Shedding West

There’s been quite a flurry of e-mails on the law librarians listserv with the subject line “West thinks you shouldn’t know your librarian’s name.”    It traces back to a marketing campaign by West which wanted to convey the notion that attorneys need West, and only West, and not librarians. “All it takes is West” was the message. It caused quite a stir, commented about on the Law Librarian’s blog here.  

“All it takes is West” was, perhaps, more or less true MANY years ago, in the dark days of using the digests to find cases.  Today, all it takes is a good librarian to save the organization and its clients tons of money.   We are shedding West publications left and right (mainly because of, in my opinion, outrageous annual price increases), and our patrons (all of whom know our first names) are doing just fine, producing outstanding scholarship and achieving significant clinical victories.

Let me provide an example of an outrageous price increase for a title we are shedding:  Today we received Women and the Law, 2009 Edition, edited by Jane Campbell Moriarty.  It’s a paperback volume accompanied by a invoice for $ 569.75.  The volume starts with reproducing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and also including some of that act’s legislative history.    The rest of the volume seems to consist mainly of reproductions of articles published elsewhere and readily available to us from a variety of sources.   Handy?, sure.  But worth it?  I’d love to know how that price was set.

Obviously the selection of the content took thought and effort.  And there is also a handy table of cases and what appears to be a fairly detailed index (e.g., looking up “assisted reproduction” led me to “Fetal drug laws” which led me to many topics, including “zona pellucida manipulation” which was not an obvious search phrase to me).  So there is most certainly added value to the compilation.  But  for $ 569.75 ?  I showed to a law professor who researches women’s issues and she said she didn’t need it.   

The previous edition cost us $ 495.00, so the price for the newer edition has gone up by about 15% (the same percentage I need to trim from my budget!).  Now that’s something to get up-in-arms about (not so much the bone-headed marketing campaign, which is really just the left hand of a big corporation not knowing what the right hand is doing).

Going Green with GreenSlips – how law publishers can save trees and save money

So I took this week’s Sports Illustrated to the gym this morning to read with my cardio workout, and found that I identified closely with the story about high school guard Roberto Nelson who received “more than 2,000 recruiting letters from 56 colleges.”  According to the story, “You’ve Got (Too Much) Mail,” by George Dohrmann, SI determined that Roberto only opened 18% of his letters and packages.  The SI analysis determined that “college basketball recruiting pitches eat up the equivalent of 1,526 trees a year.”

I related to this story not because I was heavily recruited for my point guard prowess, but because I, too, get a ton of mail which goes straight from my inbox to my recycling box and only a tiny percentage gets opened first.  I’m talking about publishers’ catalogs.  What a huge waste of paper and postage. 

We librarians have great tools for finding and buying new books.  My absolute favorite is William S. Hein & Co.’s Electronic GreenSlips and I would encourage all book publishers to get their new and forthcoming titles listed there.   There are many other good tools but I’m finding a new kid on the block is very helpful too:  The Law_Book twitter feed - we’ve been picking a lot from there lately.

As the SI story notes:

Noting the environmental cost compared to the number of letters Nelson opened, Gleason asked the obvious question: “If recruits don’t open the letters, why keep sending them? Why waste all that money and paper?”

Some schools might soon ask themselves the same thing. In May, Michigan and Ohio State jointly announced that they would cease printing media guides. Bygones from the pre-Internet age . . .

I ask the same thing about publishers’ catalogs, especially the thick ones listing every title in print, most of which we already own.  In my opinion these bygones should be bygone.   What with all the money they will save, I’m sure law book publishers can offer us better prices on their books — that will get more of my business.

The Mediated Book

“The Mediated Book”

U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 463

RANDAL C. PICKER, University of Chicago – Law School

Text in hand, we have read books by candlelight, oil lamp and Edison’s incandescent bulb, maybe even the occasional CFL. But even as light itself has changed, the book has remained constant. Until now. With the rise of Google Book Search and ebook readers like Amazon’s Kindle, we have entered the era of the mediated book. We will still browse and read books, but we will do so through a screen.

This is more than just a change in medium. Digital texts are inherently on-demand works, that is, works that can be produced at the instant that a consumer wishes to interact with the text. Physical books historically have been printed in batched runs in advance of demand. This fact of production matters relatively little for the texts themselves, as we typically want books to be fixed, reliable artifacts.

This changes matters for how we finance books. On-demand texts can be financed through advertising. Printing in advance means that embedded advertising has little chance of being relevant at the point of reading. Mediated texts can be updated instantly with new, continuously timely advertising. That advertising also can be personalized for individual readers as the interaction between the mediating device and the reader will create a rich information stream to enhance the relevance of this advertising. That process of course will raise standard privacy issues.

The short history of 20th Century advertising expenditures in the United States is characterized by two facts. First, overall expenditures as a percentage of GDP are relatively constant over time, bouncing around over the last sixty years between 1.5% and 2.5%. The emergence of new advertising platforms – say radio in 1927; broadcast TV in 1949; cable TV in 1980; and the Internet in 1997 – hasn?t altered that essential fact. The emergence of another new platform – advertising-supported books – isn’t likely to expand overall advertising expenditures much if at all. Second, print?s advertising market share has declined steadily, from roughly 55% of advertising dollars in 1935 to a little under 21% in 2007.

Mediated content accounts for a large chunk of that decline. Now books and of course print more generally will be mediated too. And we will get a nice test. Does the decline in the role of print as seen in advertising dollars reflect the decline of words relative to images and sounds? Or is this a story not of content but of technology, in which a mediated platform is a better advertising platform? The rise of the new mediated books will change how we finance books and will change our understanding of the relative roles of content and technology in driving advertising.


Source:  LSN Cyberspace Law Vol. 14 No. 32,  05/26/2009