legal tested the waters by selling a few none-ProView titles by way of Amazon, I expect TR Legal to follow the major publishing houses trend to sell ProView titles only on its own e-commerce site. Except for trade titles, publishers' own eCommerce sites already generate the greatest percentage of sales. Why share the proceeds?
Individual consumers will be buying ProView titles from WestStore, or calling their Westlaw account reps, or their West inside "print" sales reps to order them. It should be clear to all that the only proof-of-concept Amazon has made in the eBook market is that eBooks will be bought by the individual consumer in the 21st century new normal; TR Legal's redesigned eCommerce site, aka WestMart, clearly indicates that TR Legal's primary marketing strategy is to sell as much as it can to the individual consumer. So while TR Legal apologized for its "know your librarian's name" in the context of performing research, it is clear exacting who TR Legal is going to target for sales -- the individual, not the institutional, buyer. And why not? There is a huge market of practitioners who do not benefit from the expertise of employing law librarians for purchasing decisions. We might see this by the initial selection of titles TR Legal first brings to market in its ProView eBook platform.
What About Terms and Conditions for Buying Next Generation Law eBooks? Unlike the pBook, the eBook is DRM-ed already. Licensed access will be the norm. Will content updating be automatic for a one year license or an additional upsell cost? Don't know but when the "good 'til actively cancelled by end user" model works so well why not replicate what has worked in the past. We have to wait to see if an alternative to some sort of standing order option is offered.
Will we see some sort of "assured pricing plan" for multi-year ProView eBooks licenses at the level of the individual consumer? Don't see why not since I doubt individual consumers will read the fine print about end of term blow-up costs and automatic renewals. Will we see annual price inflation like we have seen in print (and like we are seeing increase in WEXIS online licensing)? As professional grade enhanced eBook sales grow, you bet we will. It's all about securing a guaranteed revenue stream as high margin print sales continue to decline. Absent some form of concerted consumer advocacy, every trick in the business will be used. I expect we will be dealing with some of the consequences when our own user populations become individual buyers. Hell, some of us have seen this happen when we take over accounts from individuals who thought assured pricing plans for print were a "good deal." Do we have any professional responsibility to advocate for the individual consumer at the national level. My hunch is AALL would say "not as AALL members." Hell, it is always essentially saying "no" at the national level for an association of institutional buyers. Of course, that won't stop AALL from accepting ads for TR ProView after launch.
While Aptara’s Uncovering eBooks’ Real Impact: Third Annual eBook Survey of Publishers (free registration required) reports that 60% of all publishers are either still investigating or have no plans to produce enhanced eBooks, the enhanced Law eBook is not in a some sort of nescient stage of development. Hell, we are only talking about TR ProView winning Round 2 in this slugfest based on an alpha or beta demo but the current business practice model for US legal publishers is absolutely perfect for the sale of enhanced law eBooks. They will come to market. When the EPUB 3 standard is released next spring, I think we will see Lexis taking its digital inventory of the Company's current EPUB-eBooks to the next level by embedding links. This format conversion process is one common publishing industry strategy. See Market for Enhanced eBooks Remains Largely Untapped But... TR ProView has taken a different route.
WEXIS Strategic Objectives. I, for one, think the enhanced law eBook will be one of the more significant developments in legal publishing since the widespread acceptance of very expensive online legal search in the generalist market. The enhanced law eBooks that will be offered by WEXIS will not likely be a mere sideline in WEXIS corporate strategic objectives. It only looks that way right now because professional grade law eBooks aren't available yet.
There may be some differences between the companies. Take ProView's linkage to WLN content. Certainly that makes sense as a way to increase WLN adoption rates since embedded links will only function if one has a WLN account. It also makes sense if one thinks TR Legal will keep its overwhelming share of the online legal search market when Classic Westlaw disappears. I'm not sure TR Legal will maintain its dominant share in the very expensive generalist online legal search market but it could. Lexis will probably embed links to Lexis Advance and/or Classic Lexis until the latter disappears. At something like one-third of the online search market, will Lexis enhanced eBooks help the Company increase its market share. Considering Lexis Advance's market segmentation approach the answer to that question is going to depend on whether one will be required to have a Lexis Advance user account to click-thru the embedded links. It might be wise to offer free click-thru to eBook cited primary resources to confirm "good law" status, including free use of Shepard's, by way of one of the flavors of Lexis Advance. Doing so might increase user exposure Lexis online which in term might increase user licensing.
Let the "competition" begin. Of course in this duolopy competition won't be based on price. For awhile, it will be based on functionality. Eventually history will repeat itself and then competition won't even be based on that unless new players enter the enhanced law eBook market for secondary sources like NOW.
Who Pushes Enhanced eBooks to the Next Level? After embedded linkage to their online search services with supplement, etc. at the level of the individual consumer, will we see more media-rich content and upsells from WEXIS enhanced eBooks in the generalist legal marketplace? Probably but it may take a "nudge" from speciality legal vendors. I expect BLaw-BNA to enter the legal specialty market with enhanced eBooks. Hell, a once digital-only premium legal publisher like BLaw doesn't bend its initial marketing strategy by aquiring the catalog and editorial quality of BNA titles with a customer base willing to pay for top-notch secondary content just to sell pBooks and augment its online offerings. BNA was already lagging behind even the lame eBook offerings of CCH. Absent an infusion of capital from Bloomberg, BNA would have had a very hard time trying to be competitive with the coming of enhanced eBooks in law. Add BNA's sales force for boots on the ground purposes, I'm think both sides of this acquisition have a "win-win" for selling versions of a integrated database-pBook-eBook catalog of services. This assumes BNA online services will not be licensed to WEXIS. Something I think we can expect down the road. The one open question is whether BLaw will stick to its licensing model of selling all of its online content at a flat rate or will adopt an option that offers flat rate pricing by specialized law and business practice areas now that it offers sufficient resources by way of BNA to compete with Wolter Kluwer.
In the context of BLaw-BNA enhanced eBooks, imagine for example a search tie-in to a BLaw-BNA enhanced eBook for Developing Law Labor, a enhanced subscription in an eReader format to Securities Law & Regulation Reports that also includes videos from Bloomberg News about late breaking developments, video feeds, live and archieved, to Congressional hearings for enhanced eBook subscribers of the Daily Tax Reports, etc. Then add upsell opportunities for editable standarized forms in tax, SEC, etc, Perhaps even intelligent apps for examplary research based on SEC filings, pension plans, etc. Perhaps clause finders apps from something like BNA's Collective Bargaining Negotiations and Contracts tied to an enhanced version BNA's Labor & Employment Library for work production. Perhaps even pay-per-view webinars (which also may carry CLE credits), for example, offered to enhanced eBook subscribers of BNA's IP treatises that would of course also have embedded links to BLaw's and BNA's IP resources. This sort of competitive push will force Wolter Kluwer to kick up its current eBooks in the context of adding IntelliConnect and upsell opportunities, for CCH and Aspen specialist-branded works if the Company isn't already thinking along those lines. It just makes sense because of the narrow-focus on the individual consumer for selling eBooks.
Unlike WestlawNexis, BLaw is already providing Bloomberg News feeds and some video content to breaking news developments from Bloomberg news, etc. Score one for Bloomberg. Unlike BLaw, all versions of WEXIS online include a form of up-sell via their search services for out-of-plan sources when licenses do not block access. We just never really thought of them as "up-sell" until the rise of eReaders like the iPad. We are entering new territory here. Again, score one for BLaw's flat rate pricing.
Enhanced Law eBooks as a New Publishing Form. The professional grade enhanced Law eBook will eventually be transformative. It will be interactive and multi-media rich. It may start off with pBook context as its basis for it will ties into our major vendors online search services. It will repurpose other digital inventory from some traditional standalone titles like form compiliations that be embedded in usable formats if not already part of the e-text even if the user does not have access to the material by way of access to the vendor's database search service. It hopefully will provide content-in-context instead of data sliced displays. Significantly, it may be the answer to the complaint that WEXIS online output demotes the value of secordary literature someday.
And if anyone is thinking this will come cheaply. Think again. Pricing for the functionalities of the enhanced eBook will cost more than pBooks. The enhanced law eBook will not just be an electronic edition of a pBook. It will be a new form of publication, one where increased functionality over the pBook comes at a price. Our major vendors are betting that individual legal consumers will pay that price. Considering generational shift, I think our vendors' bets are right because I think the eBook buying population will be demanding these enhancements.
Let's just face the reality that the blind conversion of pBooks into current eBook formats without any substantial additional functionality (meaning email is not one of them) is pretty damn lame for literature in a profession that has been "online" for over three decades now. Professionally, I think no one should be paying any premium for updated, "upgraded," online legal database platforms. Upgrading is just a corporate cost of staying competitive even in a duopoly that displays monopolistic tendencies. Development of new search engines is the just price of staying competitive. Advertising claims about saving research time are a joke but even if taken serious how does that offset costs to vendor. About the only new feature being offered by WEXIS on any "significance" is internal sharing of "folders" and that's hardly worth additional cost.
The professional grade enhanced eBook is an entirely different matter. In the Shed West Era of print, the greater the improvement in functionality, the more likely our major vendors will be able to compensate for lost revenue. It this case, we are talking about the market for a new product. Consumers will eventual perceive the difference. Marketing will eventually stop referencing pBooks in the context of selling professional grade enhanced eBooks. While "professional grade enhanced eBooks" is a mouthful right now someone may come up with a new name or the state of the eBook art will simply make us forget about eBooking in its current form when it comes to professional literature.
Where Will This Leave the Institutional Buyer? For now, out in the cold. To its credit, Lexis is providing some work-arounds for institutional buyers of its current eBook offerings. I find them "clunky" to say the least for lending purposes and who knows how either Company will work out this dynamic for enhanced law eBooks in an instituional buyer setting. Eventually, libraries may be able to acquire licensing by user accounts or IP-authentication. Eventually, vendors may start packing discounted enhanced eBooks in their online search licenses in some way, shape or form. Lending? Perhaps some form of time-sensitive patron access logins. But all this is probably going to happen many rounds later in the law eBook slugfest. [JH]
If West is ever stupid enough to dump the topics and key numbers, I think there will be a HUGE migration (including me)to presumably cheaper Lexis. Their segments are better that West's fields anyway. Maybe they are smart enough to realize this.
Posted by: Marie | Sep 29, 2011 9:40:11 AM
Very interesying! I have thought about this media and have been biding my time as a county law librarian but I can see the writing on the tablet.
Posted by: Brian Huffman | Sep 27, 2011 1:23:30 PM