Revisiting the Legal Publishing Market

The shrinking of options in the legal publishing world has been a pretty constant theme in my years in law librarianship. Just when you think it has settled down a little, along comes another consolidation/merger/takeover.

In December it was announced that Bloomsbury Press had bought RELX law assets. These include 6 Family Law titles held by LexisNexis and Jordan Family Law publishing. This came about because Lexis (ie, RELX) has purchased Jordan’s Family Law, and part of the deal with the CMA was that some titles be sold elsewhere to ensure competition. J

It’s a bit like ping pong match as you watch these ‘assets’ move around. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Jordan’s took its Family Law titles away from the Lexis platform and placed them on their own platform, thus adding a new cost to our already constrained budgets. Titles that had once been part of the aggregated package in the Lexis offering were now an additional purchase if you were to keep your family lawyers happy.

It’s not yet known what Bloomsbury will do with the products, but their track record makes us a little wary. When they bought Hart Publishing in 2013 Bloomsbury stopped honouring the discounts that had previously been in place between Hart and academic institutions, and left libraries scrambling to find funds to retain core Hart titles.

This is only one story among many, of course. What are seen as core academic tools (certain books and journals and law reports) by librarians, are mere assets to publishing houses and are often traded as such. We, as customers, have to make the adjustments. We have to keep track of new vendor details, juggle budgets to accommodate the inevitable price hikes, and maintain access to the core resources our users rely on in their teaching and research.

I once saw a timeline demonstrating publisher acquisitions and aggregations in the 1990s which showed how dozens of small, independent and often high quality legal publishers had been reduced to four or five large publishers through acquisition or merger or failure. It was one of those salutary heads up moments when you realise that there are forces at work out of your ken which beaver away in the background and change your world while you sleep. Because I have lost the original timeline wall chart, I went hunting and have located several more recent charts which help demonstrate the mergers graphically.

On the 3 Geeks and a Law blog, this chart shows the Reed Elsevier stable in 2010, as well as the Thomson Reuters collection. Sarah Glassmeyer’s updated chart of 2014 has the most recent overview of what has happened in the past 2 decades across the three largest legal publishers. In addition, there is a generalist overview across major academic publishers in this article of 2007

We know in our own jurisdictions that these changes happen regularly, such as the divestment by Wolters Kluwer of some of its assets in Canada and Russia to Lexis, or the purchase by Kluwer of Polish assets from Lexis and last year’s purchase of Loislaw by Fastcase, all ongoing evidence of this moveable landscape.

As customers, trying to keep track of your suppliers is adds to the work of the acquisitions staff. In most organisations, not least universities, accounting systems and procedures require a list of approved suppliers for purchasing. So each time we have a change of supplier, it requires that we not only change our records, we also have to go through a form filling exercise to have this new supplier approved by the purchasing department before we can pay any invoices. None of this is seamless, all of it is time consuming. It is only as I write this that I stop to think how very complicated and bureaucratic these enterprise-wide accounting systems have made our lives!

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