November 14, 2012
What May Become the Next Normal in Pricing Online Legal Search in the 21st Century?
In the "good old days" when we aging and decrepit Boomer-gen law librarians were bright young things, very expensive legal search vendors only offered "everything." At that time, everything in the databased content inventory wasn't all that much. Soon enough, "everything" was limited to the non-academic law library market because certain resources were excluded from academic law library licenses.
Early on database vendors' pricing mechanism generated very high variable search costs in the private and government sectors. While the private sector was then still able to charge back costs to clients, the government sector could not afford this model because, well you know, government entities have budgets to maintain. The call went out for some sort of in-plan access. "Impossible!" was the vendor responses based on false technology claims. Citing the differences in academic plans compared to the entire database universe model in private and government sectors plans, "impossible" became "possible."
Thus arrived the era of in-plan access with fixed costs with an out-of-plan option that included a variable cost component. Of course, fixed costs were and still are based on a mysterious pricing matrix that takes into account database selections, number of user accounts, number of legal professionals and various print tie-in arrangements at the institutional buyer's level. Ultimately, however, it boiled down to an institutional buyer's purchasing power, the negotiation skills of that buyer's representative, and, in the private sector, the consultants sometimes employed because the NDAs incorporated in licensing agreements prohibit sharing pricing data.
Those were the "select your database, then perform your search" days. With the next gen current gen WEXIS platforms, it is perform your search and then filter your results largely by data elements that once were segment or field searches in former menu-driven database categories. Eliminating the marketing nonsense about how this or that vendor's metadata-enhanced SE is better than the "other guy's," buyers are still left with to options: (1) in-plan only negotable fixed rate or (2) in-plan with out-of plan variable rate. Of course what is "out-of-plan" does not necessarily mean "everything else." Access to "out-of-plan" databases is negotiable and oftentimes excludes much of the vendor's databased inventory to reduce variable costs. The clear trend, however, in the private sector is in-plan only licenses for a selected set of resources at a fixed rate for classic or next gen current gen WEXIS licenses.
Now comes the silliness. What is the point of next gen current gen WEXIS federated search engines if WEXIS doesn't provide its entire databased content inventory at a fixed rate? Why not stop applying a 20th century pricing scheme to a 21st century platform? "Impossible!" WEXIS will say but not for a psudeo-technological rationalization. Why then? Because WEXIS is still applying last century's revenue generation model to the 21st century as if the legal services industry has not changed permanently.
Will the "impossible" become possible as the next normal pricing scheme for very expensive online legal search if BLaw's flat rate pricing for that Company's entire database universe becomes a competitive threat to WEXIS? That may depend on BLaw reducing its per seat flat rate for something less than institution-wide licenses.
For a little background on what may be the next normal in the 21st century from the institutional buyer's side of this equation, see The No Sacred Cow Models: Sole Provider, Primary Provider, or Multiple Narrow-Focused Providers for Online Legal Search in the Private Sector. [JH]