We all agree that the publishing world is at a crossroads, and that it faces multiple challenges. The challenges come not only from the increase in digital formats, the preferences of a majority of Amazon customers for e-books over real books, or the decline in (real) newspaper purchasing. It also comes from people who have so many alternative forms of entertainment and activities that they no longer read much anymore.
For legal publishers there are added difficulties. After growing on the profits of a captive market through the publication of serial resources such as law reports and looseleaf titles, both of which required annual, and often lifelong, financial commitment from lawyers (and law libraries), this source of revenue is drying up. Up until recently no self respecting lawyer would be without some paper resource to consult, or at least decorate the office to impress the clients as a sign of erudition. But times change. I was in an Oxfam shop yesterday and saw a shelf full of law books from someone’s private library, including 10 pristine copies of various Selden series volumes. Whilst we can’t ever know the numbers involved in the decline of print subscriptions for the larger legal publishers, we can imagine it must be very high whenever we see items offered for disposal from one of the libraries on the law library lists.
This got me thinking about a particular bugbear of mine. For the past 16 years I have tried to find a way of getting a comprehensive list of electronic databases across a wide variety of countries, along with the cost of subscriptions. As Lexis (Reed Elsevier), and Westlaw (Thomson Reuters) have spread their acquisitions across the world, buying locally respected and well used e-resources or publishing houses, it seemed as though we could have a globalised approach by these mega publishers to the provision of a smorgasbord of delightfully tempting resources from out of the way countries.
At some time in the past decade I was at a conference where Lexis actually introduced a new member of their senior staff who was to be the person who would bring all this information together, and establish a way to facilitate information about, and access to, all their affiliated legal resource brands. I think this took place in the US, from memory, but on following up some 12 months later, the appointee, and the grand idea, had fizzled away.
It seems extraordinary that you can have these two globalised companies that compartmentalise their sales structures to the extent that they do. It is not possible to purchase all the online products they produce in one package and through one contact point. They provide a top level overview of much of their offering – the online ‘Products and Services’ pages from Reed Elsevier and Thomson Reuters – but then, as a consumer, you need to go to the homepage of the individual product to find out how to purchase it. This is time consuming, and very frustrating, especially if you are not able to speak or read the language. Reed Elsevier add another layer of confusion with the LexisNexis sites which include many additional countries not on the top level Reed Elsevier Legal Sites page.
In addition, local standards for customer service vary greatly. I have the very sad and annoying experience of trying to deal with the provider of a leading European database owned by one of the aforementioned providers, and I can never get a reply to emails or to voicemail messages on the phone. And when I try through my representatives of the firm in the UK, they too are as restricted in their abilities to deal with their foreign colleagues as I am. The ownership may be held in one global corporation, but the old borders and divisions still exist when it comes to doing business. It seems to me that this is another example of the slow moving publishing industry not being able to be flexible enough to deal with changing requirements from customers. There are numerous lawyers and law librarians who want to access resources from several countries without going through extensive hoops and time wasting in the process. Out of Lexis and Westlaw, I wonder who will be first to meet the challenge and offer a true one stop shop for their ‘foreign’ e-resources?