Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yet more on the future of commercial legal research databases versus open access

This time it's the Law Librarian Blog founder and our good buddy Joe Hodnicki weighing in on the Bob Berring video.  Joe thinks that competitive forces will inevitably challenge Wexis' market share and that some of the competition will come from the open access sector:

In It's Time for Law.Gov, I suggested that legal information professionals "imagine a world where choosing to use LexisNexis and Westlaw is based primarily on their online secondary legal resources, interfaces and research tools after the duopolist market structure in the legal publishing industry has been smashed because authenticated primary legal information is available from multiple sources." This will be a world where "competition" is not defined as West vs. LexisNexis. Competition in the marketplace for legal information will be analogous to the situation the Big Three auto makers faced in the late 1970s-early 1980s when US consumers began buying Japanese (and later Korean) cars and trucks in mass instead of buying over-priced poorly engineered and assembled gas guzzlers from Detroit. 

This will be a world of consumer options defined by value-added services far beyond late 19th-early 20th century editorial contributions like headnotes and key numbers, and the shoehorning of publication formats like the legal treatise into WEXIS databases that were neither designed nor intended to accomodate them. The primary reason to buy WEXIS products will likely be the quality of the secondary legal products they offer, whether they will offer them in usable digital formats, and something legal information professionals really haven't seen in a very long time, market-based competitive pricing. The need to be innovative will be forced upon WEXIS by the marketplace because WEXIS will have lost its stranglehold on primary legal materials.

Competition may very well be defined as involving West and LexisNexis and BNA and Wolters Kluwer and probably something like "Google US Law" plus start-up companies taking advantage of the return of the "Invisible Hand." This market will eventually settle on redesigned products and services, modern, that is to say, more sophisticated methods of distribution, plus licensing options and pricing that is more beneficial to all members of the legal information community, namely, end users and those institutional providers (read law libraries) and legal publishers who are agile enough to accept the challenge.

Those of us who have been in this profession long enough to remember the advent of online legal research services can recall the early negative reaction to them and that reaction's lack of foresight. Too bad we didn't put some in a time capsule 30-plus years ago. Perhaps someone will put the Berring video in a time capsule with a note that reads, "Open in 2040." Considering the pace of change, perhaps it should read "Open in 2020."

You can read the rest of Joe's well-informed predictions here.

I am the scholarship dude.



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