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It’s hardly a secret that West Group’s law reporters are an endangered species. But until now, we didn’t know just how endangered they were. Seventy-five percent of the law librarians who responded to our survey said that they had canceled various editions of the West reporters in the last two years. Forty-five percent of law librarians have plans to get rid of them completely. The librarians are acting rationally: If lawyers aren’t reading the books, why buy them? West’s response is more curious. Faced with a business in decline, many companies cut prices. West is doing the opposite and raising prices, but higher prices may serve only to hasten the downward spiral. Five years ago, West Group charged less than $30 for each book in a reporter series. Today the price is around $65. The price increase is magnified by a trend wholly outside West’s control. Judges are writing more opinions than ever before, so West must publish more books, and firms must buy them to maintain a comprehensive print collection. Washington, D.C.’s McKenna & Cuneo canceled its regional reporters a few years ago and is thinking about axing the federal reporters as well. “We’re paying $7,000 a month on these things,” says Kathleen Martin, McKenna & Cuneo’s director of library services. “It’s ridiculous.” New York’s Fried, Frank, Harris, Jacobson & Shriver cut its regionals and is down to one copy of the federal reporters per year. Latham & Watkins’ Washington, D.C., office no longer has any federal reporters. “We looked at our space, and decided we didn’t need [the federal reporters] anymore,” says Robert Oaks, Latham’s director of global information services. “We got rid of 1,000 volumes in one day.” The book business is a victim of West Group’s success with its online service, Westlaw. Westlaw benefits when customers decide to do their research electronically. Our survey found that the average Am Law 200 law firm spends close to $1 million annually on Westlaw and around $860,000 on Lexis Nexis. “Both [Westlaw and Lexis Nexis] have evolved into excellent products,” says Oaks. “Lawyers have really taken to them.” How is the company handling the trend? In stride, at least for now. West won’t divulge its sales figures for the books. But Michael Wilens, West’s president, reports that it is losing about 9 percent of its law reporter subscriptions each year. If that rate of attrition continues, West will lose four out of every 10 subscriptions within five years. If attrition moves upward only slightly, West will lose more than half of its subscriptions in that time period. But for at least the next five years, the West presses will keep on rolling. “At some point, we might decide it’s not a business we want to continue supporting,” Wilens says. “But that day hasn’t come yet.” West can’t stem the rising tide of legal opinions. But the price increases? “We’re trying to keep [books] alive as a viable business, and we’re just trying to spread out our overhead costs,” Wilens says. “Believe me, we’re sensitive to [the law firms'] concerns.” West is working on ways to unite its paper and electronic businesses. “WestPack” is a pilot that bundles print and online services into a package. But that may be like giving your dad a belt and suspenders for Father’s Day. Related chart: Content

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