When I first became interested in writing about Bloomberg Law over the summer, the company was involved in 3 large initiatives: 1) the new product release, 2) the hiring of the new CEO, Lou Andreozzi (formerly of Lexis, and a veteran of its wars with Westlaw),and 3) its purchase of Bureau of National Affairs ( BNA), the financially-troubled topical law service. The BNA purchase is arguably the most curious of the three moves.
While the array of subjects covered by the BNA (Banking, Finance and Securities, Health Care, Intellectual Property, Labor and Employment, Pensions, etc.), is certainly impressive, it is only a first step in a series of steps or processes that will be necessary in order to gain parity with its competitors. By itself, it does not fully address Bloomberg’s weaknesses and gaps compared to Lexis and Westlaw in primary and secondary sources, treatises, and international law. But here’s what it does do: 1) Bloomberg has sent a message loud and clear that it has the financial resources to buy content when a plum is available. 2) Bloomberg can now offer another attractive product in the short term, that firms can use to supplement their existing resources. Right now, Bloomberg’s strong melding of law, business, and news offers an alternative to LexisNexis for some firms at the attractive price of $450 for a single user subscription. The BNA acquisition makes that alternative even more attractive.
But I doubt if Bloomberg Law is gambling its name, its financial resources, its commitment to transitioning from being terminal-based to being web-based, and its acquisition of both talent and content to just be a supplemental choice or a poor man’s Lexis or Westlaw. Maybe this can work right now as Bloomberg Law gears up and introduces its new product, but it won’t work in the long term – not if Bloomberg truly wants to be competitive with its rivals. Bloomberg must bridge the gap between its content and that of its rivals, who have a 30- year head start. Bloomberg must move forward swiftly and decisively to address their users’ needs by steadily and consistently building from within, while aggressively seeking opportunities to acquire good content and align with products from other sources that fit their strategic plans. Otherwise, they will not be a contender. Another option is for Bloomberg to wait for third–party agreements (e.g. Commerce Clearinghouse) to expire with its stronger competitors. They could then cherry pick what they want, outbid their competitors, and initially offer the content to users at bargain prices to increase market share. The challenge of such third –party content is that it is essentially a lease for a specific time period, rather than a purchase and it can disappear from the provider at the end of the agreement, leaving the user in the lurch.
The next installment of my blog continues to discuss content, while also addressing Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog’s new and exclusive sponsorship.
Bob Riger is a former law library director and a researcher with more than 20 years of experience in public and private law libraries.