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Why Is There Such a Dearth of Reporting on the Legal Publishing Industry Outside North America ?

In what seems like another age I wondered about the same question and decided to start publishing an online newsletter that most readers of this article will be aware of, Law Librarians News.

Then to keep up with trends and technology I also started publishing the House Of Butter blog and subsequently a Law Librarians News Twitter both of which appear, I hope, to be popular with an online readership.

It might appear that I’m doing my utmost to blow my own trumpet but it has always been somewhat of a surprise that it’s only those from the U.S. and the Canadians who seem to have understood that it’s imperative to try and keep tabs on what the legal publishers are doing in any given quarter or year and it is these individuals who are to be congratulated for information resources such as this site, SLAW or the always worth a read , the Joe Hodnicki-led Law Librarians Blog.

There are also a host of other independent North American legal information blogs publishing informative articles and posts regularly. Admittedly these sites are usually leaders for businesses supplying the legal industry with one information product or another. But that said the product propaganda tends top be kept to a sensible minimum and a selection of reports from these blogs in any given week of the year is usually a fairly reliable indicator of what’s happening in the North American legal information industry.

There’s only been one major blip in the last few years and that was the highly successful effort Westlaw Next put into bringing bloggers and information centres onside for the launch of that product.

Westlaw Next did a great job of persuading both legal library managers and bloggers that there was nothing closer to the company’s heart than pure love and affection for every legal librarian and writer on the North American continent. The honeymoon was of course, short lived, as we all learnt by mid 2010 when TR West started disappearing their “Library Relationship Managers”. I now get the feeling that many on the receiving end were more than miffed that they’d had the wool pulled over their eyes. As the Who once said, they “Won’t Be Fooled Again”

But elsewhere it’s been planet radio silence. A few official blogs the best of which being the BIALL (British & Irish Assoc Law Librarians ) blog report infrequently on some issues concerning the legal information publishing industry. Although if there’s something nasty to be said it’s normally said quietly amongst committee members as they are also generally clients with very large accounts.. God forbid one should anger senior sales managers at West or Lexis, just the fear of re-negotiating gigantic contracts is enough to make sure that issues are quietly resolved and only partially so, rather than made public.

The same applies to the majority of Law Library blogs, of which there are only a handful outside the US. They tend to start with a flurry and even the odd post suggesting that not all is always hunky dory with their suppliers tends to err on the side of caution. We’re yet to see a library blog that has decided to take the bull by the horns and go beyond standard advice for their library users on how to use the two main databases. Maybe the revolution is silent and that’s perceived by the users as the best way to deal with the legal publisher issue.

I can understand why the world of legal information might not always be the most exciting industry to report on but it does amaze me when I hear so many complaints that never get made public or even more surprising the absolute unhappiness many librarians want to share privately about the publishers but at the same time they’re equally adamant that their concerns should never go beyond a private conversation.

Now we come to new markets that both companies are making inroads into. South America, China & India.

 It goes without saying nobody in China is going to complain. Firstly it’s too hard and without a doubt there are more pressing details to deal with in the world that is China law. The South American market is still too small but I am constantly surprised that India, a country that’s got plenty to say about the entry of foreign law firms, doesn’t really have much to say about the likes of Lexis & Westlaw who are in the market and carving themselves a niche that could make them a lot of money

So although I’ve asked the question I’m not sure I know the answer. Is reporting the legal publishing market is simply too boring, too confusing or does it just feel like fighting a constant losing battle? 

As a writer on and about the industry all I can say is that this is exactly what executives at the major legal publishers would us to feel: a sense of ennui that defies action and therefore ensures writers and information managers will give up reporting on these secretive companies .

So to conclude: Congratulations to the North Americans and now it’s time for Australia and the UK amongst others to follow the lead and create independent information sources that help keep tabs on the suppliers.

Legal Information blogs outside North America

BIALL Blog http://biall.blogspot.com/

List of Law Librarian Blogs – http://aallcssis.pbworks.com/w/page/1189465/Law-Library-Blogs

Birbeck Library Blog http://birkbecklibrarylaw.blogspot.com/

Uni of Hong Kong http://obelix.lib.hku.hk/cdblog/?cat=40

Exploded Library – Australia – http://www.explodedlibrary.info/

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Comments

  1. The continued growth of Thomson Reuters Legal and Reed Elsevier’s legal publishing may make it easier for all of us to see overall trends. It’s almost as if – with Canada as an example, since that’s where I’ve been for the last few years – the smaller markets and publishers are too small to have much data or other information available, beyond scuttlebutt. The big publishers are now getting to the point that it can be hard to find out what the legal portion of the multinational is doing, let alone the publishing part of the legal portion. The bigger the company, though, the more opportunities to see what’s going on or hear about it.

    Another blog you might follow – a US law school blog that often talks about the publishers from the perspective of what the law school library purchases (or doesn’t) and how it uses what it has – is Stanford’s Legal Research Plus blog, which I follow along with your own House of Butter!

  2. Thankyou David

  3. I’d suggest that, thankfully, only a few of us are sad and obsessive enough to be interested in what is a relatively small and unimportant industry. Try telling someone you meet at a party that you’re in legal publishing. Eyes light up with interest when you say “publishing”, followed by a look suggesting imminent death from boredom as you confirm the sector.

    In the scheme of things, legal publishing is very small and unimportant and, as David Whelan says, increasingly a smaller proportion of what the major companies are doing. It directly affects a very small number of people who themselves are relatively low-profile and, whatever happens, few deaths are caused.

    At the same time, I suspect that a very minor reason for lack of commentary is fear. I’ve seen a little bit of anecdotal evidence that, certainly from inside legal and professional publishing, public commentary is thought not to be career enhancing and while much is whispered, it’s best to keep one’s own counsel.

    Mainly though, I’d say it’s too boring.

  4. I’m not sure non-US legal publishing is any more niche than many other areas that have blogs, newsfeeds, and a few sad obsessives watching them. It may not wow on the cocktail circuit but I guess law librarian never did for me either. I spend over $1 million a year on these publishers, so I’m curious about what they’re up to because I know that the sum total of tchotchkes they hand out at conferences, the acquisitions they make in other markets and verticals, and other navel lint will probably end up impacting either my bottom line or my choices.

    Of course, if I only dressed in LexisNexis Red or Westlaw Blue, I might admit I was not only one of the few, but one of the saddest!

  5. The Guardian‘s obituary of Elaine Paintin yesterday pointed out that she abandoned a career in legal publishing to take a one-year diploma in prehistoric archaeology, enabling her to work in the British Museum’s department of prehistoric and Romano-British antiquities.

    For Slaw readers, she may be even more interesting as the seconded drafter of the Treasure Act 1996, which revised the ancient law of treasure trove has resulted in the saving for the public of hundreds of buried antiquities.

    Which other figures are refugees from legal publishing?

  6. It is untrue in my mind that there is no decent law librarian blog outside the US, talking about the issues with Legal Publishers! Perhaps you are not aware of them because:

    1- There are not in English! Spaniards talk about their issues in Spanish (unfortunately for the English-speaking-only-folks!)

    2- They are not targeting the duopoly LexisNexis/Westlaw, as these publishers are not as ultra-dominant outside the US as they are in the US. Local smaller publishers and Wolters Kluwer are often bigger/more relevant!

    3- Finally, it is not because there isn’t a blog that people are not talking about the issues and trying to address them! They are focus groups, consortia, trade associations… where people engage in conversations with Legal publishers to resolve issues !