Monday, 17 November 2008

Subscription pricing, solo practitioners and the current crisis

Following on from the theme of the previous post, I was undecided as to whether to be surprised by the magnitude of Westlaw's 36.66% subscription price-hike for the SOLO IP group or to say that I'd been expecting it all along, on the basis that the original deal for solo practitioners was a honey trap.

Left: the small subscriber in the credit crunch -- not waving, but drowning ...

However, whether Westlaw is prudently seeking to maximise the value of its vast and vital database or whether it is cynically exploiting the segment of the IP community that is least able to defend itself, one thing is probable: Westlaw's pricing policy is not made on the spur of the moment and is the result of a lengthy process that involves a complex interplay of factors that do not concern members of the SOLO fraternity, such as overheads, marketing strategy and sales bonuses, as well as the one thing that obviously concerns us all -- how much the service costs.

My guess is that the process leading to the 36.66% price hike therefore commenced a long time before the current economic crisis and therefore has not taken it into account. If this is right, Westlaw -- and organisation not famed for its spontaneity of decision-making -- should be urged to think again before it asks what might become of small practitioners as a whole during the coming year, including not just the SOLO IP group but sole and small practitioners throughout the legal professions. With smaller client bases, many sole practitioners are extremely dependent on just one or two larger clients and, if these go to the wall, the practitioner may go under too. Sole practitioners are already faced with soaring insurance premiums and an inconveniently invasive regulatory regime; for many there is no cost-saving option in reducing staff levels since there is no-one to lay off. Westlaw and its competitors should think twice before raising subscription levels so sharply, or they may be snuffing out the precious seeds of profitable subscriptions in the future.

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