Whither or Wither: I-Law and Its Traditional Family

The published information relating to the disposal, by Informa to Montagu, of Lloyd’s Maritime Intelligence is, thus far, relatively light on detail and plans, certainly as regards that part of the business unit which might be described as law publishing, perhaps with as its future hub. It may be that it will sit well and flourish within its new corporate environment and even offer added value opportunities for other former Informa businesses such as Emerging Portfolio Funds Research (EPFR) and/or businesses which previously were not with Informa, notably Jane’s. However, that would be a surprise to me. One might expect the direction to be towards a model which focuses on maritime intelligence, commonly known as Lloyd’s List Intelligence, providing industry-based maritime analytics, information and data, more akin to Jane’s approach to aviation markets. If so, this might leave and its related books, periodicals and law reports somewhat surplus to requirement and destined for disposal elsewhere, or indeed retained within Informa, which continues to publish academic publications, including those targeting law students and scholars; it might be more integrated into Informa scholarly publishing. If it were my decision, despite my distance and present comparative ignorance, I believe I know what I would be inclined to do. and many connected print publications, some hundreds of them, form a formidable portfolio, primarily with origins in the prestigious Lloyd’s of London Press publishing business. Disciplines such as insurance and reinsurance law and maritime law have always been at its core, but expansion has taken it into other fields of law, notably commercial law, construction law, arbitration/dispute resolution, financial crime, intellectual property law, medical law, tax and financial law. Publications can be found, within Informa, under an array of imprints such as Informa Law, Taylor & Francis, LLP, Routledge and others, as well as combinations of them. Clear branding and sharp market focus do not seem to have been key features of late. Still, there seems to be mutual dependence among the online delivery platform and the range of publications, such as to hope that they will all progress together and in the same direction.

Regarding the current range of publications, of course, in reality, those which have long-term, quantifiable value, will be relatively few in number. This might be due to the inclusion of previously failed initiatives, titles which are old and beyond the possibility of regeneration in new editions and formats, external factors such as European Union evolution, internal complacency and countless other reasons. The current backlist of titles still on sale dates back over around 20 years, whereas a period of five years between editions might, in most legal topics, be considered substantial and excessive. However, declared plans for what titles and topics are planned for the short-term future, offer clues as to where the portfolio is headed. Titles announced for publication in 2023 include:

  • Offshore Floating Production: Legal and Commercial Risk Management
  • The Modern Law of Marine Insurance
  • Merchant Ship’s Seaworthiness: Law and Practice
  • Knock-for-Knock Indemnities and the Law: Contractual Limitation and Delictual Liability
  • Construction Law International: An overview

It should be noted, however, that all these books are first editions and/or collections of essays, with little track record, which may indicate potentially higher risk of failure, combined with sub-optimal backlist management, perhaps related to recent internal redundancies. Of the titles published in 2022, only two titles:

  • International Law of the Shipmaster: On The New Command at Sea
  • Building Regulations in Brief

appear to be second or subsequent editions, hence having some level of proven track record. Of those titles published in the past five years or so, the clear majority have been untested first editions. This might indicate that the majority of the portfolio’s family jewels are left to languish as cash cows and/or are too complex and problematical to revive, perhaps due in part to author and editor access and management issues, leaving such human resources as are available to chase easier, less valuable and risker first editions and compilations.

It would seem to me that, if i-Law and its related publications are to have a viable future, regardless of which entity might be its owner, and if the business is to view electronic delivery as the essential medium, then its content being retained up-to-date across the range must be a necessity. In addition, its best and most well-proven titles, notably the prestigious Lloyd’s British Shippng Law Library, if continuously updated, need to be in the forefront. Otherwise, there is excessive risk of failure, on the publishers in trying to succeed commercially and financially, and on customers in making decisions as to what is right for them.

If it were the case, for the sake of argument, that the print and electronic portfolio, including law reports and periodicals, were to find itself other than with Montagu or Informa, one might wonder where it would flourish most. In the UK and Europe, I doubt if Bloomsbury Professional would want to invest in this market sector and those law publishers of smaller scale would not have the resources to acquire the i-Law package. Wolters Kluwer, with its Legal and Regulatory business, including what was KLI, would be a good fit, but for the fact that they are progressively exiting the market; Lexis Nexis too has its sights on other aspects of legal markets, as its acquisition of Caselex and its focus on the collection and sale of other data indicates. Thomson Reuters, in its UK guise of Sweet and Maxwell, is of much the same character as Lexis Nexis, but it continues deservedly to boast the quality and reputation of its own British Shipping Law series, on which the Lloyd’s library may have been modelled. A combination of the two, with i-Law being folded into Westlaw, might make a formidable proposition, particularly when the non-maritime titles from Lloyd’s are included for good measure. It would also offer the customers of the Lloyd’s business, which is somewhat low-tech in character, access to more advanced legal research technology, some more relevant than others, to be found at Thomson Reuters (with its mix of high-tech enthusiasm and traditional skills) and its peers. The designated publishers on the staff would most likely be excited by the challenge, while the C-Suite people would be horrified. The price tag might not be great, given the state of the market, product overlap and consolidation, title renewal costs and the lack of viable competitive bidding, but the outcome, if it happened, could be impressive. Some might opine though, that such are its characteristics, Thomson Reuters would almost certainly ruin it.

Oakley Capital, whose founder and managing partner is the reportedly significant British Conservative Party donor, Peter Dubens, at least for a while, has acquired majority ownership of v-Lex, as the latter continues to innovate and embed itself in markets. For the past decade or so, its majority financial backers have been Caixa Capital Risc, which has now sold it on. About the investment, Artificial Lawyer’s observation is that The move makes a lot of sense. The one thing that legal research companies need is content – lots and lots of content. Hence you need capital to buy up other publishers and legal content holders to expand the business. This is especially the case when you are competing with the likes of Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis and Wolters Kluwer”, perhaps has relevance for the Informa i-law package. United and combined, i-Law and v-Lex, with the former’s Lloyd’s Law Reports, Building Law Reports, Chinese Maritime and Commercial Law Reports, Medical Law Reports and more, as well as various news reports, might put them in the IV league (and trussed up with the chaotic British Tories). On these matters in general, rather than specific terms, and with reference to potential expansion for v-Lex, the podcast interview with Masoud Gerami is both instructive and informative.

So, for Informa/Montagu’s law publishing business, we shall see if it will be a case of whither or wither. I am inclined to anticipate the latter.

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