Helium Pricing

Helium is lighter than air, so a balloon filled with it will obviously keep floating upwards.  Not that it’s a publishing industry strategy, but if you look at the Consumer Price Index as the air, the cost of legal publications is a helium balloon by comparison.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) just released its latest edition of the Price Index for Legal Publications (PDF – requires AALL membership).  The index — actually indexes, there are several publication categories, with an index for each — measures price changes since 2005, the baseline year.  One caveat to the indexes: a few categories, such as Reporters, index only 1 to 3 titles.  This makes little sense in my opinion. You wouldn’t follow IBM’s stock price and call it an “index” that represents the market.  Most categories have a sample of 30 or more titles, though, and here are some of the standout numbers in those categories:

  • Serials (including periodicals) prices have gone up 30.9% since 2005.
  • Academic periodicals (i.e. journals) alone have gone up 34.6%.
  • State and federal codes are up 16%.
  • Supplemental treatises (those kept up to date by pocket parts, supplements, revised volumes, or replacement pages) have gone up 37.7% since 2005.
  • 2007, for whatever reasons, was a particularly inflationary year.  Many of the legal publication categories had double-digit increases, and several went up over 20% in that year alone.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has looked like this since 2005:

year CPI % change
2005 195.3
2006 201.6 3.2
2007 207.3 2.8
2008 215.3 3.8

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The CPI increase is even more mellow when you remove food and energy, two of the more volatile factors, from the equation:

CPI – All items less food and energy
year CPI % change
2005 200.9
2006 205.9 2.5
2007 210.7 2.3
2008 215.56 2.3

(Source: BLS)

It’s hard to see how these increases are going to be sustainable, especially when seen against a more standard measure of inflation in the CPI.  If legal publication prices were indeed like helium balloons, they’d be closing in on the altitude where they’d burst.

Where Have All Our Cowboys Gone? Authentication of Online Legal Resources

John Joergensen, a reference librarian at Rutgers-Camden, writes about the on-going issue of authentication of digital legal resources on Cornell’s VoxPopuLII.  His discussion touches on several different issues entwined in the authentication bundle, including the idea of reputation and “perceived trustworthiness” that the all too few commercial vendors enjoy and how to gain similar ground for free resources.  His post reminded me of a lecture that Bob Berring gave to our Advanced Legal Research in which he likened these veteran vendors to Tinkerbell.  The legal community believes in their veracity and authenticity and so they continue to dominate the digital landscape.  It’s high time we created room for more Tinkerbells to spread their online legal resource dust.

At present, AALL’s Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation Committee (ELIACC) is working on an update to their 2007 State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources.  As a participant in the update, I was asked to re-evaluate that state of West Virginia’s online primary legal materials.  In their case, while the courts and legislature provide free access to their decisions and bills/laws, they also explicitly state these versions are unofficial and no overt steps toward authentication are apparent.  I am interested to see how the terrain may have changed for other states.  Stay tuned…..