Small Firm Success blog discussed the new Black’s Law Dictionary (8th Edition) that Thomson/West is selling for $49.99. At first, I thought this was a really great idea, and even though most iPhone apps are in the 99¢ to $1.99 price range, the $49.99 price didn’t phase me.

Then someone reminded me of something:

“Most lawyers have a BlackBerry, not an iPhone!”

According to this February Legal Techonology survey article, 95% of respondents said they issued their attorneys BlackBerries. If you watch the video below, you’ll see the excitement in the eyes of Dan Bennett and Jay Peyer about the product they’ve created. But, they clearly miss where their market is. They did make something cool, but if their customers aren’t on iPhones, then their customers can’t use it!!

I even got caught up in the whole “cool factor” of having Black’s on my mobile device, that I dared (even double-dog dared) Thomson/West into making a $9.99 version for the Amazon Kindle. By the way, that dare is still on!!

This is the sort of thing that happens when you let your “Techies” create something that they think is cool and cutting edge, while you’re business and sales people sit on the sidelines. What you end up with is a product that is cool and cutting edge, but on a platform that most of your clients can’t use!
My hope is that Thomson/West can take the effort that they’ve put into creating this create app, and push it over to the BlackBerry App World. And, I’ll pass along some words of wisdom that I learned many years ago when working between a brilliant technology staff, and a public that used our service — When you create a new product, you should constantly ask yourself this question: “Will my customer be able to use this?” — If at any point you question if the answer is a firm “yes”, you need to rethink what you are attempting to do. The coolest product in the world is useless if it cannot be used by your customers.
  • Having an iPhone (as well as a blackberry) I thought it was a great idea. Blackberry does not have meaningful tool for developing applications.

    I got hung up on the cost. They put the decimal in the wrong place. They are charging as much as the book. But there is no paper to print, ship, store, or put on display.

  • Good point regarding Lawyers and iPhones. Although I think a lot of lawyers will be getting iPhones for their personal mobile line in the coming years. The iPhone is so useful I can only imagine even more people jumping on the bandwagon for personal use.

    Also, you forgot about a much larger market share of Law Students who actually need Black’s Law Dictionary. In my section at Loyola Law School, Blackberry and iPhone / iPod touch is about 50/50.

    I am sure that many of us would consider purchasing the iPhone version had we not already bought the paper version.

    I may buy it anyway because I will get my money’s worth.

    As far a a BB app… You cannot compare the capabilities of a BB app and an iPhone app. BB apps are cumbersome and not intuitive, whereas the iPhone iterations of some software is more powerful and useful than any other platform.

  • Doug’s absolutely correct that it’s far easier to create an application for the iPhone than for the Blackberry. For all the initial criticism of Apple creating a closed system, the iPhone has evolved into one of the more open mobile platforms (albeit with plenty of restrictions).

    An argument could be made that West is planning for an iPhone-dominated future, not the current Blackberry-heavy reality, but I suspect your techie vs. sales theory is closer to the truth.

    If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Steve Matthews’ post about the pricing issue. As he points out, West’s pricing scheme prevents what could have been a sales boom for Black’s: attorneys paying out of their own pockets for the iPhone app while their firms purchase just as many print copies. At $49.99, however, most lawyers will likely stick to the print copy their firm already has.

  • I had mentioned to Doug that I was so numb to the prices that we pay for legal research material, that initially $49.99 didn’t phase me. But, after further thought, I really cannot imagine many people buying it at such a high price. An iPhone app at $9.99 is probably too high for the end-user. Doug’s “decimal” theory may be close to the truth. West should charge $4.99 and sell it to 10 times as many users. Even law students wouldn’t hesitate to purchase it for that price.

    As for BB apps not being as easy to use as iPhone apps, I think that is a given. However, firms are still issuing BB’s to attorneys. Perhaps this will change over time, but it would still seem that porting this over to the BlackBerry should be the next step for Thomson/West to take. Then they can port it over to the Kindle!!

  • Interesting comments. Dan Bennett here, one of the excited eyes developers of Black’s. It’s not my place to comment on price, but I thought I’d throw in my 2c regarding BlackBerry.

    You’re right that Black’s was a techie led project until January. Jay and I created it as a proof of concept to demonstrate what could be done on the platform. Why did we choose iPhone/touch over BlackBerry? A couple of reasons:

    1) It’s a more interesting platform with greater capabilities. The iPhone has SQL database embedded. We make heavy use of sqlite. To replicate the indexing and storage in JME would take a lot of code.
    2) The device has sufficient storage and, in our opinion, screen size. The newest Curve has 256Mb of flash. Storm and Bold have 128Mb. Unless the user inserts an MicroSD that’s not enough.
    3) Testing is much more complex on the Blackberry. There are a myriad of devices and software versions. Enterprises are typically slow to roll out software revisions. For example, here at West we still have a lot of devices running 4.2. Whichever combinations we would pick we would let customers down.
    4) Perhaps most importantly, Black’s is most heavily used in the law school segment. Blackberry penetration is low there – but lots of students have iPod touches.

    Of course, we’re not ruling out a BlackBerry version in the future!

  • Dan,

    You’re a gentleman and a scholar! Thanks for taking time to let us know some of the interworkings of your project and the thoughts behind the iPhone app.

    That being said… I’m still holding out my “double-dog” dare for porting this over to my precious Kindle!! 😉

  • Just a note on iPhone to BBerry penetration in the law student segment. Based on my unscientific observations of my classmates, iPhone wins 10 to 1, maybe higher. I have also seen (and personally) paid $29.99 to get prepared flash cards on the iPhone, so the idea of a $49.99 Blacks-to-go isn’t completely unreasonable.

  • Key detail: The iPhone rocks. Maybe BigLaw doesn’t get it, but some of us do. My firm runs on Macs and I bought my associates iPhones. We all use gmail and google calendar thru our iPhones.

    Of course the most important detail — iPhone games are much better when you’re waiting in Court for the judge to get back from his golf game … I mean important meeting. Plus there’s a ton of real apps – feed readers, wsj, nyt, etc. Blackberry can’t hold a candle to iPhone. Sorry dude.

    And I don’t even use the iPod feature.

  • A bit late to the party, and in full disclosure, I’m a BB to iPhone convert, I think that firms will support more than one platform in the future. Some partners are already asking their CIOs to support the iPhone, and at least one of them said to me that he’s planning to accommodate both, once the iPhone’s enterprise tools mature. I’ll stay away from the arguments others have made above, but say that this vendor is thinking about the future. Not a bad thing. The prudent thing to do is develop for the BB as well – as challenging as it may be.

  • Also a bit late to the party… Yesterday's announcement of the New Model iPhone (3G S – S for Speed) for only $99 will make the decision to switch very appealing for many firms.

  • Respectfully, nearly 7 months have elapsed since Mr. Bennett stated that he was "looking into" developing a Black's app for the BlackBerry. Such an app is still absent.

    Mr. Bennett perhaps fails to realize that RIM's smartphone market share is over 19% – greater than all other manufacturers other than Nokia, which dominates at 39%. Further, Mr. Bennett may not be aware that, for the last quarter ended, the BlackBerry Curve was the top selling smartphone in North America.

    It's flat out bad business for West to ignore this important segment of its potential userbase. My firm uses West's online research products, along with its hard copy publications, and we are extremely satisfied with West in that regard. As satisfied as we are with respect to online research; however, we are equally shocked and disappointed at West's failure to develop a BlackBerry Black's app.

    I concede that it takes a developer between 20-30% longer to develop an app for a RIM device than for the iPhone, but ample time has elapsed for such a creation to take place. I hope it does.