Thursday, June 12, 2014

Breaking All The Rules on Rulebooks: Jones McClure Goes Digital with O’Connor’s Online

“Lawyers need an answer, not a book.” Vice President Jason Wilson

Jones McClure is one of the last independent legal publishers. They were founded in 1992 to fill the need for "user friendly law books." They have taken their time going digital and now they are breaking with the large legal publishers by rejecting eBook  technology-- but this is no surprise.

Jones McClure is young company, a bit edgy and decidedly  independent. They have been rebuffing acquisition overtures from the major publishers for years. I checked out their blog and was met by a screaming headline ”Phone Sex and No Fault Divorce.” They understand what appeals to their customers.

Jones McClure publishes 26 titles mostly on Texas practice and 7 non-Texas titles. Their federal titles include The O’Connor's Federal Rules and their compilation of IP laws which are less expensive than similar titles from the major legal publishers. Until  today they were a strictly a  book publisher.

The New Platform
This week Jones McClure rolled out a new approach to rulebook research with the release of   O’Connor’s Online . O'Connor's is the tradename of their court rule and code publications. The company’s press release quotes President Baird  Craft: “Two keys to the service were search and user experience. For search, we worked with an industry leader, MarkLogic, and have built a sophisticated search system, one that we will continue to tweak as more customers come online. For user experience, we emphasized to the designers and developers that when a customer is researching, they should always see three things: search results, a table of contents, and the actual  content itself.”

O’Connor’  has the clean book like appearance of an eBook but there are no pages to turn.
The system defaults to federated search.  Filtering is the primary discovery function. Filters are customized by product. Content can be bookmarked, highlighted, and marked up with notes, all of which can be saved in easily accessible folders for quicker retrieval. Content includes rules, annotated codes,forms and practice commentary. Formatted forms are generated on the fly and can be downloaded and saved to a local drive.

O'Connors Online

Giving Customers More Than They Paid For
It should be no surprise that instead of following Lexis and Westlaw down the rulebook road to eBooks, Jones McClure held back and assessed their options.  Vice President Jason Wilson described the rationale this way.  “Jones McClure sees itself as a content publisher not a book publisher.”  An eBook platform would limit their ability to expose customers to new editorial content. They are basically turning the traditional new product sales model on its head. Large publishers have often offered existing content in a new format and asked customers to pay twice for the same thing. Jones McClure is offering book customers access to a digital version of the book and a wealth of new content to enhance the customer experience for a modest additional cost. Unlimited access to O'Connor's Online costs $600 a year. It can also be purchased on a month-to-month basis for $75 a month. Their book sales have been growing and they are confident that the digital platform will not erode print sales.

You Can Quote Us But Don’t Cite Us

Jones McClure takes a shockingly pragmatic view of how lawyers use their content. Wilson describes the platform as an “answer delivery system."  Jones McClure knows exactly how lawyers work. They cut and paste from sources and Jones McClure doesn’t care. They are happy to see their editorial text appear in court opinions. If their commentary was persuasive to a judge, they are  serving the needs of the lawyers and their clients. They don’t need to get the credit – they just want loyal customers. Of course they are not talking about someone downloading and reselling their database, but they have a healthy tolerance for the reality of legal drafting. Let's face in a common law system, everything is a derivative work based on precedents written in the past.
The Innovation Pipeline

The O’Connor platform has a built in customer pipeline. Users are encouraged to send suggestions directly to the editorial staff. Suggestions are also posted on the website where other customers have an opportunity to vote on suggested changes and content.

Customer Feedback Function

Future Developments

According to Vice President Jason Wilson, they are building a product which will automate the drafting of documents based on their forms. The automated  forms will take advantage of the logic that is already built into their forms. The goal is to "follow the rule of ten," namely don’t ask more than ten interview questions before the user can get into the form and start editing. They are hoping to launch that product in 2015.


1 comment:

  1. Jean,

    Thank you for the write up. There is one thing I'd like to add in response to your comment regarding large publishing offering existing content in a new format, which is a comment from Matt Macinnis' (Founder/CEO at Inkling) post this morning on Publishing: Time to Solve for Product, not Finances:

    "We don’t think about cars as 'gasoline versions' of horses, so it’s odd that we talk about 'digital versions' of books. Winning software products don’t have digital versions; they’re just digital. They’re designed from the start to address a specific customer need. This notion of a digital 'version' of a product is a mindset that has bedeviled the publishing industry, causing companies to focus on how they sell rather than what they sell. To win, publishers of all sizes must find winning software product models before considering the financial model behind them."


    I think that's about right.