12/22/10

“Sham Pocket Parts” and Tricks of the Publishing Trade – So, What Are You Going To Do About It?

My friend Joe Hodnicki over at Law Librarian Blog lays out a good overview of some of the bad decisions that West Publishing made in the whole Rudovsky vs. West matter. As Joe puts it, "Invoice-paying law librarians" have seen tricks and shams for a while now, but with so much going on, and in an economy where we've all taken on extra responsibilities, how does one fight these tricks?

Although West Publishing (Thomson Reuters Legal) got slapped with a $5.18 million verdict in this case, most people I've talked to don't think that the final amount will be anywhere near that amount. Jonathan Turley writes on his blog that the amount will most likely be reduced, but that “Even at a total of $2 million, however, it would be a major new precedent in the field and the company is likely to appeal on contractual grounds. Indeed, this could end up in a Torts Treatise or West pocket part.”

I've sent a message to the AALL Executive Board and the SLA Legal Division Board about this matter, but I think there are things that we in the legal industry (whether you are a lawyer, librarian, paralegal, or secretary) that use these products should ask ourselves. In fact, Jason Wilson's comments on Jonathan Turley's post say it better than I could, so I'll just quote him:


Regardless of what happens to the verdict, the larger issue is the message concerning “sham” updates. I forget the price, but I believe customers paid around $175 or possibly more for the update that included only three cases. But for the Professor’s review of the material and their objections, no retraction and more thorough update would have been forthcoming. For me, the question is:
 
  • Who is policing the content for sale?
  • Do you know if the content you buy, whether online or in print is current?
  • Does this opinion change how you feel about West Publishing products?
  • Will it make you scrutinize a product more carefully before you purchase it?

We all feel like something should be done to prevent things like this from happening, or at least quickly identify questionable practices and call out publishers when they are playing tricks with publications. The $64,000 question (or maybe it is the $5.18 million question) is what do we do from here?
There are really good people in the legal publishing business… but there are also those that pull stunts like this one in order to pad the bottom line in a weak market. The stunts are being pulled as Joe Hodnicki mentions in a previous post where Scott Burgh points out a number of questionable actions that publishers are playing with updates, volume replacements, and pocket parts that have changed very little, yet cost very much. AALL's CRIV members have been pointing out these practices for years to its members, and the Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers is mentioned almost every time somebody identifies a questionable practice by a legal publisher. Yet, the practices seem to continue. 
How can we, as customers, stress to the publishers that attempting to run schemes like these may help the bottom line in the current fiscal quarter, but will have long-term damaging effects for years to come?
I'm sure West Publishing is going to appeal to have the Rudovsky decision tossed out and attempt to go back to business as usual. So, what are you going to do?

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2 comments:

Bryan said...

Perhaps it is time for us to revisit the former FTC Guidelines for the Law Book Publishing Industry, which would have prohibited this practice. Or perhaps we could instead lobby for librarians to be given antitrust immunity so that we could collectively create and apply standards with some teeth.

Joe Hodnicki said...

Should AALL be putting money in its pockets for advertised products and services of very questionable value?

Perhaps it is time to ban AALL sponsorship of annual meetings (again) and refuse to accept ad revenue for all AALL publications.

 

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