Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Market Competition is the BestCase for Librarians

Connie Crosby has a good post up on the launch of Canada Law Book's new legal research offering BestCase. I say a 'good post' because Connie really echoes a lot of my own feelings about this new product.

Despite some of the current critique, and you will remember similar comments arising when WEC produced a competitor product a few years back, Librarians are now faced with an increasingly fractured marketplace. And to be honest, I don't have a problem with that.

[And before I get into this too far, full disclosure, Stem has done some work with CLB. ... Take it into consideration. I write this blog from experience, don't ok my posts with anyone, and try to 'examine' things; but a full understanding of my viewpoint is important.]

For me, this is about market competition and choice. As a Librarian, I want both. Costs of these platforms are rising too fast. To the point where many firms will soon be faced with making an either-or choice. Not everyone believes this, but I do. And if Libraries can't afford to have all of these services available to users, then I want some competition for my legal research dollar!

Fast forward five years. If my assumption is correct, how many companies do you want to be vying for your budget dollar? Personally, I want as many as possible. I want them all with replicated content -- in the digital age, case law & statues are mere commodities -- and I want them to compete against each other, with varying editorial standards, speed to publication, and value added services.

The current system, as you all know, leaves a lot to be desired. Contract negotiation isn't fun when going up against a monopoly/duopoly. Look at your costs 5 years ago, and see where things are at now. A 50% increase? Bet you're close. Librarians haven't had a negotiating position in quite some time.

But competition & choice can change this. Don't like what's offered? Walk it across the road. Send out an RFP and let these guys respond. They're in business. They won't be offended.

Librarians need to be in a position to make cost effective decisions. Having all our marbles in one jar was convenient, but not financially prudent. Librarians also balance making a business case for legal research needs - in both law firms and academic settings. Competition will empower that position.

I also see strong free resources like CanLII as pushing the envelope and continually raising the bar. Publishers need to keep investing & improving, and free has an important role in keeping these guys focused!

I don't claim to know the future for BestCase, or believe I'm the best person to review it. For a fair shake, VLLB readers should link over to Simon Chester's post on Slaw -- coverage issues & requests for more secondary material integration are always fair game. But I do appreciate that this distinctively Canadian company has had the resolve to jump in.

Long term? As I've said, Librarians & Libraries should benefit from choice & competition. We also might just have a Canadian contender. Doesn't sound that bad, does it?



Blogger Shaunna said...

As usual, you get right to the heart of the matter, however your 50% increase in 5 years is way too low. Our electronic service contract costs have increased 200% since 2003.

2003 was the year that we brought WeC to the desktop as well as QL. More products on the market certainly *should* help to keep rising costs in line.

I worry that it will not though, since 2003 also saw dignificant CanLII development in the availability of free materials. This triad of Evailability (not including the GREAT stuff from Maritime Law Book) hasn't relieved any electronic research costs yet.

I hope that the players in the legal information market will realize that a single subscription shop is not possible with what they currently have to offer.

Yesterday there was a post to the CALL-L list looking for a case that was easily available on the one service that firm did not have. As a firm librarian with budget responsibilities, I hope I never have to pick a single product. There isn't a single product available that would be 'enough' for complete research.

Cheers, and thanks for the thoughtful posts. Shaunna

9:53 AM  
Blogger Steve Matthews said...

All great points Shaunna. Thanks for taking the time to share them.

You're correct, and most Librarians will agree that there are coverage gaps in all the products. But if we're projecting what the future will look like, and trying to prepare, I think we're going to see those gaps diminish. The push of free sources may help here as well.

I also think it's publishers and not librarians who will make us choose between them. We're still at their whim in that regard.

As a profession, I have no doubt we will support each other, and the information needs of our users. Networking for the benefit of our users is one of the big pluses of hiring a Librarian.

But if we're heading for a single choice scenario, and creating a divide between the legal research "haves" and "have-nots", then I have to say 'good riddance' to the duopoly. Prices will only come back under control when we have the option to walk out the door.

Librarians will adjust either way, but if Publishers don't believe revenues are going to take a hit with more market competition in play, I think they're gravely mistaken.

10:59 AM  

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