Notes from the Tech Trenches: Factiva Finds New Moorings in Rough Seas

Cindy Carlson is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C. , and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.

Is that a pretty little white island I see out there, or could it be a big old customer service iceberg? Evidently I’m all about the maritime analogies this month, especially since I’m also feeling a little bit swamped with reference work and at sea about how to handle it all. It wouldn’t be so bad except that as background noise to all the business research I have been doing, I am hearing a load of rumors about how Factiva will change once it becomes available through Lexis. Westlaw very helpfully did some overviews about NewsRoom, their replacement (sort of) for what they lose when their agreement with Factiva ends on February 28. I am happy to report that, except for the frustration of never being able to search the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in full text in the same database, I think I’m going to like the new Westlaw product. [Editor’s note: Thomson press release, January 25, 2005, Dialog® NewsRoom Now Offering Deeper Archive of The New York Times]

The Factiva rollout at LexisNexis is another matter. It looks to me as if there has been something of a scramble going on at Lexis as they try to figure out what to do before March 1 when they will be able to offer Factiva content. Of course, I am not any kind of an insider at LexisNexis (or Westlaw), so I can only share what I have heard from our firm’s representatives and other librarians as they try to figure this all out. The first information I had was that LexisNexis had been planning to have Factiva end legal market contracts for the Web product and switch everyone over to LexisNexis subscription access on March 1. Whoa, Nelly! I was leery about that plan for many reasons, not the least of which is that Factiva has been my only really functional, reliable resource for non-billable news and business research. Sure, I can use Lexis News and Westlaw, but all that use gets billed back somehow. Factiva is my place to go when I need background news data of financial information, but with better reliability than Google offers. Google still seems like a giant crap-shoot to me at times, and with Factiva I know exactly what I am getting with every search. [Editor’s Note: See also this February 8, 2005 LexisNexis press release, LexisNexis to Enhance Content for Legal Professionals with Infusion of Top News and Business Sources]

Current Factiva Subscriber? Here’s the Scoop.

So, item one on the rumor mill was that there would be no more direct Factiva access. The good news was that it was followed immediately by item two: never mind. Before I even heard about item one, the powers-that-be at LexisNexis must have heard from everyone else how bad that idea was, so they backed off. As I write, the details about how existing, Web-based, Factiva access will be handled is finally settling. Those with contract will have them until March of 2006 as Lexis adds functionality currently available through Factiva, like live news feeds. So, direct access is safe for the time being. It’s like a little news security blanket for me, so I’m glad I’ll get a transitional period that I can use to adapt to the new structure, whatever it eventually turns out to be.

So What About the Wall Street Journal?

Item three, unfortunately, seems to have a little more staying power. As late as this week I was hearing from librarians concerned that the way Factiva was to be integrated with the Lexis News files would be a problem too. The news I get today is that Factiva content will not be included in any basic contract. You will either have to pay non-contract rates for access or buy a separate contract. There was a whole-lotta confusion about this. Now that the storm has settled, this appears to be the plan.

1) Existing group files at Lexis will remain the same.

2) An additional, larger group file called MEGA ALLNEWS will be added. It will include the original ALLNEWS files AND the Factiva content. Use of this file will be outside your current contract (if you have one).

3) Lexis will also create some individual files for accessing sources like the Wall Street Journal. They will be outside the contract, but at least you won’t have to pay to access a group file to get to them. Hurray! That’s a major relief because initial word was the reverse.

The bottom line? You still have to either subscribe to Factiva content specifically or pay retail. Makes me a little curious to know what the Wall Street Journal file will cost, I must say.

Rumor Mills are the WORST!

Now that (I hope) we’ve heard the final word on the rollout, at least on these items, I have to say that this has not been a public relations coup for Lexis, a company whose customer service I usually admire. It all seemed very last minute and the initial rollout plans were, basically, ridiculous and seemingly greedy. When you announce a change and the response you immediately hear is, “They WHAT?,” it’s usually not a great sign. Many, many librarians were downright angry at the news that their existing Factiva contracts were (initially) doomed to get yanked, and as that plan got canned, the news of the day changed so much that it was confusing. We all know that change is bad enough, but mixing in uncertainty is asking for a shipwreck. It definitely looked like more than one person was steering the boat there for a while. It also didn’t help that all this blew up as every Lexis representative disappeared for the annual sales meeting. Many people were left with questions and no one to even ask for several days running. Not great customer service.

So, all you vendors out there, lessons learned? Ask your major consumers for a little feedback before launching a gigantic product change! Focus group, anyone? I’m sure there must have been some, but I don’t know who they talked to that their initial strategy seemed reasonable. And if there are changes, we’d like to see documentation, please. Keeping your customers informed is a comfort to them, especially where financial planning is concerned.

I’m just glad it’s over. Smooth sailing everyone .

Posted in: LEXIS, Notes from the Technology Trenches, Westlaw