The major takeaway from the 2018-19 Dewey B Strategic Hits and Misses Survey is that consumers of legal information regard 2018 as “a miss.” The problem wasn’t so much the products—although products play an important role in triggering the discontent. The major problem is the behavior of legal publishers. Legal publishing is a mature market and yet vendors expect to grow their profit margins without having a good understanding of what their customers consider to be valuable. They are also indifferent to customer budget constraints and the demand for a customized product mix based on a specific firm’s practice needs and budget.
The New Survey Format This is the first time I have conducted the survey in its current format. There is a lot to digest – therefore I will be presenting the results in five or six separate blogposts. Today’s post is “Part 1.”
The survey was open from January 9, 2019 to March 9, 2019. There were 150 survey respondents. Almost every respondent added additional comments to at least one of their answers. There was deep engagement by participants – people were unloading. It is nonetheless an informal non-scientific survey which offers insights into the “pulse” of the legal information marketplace. Thanks to all the readers who took time to respond.
Worst Vendor Relations Move/ Worst Product Change or Realignment:
Today I will cover the two questions from the survey which address “the most important development of 2018 which will impact negotiations and relationship with vendors” and the “worst product change or realignment in 2018.” These two issues are connected.
The Bloomberg BNA product realignment was hands-down rated the most significant development in legal publishing. It was also rated the worst product change in legal publishing. This was in a year where they faced stiff competition from Lexis being accused of product bundling by members of the American Association of Law Libraries and outrage Thomson Reuters over the pricing of Westlaw Edge followed by widespread WESTLAW layoffs and. The question itself does not reveal if this is positive or negative but when paired with the selection of Bloomberg Law’s BNA product realignment as the worst development it becomes clear this was not a compliment.
How Did the BloombergBNA Deal Go So Wrong? In 2011 I practically gushed with enthusiasm in a post about BLaw’s acquisition of the Bureau of National Affairs. I predicted that “The long term success of the BNA/Bloomberg deal may lie in Bloomberg’s ability to retain the BNA “brain trust” – reporters who had deep regulatory expertise in the areas they reported on.”
The recent BNA content reorganization led to:
o The disappearance of almost all of the iconic BNA newsletters.
o The elimination of a large swath of the BNA editors and reporters
o No clear description of the content migration plan. It would have taken a very large spread sheet to explain where content was going – but no one bothered to create one.
o No clear explanation of how content from former products could be located in Bloomberg Law – therefore it was impossible to understand the “black box” pricing.
o The naïve expectation that lawyers are interested in curating their own “newsfeeds” rather than reading an editorially created newsletter.
It has been reported that Bloomberg paid almost $1 billion dollars for BNA. How did they not have the strategy to save it eight year’s later? Bloomberg is a news organization! They wouldn’t have to look far to find a spectacularly successful legal news model: Law360 (Which I profiled in “The Improbable Rise of Law 360.”) Perhaps BNA’s deep analysis needed to be trimmed to briefer “news bites.” But why couldn’t this be done while retaining the deep subject expertise and insights of the BNA news team?
What Does This All Mean for Wolters Kluwer and Fastcase. I guess surveys are like news headlines – “if it bleeds it leads.” Wolters Kluwer and Fastcase didn’t enrage their customers this year and the importance of their activities didn’t register with the irate readers of this blog. Wolters Kluwer – finally retired the Intelliconnect Platform and replaced it with the Cheetah platform. Intelliconnect was riddled with problems from its launch and most of the information community sighed a collective “good riddance” to the product. Cheetah is a much more robust platform. But that is not the sum total of Wolters Kluwer’s smart moves. Bloomberg’s seeming abandonment of BNA newsletters will surely be seized as an opportunity by Wolters Kluwer which has a similar regulatory expertise and is well positioned fill the regulatory news vacuum left by BNA.
Fastcase’s Transformation Was the Sleeper Story of the Year
Fastcase will be 20 years old in 2019, although it still has the gloss of a “start up.” It remain a private company and co-founders Ed Walters and Phil Rosenthal remain deeply engaged with their customers. It has been years since the presidents of Lexis and Westlaw mingled with customers at the annual AALL conference. Ed and Phil are not only at the conference – they host a 3 day party! 2018 was in a year when it became clear that Fastcase is redefining themselves as a full-service competitor to Lexis and Westlaw. They entered into multiple alliances to acquire secondary source material, they launched their own publishing imprint Full Court Press, they acquired an analytics company Docket Alarm, they are moving into legal news with several alliances including Lexblog. This week they added expert witness data from Courtroom Insight and JurisPro… to name a few….
There was a time when many believed, including myself, that BloombergLaw would be the “game changer” in lthe egal research market. But when the product launched in the midst of the “Great Recession” the price was too high. After a year, they had only signed firmwide licenses at two ALM 100 firms. At lower price point – I am confident that they could have had major market share today. Fastcase took the opposite tact – low price, low key, customer centric marketing, slow and steady growth across the US through alliances with bar associations and small firms.
And here we are in 2019 with a marketplace hungry for a disruptor.
Upcoming “Hits and Misses” Blogposts:
o Hits and Misses In Analytics Products
o Best New Products
o Westlaw Edge Hit or Miss?
o What are readers purchasing?
o What are readers cancelling?