It’s easy and sometimes entertaining to note the negative or bizarre aspects of the major international law publishers but ultimately it is more interesting to identify areas of achievement. Far from the only one, but one such example is the work and evolution of what is now Bloomsbury Professional, based in the UK but increasingly recognisable around the world.
For me at least, it’s hard not to admire the business and the people involved in it, though I have to admit to a bias, though not an interest, in its favour. I consider a number of the people in the business to be friends and/or former colleagues and some of them I have selected, employed and promoted in other places, in recognition of their obvious worth. I’m proud to note that I have never seen any intelligent reason to remove any of them from their posts as to do so would clearly have been detrimental to the businesses for which they worked. It is pleasing to see Bloomsbury Professional as the current home for such a collection of talent and commitment.
Bloomsbury Professional is a relatively new law and tax publisher, until recently known as Tottel Publishing. This itself was not so long ago a phoenix from the ashes of a larger body of publishing assets thought at the time to be surplus to requirement at Lexis Nexis UK and sold to forward-looking senior managers who established the new business. Tottel grew and flourished for a few years until it was time for a trade sale, when Bloomsbury Publishing saw the benefits of investing in professional, academic and subscription-based markets.
One suspects that the investment decision was not a foregone conclusion as it had not been the first time that Bloomsbury had sought to enter the market. Indeed, Chancery Law Publishing had been set up in 1990 with its financial backing. Chancery Law did not flourish, despite the acknowledged quality of much of its output and in 1992 it was sold to Wiley. Nor did it achieve success there, its assets finally being sold on. No doubt it is a tribute to the Tottel management and staff that Bloomsbury was able to perceive sufficient difference to envisage that the new acquisition would not go the same way as the earlier investment. Nor, I’m sure, would the parent company believe that it had or has any wizard’s wand to wave over its children to guarantee success.
Hardly great wisdom is needed to understand, to some extent at least, why Bloomsbury Professional looks like a great publishing business. After all, it got off to a racing start with some astonishing assets from Lexis Nexis, among them an especially strong tax portfolio which, subsequently evolved, is making a huge competitive impression in the market. In fact, they have recently dislodged CCH as the chosen supplier of one of the key tax books, as a member benefit, to all the members of the UK’s Association of Taxation Technicians. Additionally, there are many distinguished ex-Lexis Nexis titles such as, randomly selected, Mediators on Mediation: leading mediator perspectives on the practice of commercial mediation, edited by Chris Newmark and Anthony Monaghan, Mediator Skills and Techniques: Triangle of Influence by Laurence Boulle and Miryana Nesic, Fransman’s British Nationality Law and Clinical Negligence by Charles Lewis. In truth, the list is extremely long and embraces, additionally, key Irish and Scottish titles. I believe that plans are now afoot to bring to fruition the results of its strategic planning for ebooks.
As an observer of Bloomsbury Professional and its competitors, one does not see or need to see genius in operation. Indeed they quite modestly refer to themselves as “a traditional, but cutting-edge publisher of high quality books and information services for lawyers, accountants and business professionals”. Rather, it is easier to identify intelligence, sound judgement, consistency, commitment and commercial attitude as critical features. Every new decision does not have to be explosive in character but instead indicative of an understanding of and empathy with markets, both following and directing market evolution.
In fact, of their recently launched online tax law service, www.bloomsburytax.com, I commented in an article, “What makes the new service worth noting is not rocket science technology or really cutting-edge functionality but price and simplicity, combined with an unashamed resemblance to the book idiom in its presentation – a smart move, it might be suggested, in an e-book era”. It was of the service in question that a most distinguished Canadian lawyer commented to me, upon learning about it “this is like an early Christmas present”. For their efforts, they were nominated for the prizes of Ingram Digital Publishing Award and Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year in the Independent Publishers Guild Independent Publishing Awards 2012, with Hart Publishing being similarly and deservedly recognised.
Modesty is refreshing to me in an era of grand boasts usually followed by never admitted failure. This extends to ways of doing business, such as accepting that one cannot do everything well by oneself and sometimes there is a need for partnership and joint ventures to achieve best results. Indeed, very early in its existence, Tottel was happy to partner with CCH UK in electronic content licensing, in order to achieve outcomes that would have been difficult alone. That arrangement has since some to an end. Now, however, in a dynamic arrangement, they partner with another legal publishing entrepreneur, Practical Law Company, to provide content online to PLC customers.
Another partnership, this time in relation to UK and International accounting and auditing content, has recently been established with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the PWC arrangement having previously been with CCH UK. No doubt, the desire and ability to make such deals will help establish Bloomsbury Professional more strongly, additionally in the accounting publishing market, as well as in law and tax. To achieve visibility and effectiveness at these levels would, I am certain, be difficult without a particular and open attitude of mind.
Rewards come with effort and it is not surprising that in 2011 Bloomsbury Professional won the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians’ Supplier of the Year Award. It seems that the methodology and good service, perhaps in a sea of mediocrity, pays off. Of course, it’s not for me to know and if I did to discuss here the extent to which this transfers to profits but I like to think that that is the case. What I do see, when I meet my Bloomsbury Professional friends, is a group of ambitious but happy and contented enthusiasts who believe they are winning.
For some of the other major information providers, certainly those in the UK and, I would hope, excluding Bloomberg Law/BNA, I think they should watch and learn from the likes of Bloomsbury Professional, PLC and Justis Publishing. There are certainly areas in which they could improve and do better but the younger innovators are taking the prizes and becoming positioned in the number 2 or 3 slots in particular market segments, though perhaps becoming simply candidates for acquisition and emasculation, as one might hope will not be the case in relation to the acquisition in the USA of Law360.
Equally, to avoid self-delusion, it should not be forgotten that Bloomsbury Professional is itself part of a quoted company and the smaller ones are often inclined to mimic the activities of their larger peers. No personal judgment on the views expressed, of course, but I wonder if their thinking is in line with or at a distance from those of the other end of the professional publishing spectrum, http://tomglocer.com/blogs/sample_weblog/archive/2012/02/04/2852.aspx, balanced against http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/business/business-news/reed-chief-engstroms-3m-package-7562508.html. Other informed commentators, however, hold opinions on such matters, http://practicesource.com/house-of-butter/tom-glocer-educates-us-on-marx-and-adam-smith.