Stumbling Toward Digital-only Legal Publishing

In the legal information marketplace two of our very expensive vendors are tying print acquisitions to digital licenses – LexisNexis in the general law market and Bloomberg Law in the specialty law market.  Is this the beginning of an industry-wide digital-only legal publishing movement?

Right now Fastcase and Casemaker are the only digital-only legal information providers in the marketplace but Bloomberg Law, which was digital-only until it acquired BNA, has explained to CRIV that it is moving in that direction and has been for about two years. LexisNexis started tying print to digital in the law firm marketplace about two years ago while offering no explanation to CRIV about its publishing strategy. No word or deed from Thomson Reuters in the general law market. Ditto Wolters Kluwer in the specialty market.  At least not yet.

Our very expensive legal information providers are stumbling towards a digital-only publishing model. Being digital-only is inevitable, I think, but the transition doesn’t have to be chaotic. Some best practices can be identified by mistakes BLaw and LexisNexis have already made. They include eliminating ambush-style sales policies like when a company (e.g., LexisNexis) drops bombshell take-it-or-leave-it demands during contract renewal talks without any advance notice or explanation.  Print sunsetting plans should be specific unlike when a company (e.g., BLaw) offers the continuation of print subscriptions without identifying when the print edition of affected titles will be eliminated.

Going digital-only happens only once. Since our very expensive legal information providers and our BigLaw library colleagues are heading in that direction, the rest of us must be prepared to follow. Resistance is futile. However, vendors can help law libraries make the transition by detailing their plans like Thomson Reuters did at the launch of Westlaw Edge by informing current Westlaw subscribers that Westlaw will be phased out in 2024. This is not a time for the typical dynamic — vendors act, law libraries react.


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