Happy Days No More

In the not too distance past, say back when Happy Days was a popular TV show, the annual song and dance between publisher, library director and dean went something like this:

Legal publishers would post annual price increases with an average of 11% – 15%.

The library director would then tell his or her dean, “Gosh, Look at this:  Law books are going up by 11% – 15%.”

The dean would then take out his or her checkbook and tell the director, “Outrageous.  Here’s your library’s annual 15% budget increase.”

Those days are over.  So over.  So, so over.

Today when I tell the dean that a certain publication is going up by a double-digit price increase, his reply is quick and unequivocal:  “That’s easy,” he says, “cancel it.”

Many of us — myself included — still have not received next year’s library budget.  But there is no doubt in my mind that a sea change in library collections will be forced by changing budgets and starting next year (by next year, I mean next “fiscal year,” which for us begins on September 1, 2009 – so next year is right around the summer corner).  I anticipate a reduction of at least 15%.  Further, my book funds — i.e., funds used for monographs — are entirely endowment based; I shudder to think what will happen there.

Let’s take a few examples of how the law library landscape might change.

We subscribe to both United States Code Annotated (USCA) and United States Code Service(USCS).  Last year here’s what we paid for each:

We paid $1,645 for USCS (a Lexis product); and we paid a total of $5,376 to West for their USCA in 2008, including all bound volumes and pocket parts.

Each set is a complete annotated version of the United States Code.  The quality on both is extremely good.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that any student, professor or practitioner can perform adequate legal research with just one or the other — no one needs both.  So faced with that fact and the budget reality, which one will the dean say “that’s easy” — the one that costs $ 1,645 or the one that costs $ 5,376?

Depending upon how my budget situation shakes out, we may even face the rather drastic step of cancelling some online databases.  There are three gigantic legal online commercial databases, each with its own benefits and features, but each also a complete online law library.  Here’s what they are costing us:

Bloomberg Law:  Free

LexisNexis:  $ 68.00 per FTE, with minimum of $ 15,000 and maximum of $ 50,850

Westlaw:  $ 73.27 per FTE, with minimum of $ 15,878 and maximum of $ 64,206

Looking back over the past few years helps show pricing patterns, which could aid in the decision making:

LexisNexis:

2008:  $ 34,980 (6% increase over previous year)
2007:  $ 33,000 (5%)
2006:  $ 31,497 (5%)

I should note that this year LexisNexis “gets it” and are holding next year’s price to the same amount as last year’s.  We’ll be adding them to our Good Guys list (see also this item).

Westlaw:

2008:  $ 39,951 (7% increase over previous year)
2007:  $ 37,338 (7%)
2006:  $ 34,773 (14%)

Some things will have to go.  Over the rest of the summer I and my colleagues will be making some tough decisions.  Redundancy is nice, but may not be affordable.

2 thoughts on “Happy Days No More

  1. Nice post Paul. This is a subject that needs to be discussed in the light of day with numbers available. Thank you.

    I am curious though, why have you not included alternative on-line services like Fastcae? Do you not subscribe to Fastcase.com? It seems to me to be the perfect alternative to the WestPac public access program. It is also a potential product for small firms where many of our students end up.

    Once again, nice article.

    Brian L. Baker

  2. Pingback: Get Out Your Paddle and Start Rowing « Law Firm Bottom_Line

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