What happened to the days when consumers could purchase goods at an honest price and expect to enjoy the full value of those goods for the duration of the expected lifecycle? Do you remember when a subscription to Sports Illustrated would include your basic print magazine, and they would even throw in incentives like collectable books, T-shirts, or other swag as a reward for becoming a valued subscriber? Some of us still remember those TV commercials, “join now and receive…” Your print subscription included access to all of the content available on the website, including email newsletters, discussion boards, etc. Some of the added value included sporting event recaps after a game’s conclusion, with video interviews and highlights. You would also get box scores for baseball games. If you are a fantasy ball nut, those box scores are golden! Then, in the late 2000s, online news outlets like SI.com, ESPN.com, and others introduced new “plus” subscriptions. And this is a trend that has continued and has impacted everything, including legal research resources.
This introduced a new tiered level of content pricing. A basic subscription no longer included access to all content, now subscribers had to upgrade to the new “plus” level subscription in order gain access to the EXACT SAME CONTENT that was previously available under the previous basic subscription. Content providers must have realized revenue streams were drying up, and they needed to invent new ways of generating income. I understand the conceptual building blocks of capitalism and supply/demand economics. It is irritating for me, when I can no longer access the same level of content that was once available under my previous price point.
I suppose premium subscriptions are a natural evolution of subscription-based economics. Most people have accepted this new model as the new normal. Whether we like it, agree with, disagree with it – that model is here to stay. It’s a good business model if the various subscriber tiers truly offer value and access to unique content not available in other places. But, at what point does tiered pricing begin to feel more like upselling?
In recent years there has been a trend in legal publishing to adopt a very similar type of upselling. The one example that immediately comes to mind is Law360. In the last couple of years Law360 has introduced “Law 360 Pulse” and several new sections under the “Authority” banner. There was a time when a firm could subscribe to an enterprise level subscription of Law360, and that would include all news articles for all sections. These new Pulse and Authority sections are excluded from the Law360 enterprise subscription. This is confusing and frustrating for attorneys, admin staff, and information professionals. At the time a subscription agreement is signed, you expect that it will include everything and all content. As information professionals who negotiate these subscriptions, we can’t help but feel a little duped when new content and sections are excluded from our enterprise plans.
Practical Law is another example. As Thomson Reuters introduces new practice areas to Practical Law, access to the new content will undoubtedly require a new contract addendum (and $$$). Again, this is frustrating and confusing for attorneys and other users who run searches under the presumption that everything is included under the subscription, only to discover new paywalls and barriers. As a subscriber and a client, I begin to question the value of my current subscription plan. Is it obsolete, and outdated? It sure feels watered down and devalued when new content is added to the platform, but excluded from my plan and placed behind a paywall.
I guess, “all you can eat” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I used to work as a dishwasher at a buffet restaurant in high school and I understand the concept of throttling goods. On Fridays we served fried shrimp, but Duke, the owner of the restaurant, was careful to only put out shrimp in small batches while never completely filling up the buffet warming trays. He would supervise carefully as staff refilled the shrimp trays and was quick to correct anyone with a heavy hand. Cheap buffet restaurant shrimp has something to do with legal resources. The lesson here is to be wary of your new subscription agreements. Be diligent when negotiating contractual terms that ensures you have access to upgrades and new levels of “plus”, “pro”, “premium”, etc. I’m still trying to find that balance myself and understand how best to negotiate terms.
Finally, do not believe the buffet signs that promise bottomless fried shrimp.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.