Qualities of the best legal publishing mergers: Making 1 + 1 = 3

Back in September I posted a survey asking readers to vote for the best and worst  mergers in the legal publishing industry. This was not a scientific survey nor did I have a way to guarantee against participation by employees of vendors themselves. Nonetheless,  a series of interesting  themes emerged in the commentaries which were contributed by many voters. Since the recent announcement of the Bloomberg-BNA merger, the law librarian community has been awash with speculation on how this merger will play out and whether in 5 years they will  cast votes for  Bloomberg-BNA  in the “best” or “worst” column.

Top Characteristics of Good Mergers

  • Developed a meaningful integration of products from both companies which enhanced the quality of the data, usability and efficiencies delivered to the researchers.
  • Resulted in better products than could have been developed  by either company without the merger.
  • Enhanced the technology of the acquired product. 
  •  Improved customer service.
  •  Provided access to content which researchers would not otherwise have access to because of pricing or complexity of native platform. (Dialog) 
  •  Kept a valuable but small niche product alive. (Loislaw) 
  •  Resulting electronic product is so clearly superior to the print version that there  is virtually no resistance to eliminating redundant print product. (Blogger”s note : Contrast the ease of converting lawyers from print Shepard’s to Shepard’s Online  with conversion of CCH print users  to CCH online  This conversion  still incomplete almost 20 years after the release of first  CCH online product).
  •  Eliminated a publisher that was difficult to deal with, (Bad customer service, bad billing and updating practices, steep price increases).
  • Infusion of capital resulted in greater innovation.
  • Greater innovation increased competition which brought better products to the legal marketplace.

 Not the Best, Only the “Least Worst”

There was a repeating theme in the comments section  which suggested that a significant subset of the law librarian community regards all mergers as “bad.” Many respondents voted for the “best” merger with the begrudging comment that their vote was only for “the least worst,” the least disruptive, most harmless or had the least impact.

The Winner is: Lexis Acquisition of Shepard’s

Requires a Fact Check from the Wayback Machine An overwhelming number of voters indicated that they selected Shepard’s because this resulted in the conversion of Shepard’s to an electronic format. Well actually… McGraw Hill had digitized the citators and produced Shepard’s on CD-ROM . The CD-ROMs  were then updated by a accessing a dial-up bulletin board called “Shepnet. ” This was before the World Wide Web! Shepard’s Releases The First Shepard’s Citation on CD-ROM.

Maybe Also The Weirdest Merger Technically McGraw Hill traded Shepard’s to the Times Mirror Company in exchange for educational publications. Separately, Times Mirror, and Reed Elsevier, owner of the Lexis-Nexis then formed a 50-50 joint venture to own and operate Shepard’s.

Lexis Acquisition of Shepard’s was Good for Westlaw One of the more surprising observations which was echoed in several responses. The Lexis integration of Shepard’s content into the caselaw research process triggered a cycle of intense competition and product improvement. It drove West to create the Keycite product which some respondents considered to be superior to Shepard’s on Lexis.

Comments on Why Shepard’s Won

  • Shepard’s citators in print were so cumbersome to use, so difficult to read and interpret in print that  they were completely transformed by digitization and their utility enhanced when integrated with Lexis caselaw.
  •  Easy to convert users from print to electronic
  •  Made a core legal research function quicker more efficient
  •  Competition forced West create a better product
  •  Triggered a cycle of competition and improvement for both market leaders, Lexis and Westlaw which caused the customers to win in the long run.
  • Improved the usability of content on Lexis by integrating citations. 
  In Second Place: A Megamerger – The Thomson Acquisition of West

Given the vast differences of scope of the Lexis acquisition of a single function product like Shepard’s and the Thomson-West merger, which  was a game changing colossus, the two transactions are not really suitable comparisons.

Benefits of Thomson West Merger:

  • Cash infusion resulted in greater innovation
  • Merger created a clear market leader
  • Successfully integrated a diverse array of legal, business, news, primary and secondary sources into a single Westlaw platform which enhanced lawyer productivity
  • Created a global platform for legal research
  • Thomson continued acquiring content from smaller publishers which may have preserved products which would not otherwise have survived in the long run.

The most controvertial aspects of the Thomson West merger arose from the  print publishing side of the merger.  Stay tuned for:  Part Two: The Worst of Legal Publishing Mergers, coming next week.
Join the conversation: Friday, October 14, 2011 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM EDT

 Episode 23: Merger Mania: A Discussion of Law Publisher Consolidation – Past and Present