May 18, 2009
The Abercrombie and Fitch of the Legal Publishing World: Profile of West Publishing Company
Citypages (Minneapolis) profiles West Publishing in an ever so uncritical chamber-of-commerce success story way in Westlaw Rises to Legal Publishing Fame by Selling Free Information. But the detail-rich article is recommended reading and does report some interesting information, some of it known, some estimated by legal information professionals:
West makes its money by selling free, public information—specifically, court documents—to lawyers. On this simple model, the company raked in $3.5 billion in revenue last year, placing it on a par, sales-wise, with retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch. But its operating profit margin really impresses: At a whopping 32.1 percent, West outpaces that of tech giants like Google (19.4 percent), Amazon (3.4 percent), and eBay (20.8 percent).
From 1996 to 2005, the price for initial editions of Thomson's legal books went up about 4.5 percent each year—just slightly above the increase in inflation, and comparable to LexisNexis's 4.2 percent annual increase for similar materials.
But during the same period, Thomson's price for supplementation—updates to the initial books after changes in the law occurred—rose 11.5 percent each year, far higher than both the rate of inflation and Lexis's increase in prices for the same service.
That explains in part how in 2005, even after electronic media dominated the market and comprised 57 percent of West's revenues, the company still got 43 percent of its revenues from print.
Isn't this long-standing pricing practice the reason why law librarians are looking first to West print title cancellations during our current financial circumstances, even when 50 percent discounts for some print title continuations are offered in Westlaw multi-year plan renewals?
The article includes a look at West's editorial process. "At West, every case goes through a 22-step editorial process. Multiple people work on each case, cross-checking each other's work to ensure that it is 100 percent accurate. Attorney-editors add searchable terms tuned to West's search engine." The process is partially automated using West's Categorization and Recommendation Engine (CARE). CARE suggests key numbers for new cases, identifies cases affected by a new decision, and performs a host of other tasks that freelance attorneys performed for West before its implementation, "but an army of 800 attorney-editors analyzes the cases, writes the summaries, and approves many of the recommendations that CARE provides."
Hat tip Jim Levy (Nova) on Legal Writing Prof Blog who credits Deborah McGovern, Nova's Emerging Technologies/Reference Librarian, for calling his attention to the article -- always a welcome acknowledgment for the current awareness services law librarians like McGovern routinely perform. [JH]
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I dont think you can fairly compare them to abercrombie considering abercrombie worked hard to establish their brand
Posted by: abercrombie t-shirts | May 30, 2009 12:16:36 PM