Thomson Reuters v. Bloomberg BNA – Two Titans Continue to Duke it out

February 28, 2012

This month, both Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters announced the release of new products/services.  Not the blockbuster news that some of us were waiting for–the acquisition of “The Financial Times” by Thomson Reuters that would be a game changer in its competition with Bloomberg,  or a mega deal by Bloomberg BNA that would follow up the  DLA –Piper Agreement, and prove that deal  it wasn’t a fluke. No, the developments were more subtle, but still important.

Thomson Reuters led off by announcing the release of Datastream Professional, their new global financial research and analysis tool. Datastream was created in response to recent global financial and economic events (such as the debt crisis), and the need for research and analysis to support investment processes to meet these new challenges. Meanwhile, four days later on February 21, Bloomberg BNA announced that they had entered into a new partnership with Georgetown Law Continuing Legal Education (CLE) allowing both parties to provide high-quality continuing education programs for the legal marketplace. Their first product offers all 13 sessions of the sold-out November 2011 Georgetown Advanced eDiscovery Institute to those attorneys who were unable to attend the live event. It includes CLE credits for attorneys, and the option to purchase single session, 4-session bundles, or a 13 session bundle which encompasses the entire two-day program.

What is the significance of these moves?  For Thomson Reuters, Datastream follows in the footsteps of the disappointing rollout of Eikon (their version of the Bloomberg ubiq customized terminal), so its release can be seen both as a direct challenge to Bloomberg’s financial services products, as well as an attempt by them to recover from the Eikon failure, which contributed to the resignation of Thomas Glocer as CEO. The good news is that, Thomson Reuters has apparently learned from their Eikon mistakes, deciding to scrap the idea of customized terminals (as Bloomberg did for their own legal product), in favor of flexible access through its own secure, web-based solution, iPad, mobile devices or within Microsoft Office, allowing users to get information when, where and how it most convenient for them. This decision frees up users from their desks and their ubiqs and opens the door to countless new users.  In addition, Professionals’ own proprietary data can also be used alongside third party data, making it a more open product than Eikon. While it’s too early to gauge the success or failure of Datastream, an interesting question comes to mind: What will happen to Thomson Reuters if Datastream turns into another Eikon disaster?  My guess is that with its improvements, Datastream won’t turn into another Eikon disaster. Thomson Reuters describes its product as “a powerful tool that integrates economic research and strategy …, by combining the world’s largest historical financial database, with critical real-time market data, global news from Reuters and powerful analytical tools – all within the one solution”. It also claims that Datastream Professional “makes it easier to identify global developments and target the right assets, sectors and countries to invest in” and that “the platform’s powerful search tool provides links to relevant content, allowing the user to easily navigate and explore the range of data whether news, indices, analytics or macroeconomics. “. Powerful boasts, but I think that Thomson will have to deliver on them –or else we will see even more heads roll and more organizational changes.

In Bloomberg BNA’s case, their new alliance seems less risky than the Thomson Reuters venture- at least on paper. I see no potential down sides, and nothing to really lose.  While not as headline grabbing as the DLA deal, this new agreement is a smart move for them for several reasons: 1) It strengthens Bloomberg BNA with some needed content from a trusted and known source, in order to make them more competitive with rivals, Lexis and Westlaw, 2) The availability of live continuing education programs, OnDemand archives of audio webinars and video webcasts bolsters Bloomberg BNA presence in the remote learning market for CLE. 3) This partnership premiers and showcases their new platform that allows for the hosting of remote learning programs , thus boosting Bloomberg’s stock as both a technological innovator and a significant player in the CLE market.

What will happen next?  My guess is that the next battlefields between these giants will be in media, with “The Financial Times”, potentially “The Wall Street Journal”, and third-party content with expiring contracts with Lexis and Westlaw as the attractive targets.  Both Thomson and Bloomberg have the financial resources, the interest and the capability to wage war for these media assets. The battle will be exciting – no matter who wins.  One thing is certain, the drama between these two competitors will continue. Meanwhile, fasten your seat belt for the ride. It just might get bumpy.


When a Search is Not a Search- Part 2 – Traditional Catalogs vs. Google Books

February 23, 2012

In part 1 of my blog, I discussed some of the limitations traditional online catalogs pose for attorneys in terms of relevance and terminology. As an example, I used the bibliographic record that can be retrieved in a library catalog search for a book on securities regulation by Thomas Hazen. I’d like to return to that example now, but I’d like to strip the record down to some essentials to show these limitations more clearly.

Here’s the modified record:

Title: Treatise on the law of securities regulation, Volume 3

Practitioner treatise series   Author: Thomas Lee Hazen

Subjects:  1. Business & Economics; 2. Investments & Securities; 3. Business & Economics / Investments & Securities;   4. Securities;   5. Securities – United States

Notice that this series is called “Practitioner treatise series”. Yet there is not a single reference in the entire record to the terminology used by a securities law practitioner such as “tender offer’, “hostile takeover”, or “white knight”.  These terms are not mentioned in the subject headings.  Nor can the record tell us if they are even mentioned in the book itself, and if so, on which pages. Don’t even try to    determine the context of the references or the depth of coverage. Unfortunately, many of the answers to these questions require a physical examination of the actual book itself, and its table of contents and/ or index- something that’s difficult to do if the book isn’t on hand or nearby.

Google Books, www.books.google.com  other hand, provides a viable option to the traditional catalog in terms of searchability.  When you go to their website, you can then search their digitized book collection by entering natural language in their search bar. For example, if were looking to see if there were any references to “hostile takeovers’ in volume 3 of the Hazen treatise on securities regulation you could enter the words hostile takeover (no parentheses needed), and hazen to limit your search.  Google Books would then search their collection and respond with the following snippet message showing you the number of matches within this book and the context:

2 pages matching hostile takeover and hazen in this book

 

Page 431

 

If you wanted to do a more exhaustive search, you would enter your search terms in the bar, without the limitation of the Hazen book, and Google Books will retrieve other book titles containing the terms for you to view – along with the snippets on the context. Quite a difference from the traditional catalog search!

In Part 3 of my blog, I’ll discuss the reasoning behind the snippets (as opposed to full text entries), and provide more information on the pluses and minuses of Google Books.


When is a Search Not a Search? – Part 1

February 16, 2012

During a recent library tour at a branch of a large national law firm, I was shown an impressive, wooden chest of drawers in mint condition, housing a set of unused catalog cards. The Librarian jokingly told me how the chest was quite a conversation piece–particularly for young attorneys who had never seen one, and had no idea what it was used for. While I laughed, it’s also true that some attorneys still refer to all library catalogs (even the most sophisticated online ones), as “card catalogs”.

Despite the availability of user training classes, online tutorials, and impressive handouts, some attorneys expect the library catalog’s search functionality to duplicate their desktop Google experience. Why the misconceptions and misnomers?

I think that the answer lies in the fact that there is a fundamental disconnect between the way librarians have traditionally organized, displayed, and retrieved information on books in their collections, compared to the way that attorneys search for information using  Lexis, Westlaw and Google.  And in a time when Library budgets and staff positions are subject to scrutiny and reorganization, this doesn’t help.

Librarians are trained to rely on standardized subject headings to organize and group similar books that generally, yet accurately describe the book. These subject headings are found in bibliographic records that provide multiple access points for the Librarian, including title, author, series, edition, publication date, and length of the book – in addition to the defined subjects. Here is a sample bibliographic record that I found on Google:

Title      Treatise on the law of securities regulation, Volume 3

Practitioner treatise series

Treatise on the Law of Securities Regulation, Thomas Lee Hazen

Author  Thomas Lee Hazen

Edition  6

Publisher             West, 2009

ISBN      0314188029, 9780314188021

Length  7 pages

Subjects

Business & Economics

Investments & Securities

Business & Economics / Investments & Securities

Securities

Securities – United States

Attorneys on the other hand, often find this approach overly complicated, with lots of unnecessary information.  They are more familiar with online searching using unique “terms of art “common to their areas of practice. For a while, firms and/or their libraries hired staff to provide elaborate “data about the data” (i.e. metadata), to attempt to bridge the gap between the generic subject headings and the more specific “terms of art”. This approach can be both costly and cumbersome.

Another difference is that attorneys are used to KWIC or keyword in context searching using Lexis or Westlaw. This format allows them to view the relevancy of their search terms as they appear within the context of the retrieved documents. Traditional catalogs simply don’t have the capability to show how often, or in what context a search term (particularly a “term of art”), appears within a chapter or volume of a book.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will show how Google Books can offer end users the ability to search by keywords or “terms of art” and the ability to show relevancy.

 


10 Reasons Why the Bloomberg Law – DLA Piper Agreement is a Win- Win Deal

February 10, 2012

10 Reasons Why the Bloomberg Law – DLA Piper Agreement is a Win- Win Deal

Bloomberg Law announced this week that it has signed an agreement with DLA Piper, the world’s largest global business law firm, to bring Bloomberg Law to the desktop of all 1,400 attorneys in DLA’s 25 U.S. offices. Potential implications of this deal for both other large law firms and the legal publishing industry – principally Lexis and Westlaw- are already being argued back and forth.  However, I think that this was a relatively safe win-win deal for both parties. I base my assessment on the following:

  1. No one has claimed that DLA has signed an exclusive use agreement with Bloomberg Law. In other words, DLA has not abandoned its preferred database vendor, presumably Westlaw. Thus, it will continue to have at least 2 database providers to meet its research needs.
  2.  Law firms have switched or threatened to switch preferred vendors for years, in order to obtain better pricing. Steve Lastres in his blog yesterday “3 Geeks and a Law Blog”, in the story entitled: “Bloomberg Law Snags DLA Piper’s US Business”, correctly suggests that one database provider, (presumably Lexis), has lost DLA’s business. However, based on past history, it’s not uncommon for once spurned providers to come back with sweetheart deals to regain favor and become the preferred vendor once again.
  3. Despite claims of Bloomberg Law’s rigidity on pricing and refusal to negotiate, I believe that DLA got a very sweet deal to be the first mega firm to sign on with Bloomberg Law. They will be lauded for their innovation and cost-effective practices if the experiment works. They will not risk much in the unlikely event that the gamble fails. In exchange, Bloomberg received its first (and much needed), acceptance and recognition by law firms that its product is a serious and legitimate challenger to both Lexis and Westlaw.
  4. Again, Steve is correct in his presumption that it unlikely that DLA would maintain the annual budget expense of having 3 legal research databases – given both the cost and the likely accounting nightmare of dedicating 75 budget lines to the databases(1 line per product per office).
  5. Don Jaycox, DLA Piper’s Chief Information Officer, said, “Law firms need to cost effectively deliver great client service in a highly competitive environment….  Plus, Bloomberg’s inclusive pricing model helps us manage costs in a predictable way”. Once again, DLA can use this agreement to make a convincing case to its clients re: its innovation and cost-effectiveness.
  6. Hopefully, DLA did not lose much (if anything), in terms of its resources in the change.     Whenever a firm looks at dropping one its database providers, it should assess any loss of content.  DLA has at least three options. 1) It can supplement its preferred vendor content with Bloomberg Law, 2) it can add additional or missing content from its preferred vendor (preferably at very favorable rates), or 3) it can stay pat.
  7. There is no mention in the agreement about DLA offices outside the US. As the pioneer in the Bloomberg deal (again at presumably very attractive pricing), I’m thinking that DLA will take a wait and see approach before re-negotiating.
  8. What is interesting about the agreement is that it doesn’t mention the length of the contract. My guess is that it is short-term – 1-2 years at most. Hopefully, they have an easy opt-out option if the experiment doesn’t work to their liking.
  9. As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, Bloomberg offers attractive content to supplement, rather than replace Lexis or Westlaw at this time. Low cost multi-disciplinary and multi-user access to the BNA content is certainly attractive to a firm like DLA. Bloomberg also sponsors SCOTUSblog, the highly rated law blog written by lawyers and law students that intensively covers the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States. There is speculation that Bloomberg may be poised to make other acquisitions, particularly with vendors of current third-party agreements with Lexis and Westlaw. The DLA deal gives Bloomberg an opportunity to both showcase these current products and the incentive to pursue other acquisitions.
  10. Bloomberg has a new platform with its unique resident information and pull-down menus that turn traditional search and focus research on its ear. For some at least, this approach is more intuitive than either Lexis or Westlaw. DLA has already previewed this platform, but Bloomberg Law can gain more exposure and valuable user feedback from increased usage at 25 offices. For DLA I’m sure its staff will push training for its users. Then again, they still have their old preferred database provider to fall back on.

This agreement will surely catch the attention of both major law firms and Bloomberg’s competitors- Lexis and Westlaw.  Bloomberg Law has sent a message loud and clear to the legal industry. It’s not going to be business as usual anymore.  Tune in to see how the legal publishing industry and the other major firms respond to this challenge.