Weird. I just looked up Reed Elsevier’s and Thomson Reuters’ stock quotes for the recent past. In the case of Thomson, Yahoo! Finance’s charts only go back a couple of years, and in the case of Reed Elsivier they go back much further. If stock is any indication of anything at all, it’s the company’s profitability. And over the long haul, both companies are not doing well at all. The charts show a general decline. In the case of Reed Elsevier, it's about at the same place it was ten or fifteen years ago. Surprising? I think so. How in the world can companies with such great, vital products be loosing money?
Lack of foresight. They failed to create the next generation of information product when they had the means. They’ve stayed loyal to what they know: sell what you’ve got, and keep it that way! Instead of innovating and using the tools at their disposal and distributing their product with the greatest of ease, they have priced themselves and their products out of existence.
As Carl Malmud and others advocate for thorough and free distribution of all public information, and as technology and technologists rise to meet the challenge with elegance and facility, the Big Two (three, if you count Volters Kluwer) are marketing themselves out of existence despite a veritable intellectual gold mine in hand, the main things that make their products special: secondary titles, digests and indexes and compilations of all sorts.
The free public information movement will surely supplant the Big Two/Three’s ability to publish primary materials. But they can’t supplant their ability to publish the secondary materials that help us make sense of it all.
If the Big Two/Three go out of business because of poor business practices, bad judgement and lack of vision, God help us. I’m serious. If scholarship fails, (which is what secondary materials are, after all) then culture fails. When culture fails, so do civilizations.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think that our legal system is mighty important for maintaining order, and even if I think that it can stand with a tweak or two here of there; it’s worth saving and maintaining.
Somehow, the news that Lexis and West (and CCH) were loosing money sent a chill up my spine....
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