What-if: Taking “legal or commercial action” against LexisNexis for its anticompetitive tying sales strategy

On July 2nd, AALL representatives met with LexisNexis representatives to discuss the company’s anticompetitive tying sales strategy. No official word on the outcome. (Not sure one should even expect an outcome after only one meeting. ) Until members hear something, this matter can be viewed as a work-in-progress. However, what if it wasn’t?

In its letter to LexisNexis CEO Mike Walsh, AALL called for an open dialog over the company’s anticompetitive tying sales strategy. If that failed, our association warned of taking “legal or commercial action” against the company. Assuming for this post that dialog does not produce our association’s desired outcome, the cessation of tying print and ancillary products to a Lexis Advance license, then taking legal or commercial action would be costly to AALL’s treasury.

It goes without saying that legal action would be very expensive (unless an AALL-member law firm would take the matter pro bono). The outcome would be unpredictable.  But this option is more likely in getting Lexis to change its sales policy.  Only someone with expertise in antitrust law (meaning not me) can evaluate this option.

Less unpredictable but also less likely to be as effective as legal action is taking “commercial action.” Commercial action could range from no longer accepting Lexis advertising revenue in AALL publications like LLJ and Spectrum, to a ban from AALL’s annual meeting and its exhibit hall, to a complete ban from all sanctioned activities of AALL and its chapters. Commercial action could be fairly expensive for our association too in some instances.

Using FY2018 budget data as a basis for illustrating future consequences, estimated total advertising revenue from Spectrum is $60,000 and from LLJ is $3,800.  That’s hardly a large amount. Spectrum and LLJ are already costing AALL more than the total revenue generated with an estimated annual net deficit of $114,928 for both. Not knowing what portion of Spectrum-LLJ ad revenue comes from Lexis, let’s just assume that the company pays AALL about $30,000. If so, simply banning Lexis from advertising would not hurt AALL’s bottom line that much. AALL would still end up with an estimated adjusted total budget surplus of $50,000 because AALL’s estimated total annual surplus for FY2018 is only $82,260. For such an egregious violation of fair business practices and possible antitrust violations simply banning LN from advertising just does not seem a proportional response. More is needed.

What’s needed in this what-if scenario is denying LN participation in our annual meeting and its exhibit hall until LN changes its sales policy. Not allowing LN a presence at our 2019 annual meeting (and later annual meetings as well) is justified. The company’s tying ultimatum deserve a similar take it or leave it action from AALL.

I cannot estimate what this annual meeting ban would cost AALL (but AALL administrators could). However I believe the ban would negatively impact our association’s annual budget surplus, turning a surplus of $82,260 into an annual net budget deficit amounting to low six figures. And if AALL decided to ban the company from our annual meeting, AALL would have to raise income some way, most likely in ways that directly affect rank-and-file law librarians.

So… is it still worth it? Yes. — Joe

One thought on “What-if: Taking “legal or commercial action” against LexisNexis for its anticompetitive tying sales strategy

  1. David Collier-Brown July 6, 2018 at 8:31 pm Reply

    That the “outcome would be unpredictable” speaks to a significant shortfall to the current (significantly US) legal system: if a person skilled in the art cannot predict an unvexed issue with some degree of confidence, they we lack one of the prerequisites for a system that can be respected and followed.

    If, on the contrary, it is a system that depends on the state of the lawgiver’s spleen, or on an advocate’s skill at pilpul, then we are at risk of losing the _rule of law_.

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