“If there are no consumers buying, nothing else matters”

by Jon Lin on October 14, 2008 · 5 comments

in martindale.com,Web 2.0

“At the end of the day, we believe it’s good for all of our sellers to make sure we are protecting the consumer experience first,” Mr. Bezos said.  “Our first and foremost goal is to earn trust with consumers.  If there are no consumers buying, nothing else matters.”  Mr. Bezos of course is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, who sums up his company’s philosophy in the front page article of this past Sunday’s The New York Times business section.  The article, entitled “Amid the Gloom, an E-Commerce War,” chronicles the reversal in fortunes of e-commerce giants Amazon and eBay over the past 2 years as the former has soared and the latter has sputtered.  One of the reasons cited for eBay’s inability to adapt is their wariness for doing anything that would hurt their sellers, who are the ones paying fees to eBay.  On the other hand, Amazon was willing to take a longer-term view and pursue initiatives that sometimes negatively impacted their sellers in the short-term, but were ultimately good for consumers, sellers, and Amazon.
Like eBay, for most of Martindale-Hubbell’s long history, we have been focused on serving the needs of our “sellers” because they paid our bills. Sometimes, we undertook actions that were to the detriment of our user’s experience.  One clear example of this is how we changed the display of data on non-subscriber lawyers and law firms.
Beginning in late 2006, we began removing data on non-subscribers and limited their searchability on martindale.com, thinking that we would penalize these firms and lawyers.  On a non-subscriber’s lawyer profile page, we only displayed the lawyer’s name, city, state/country, county.  This basically rendered the profile useless for our site users and called into question the perceived comprehensiveness of our database.  As a result, these users started going elsewhere on the internet for information.  Ultimately, we hurt ourselves as fewer visitors coming to martindale.com equals less value to our law firms.
With our recent release, we started displaying more information on non-subscriber lawyer profile pages to create a better user experience (see Doug Cornelius’ profile for an example).  For subscribers, we continue to offer a number of ways to help them highlight their expertise more prominently, including the ability to add unlimited content to their profiles, authorship of legal articles, display of 3rd party sourced data like US patent activity, and eventually, premium entitlements within Martindale-Hubbell Connected.  Re-shifting our focus back to our users is part of our transformation that began a year ago.  Replace “consumer” with “website user” and “sellers” with “law firms” in Mr. Bezos’ quote and he could easily be talking about our philosophy. If there are no users coming to martindale.com, nothing else matters.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Sullivan wrote onJanuary 8, 2009 at 12:00 am

Provocative article! Especially liked reading your comments about blocking out non-subscribers in 2006. Though, I would have liked to read your comments as to the actual outcome (and results) from thos course of action. Good read though!

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Carlton Dyce Carlton Dyce wrote onOctober 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

I think it’s important to remember that the decision not to pay the admin fee does not “un-rate” an attorney. An attorney who elects not to pay the fee still maintains his or her CV, BV or AV rating. The attorney may use that rating on business cards, letterhead and so forth. This change does not create a “pay for a rating” practice. The decision not to pay the fee only impacts the specific rating from displaying on Martindale-Hubbell products. One other point of clarification: The attorney is still listed in the Martindale-Hubbell products, unless he or she asks the be removed. The decision of whether or not an attorney wants Peer Review Ratings to display in Martindale-Hubbell is an individual one. A number of attorneys elect not to display their ratings. Some CV attorneys indicate to us that they don’t want their rating to display until they are BV. Some BV attorneys don’t want their rating to display until they are AV. And some AV attorneys don’t want their rating to display at all. Over the last few decades, this has led us to include in our publications the following: “The absence of a rating should not be construed as unfavorable since some lawyers have requested their Peer Review Ratings not be published while in other instances definitive information has not yet been completely developed.” The PRR admin fee issue comes down to two issues: 1) Martindale-Hubbell’s need to cover the rising costs required to maintain its growing and diversifying PRR services, and. 2) A personal choice by each attorney whether he or she values the rating enough to pay the annual fee to help us continue providing services. PRR are an objective indicator of lawyers’ ethics and professional abilities as seen through the eyes of their peers, and we value all attorneys who contribute to the PRR process — even those who elect to no longer display their ratings.

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dissatisfied consumer wrote onOctober 24, 2008 at 12:00 am

Ah, yes, but you’ve adopted “pay-to-play” with respect to your vaunted ratings — only displaying ratings for those attorneys willing to pay for them. In the end this selective display of ratings diminishes to overall value of the ratings as a reliable indictor of anything useful.

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Jon Lin Jon Lin wrote onOctober 16, 2008 at 12:00 am

At the bottom of your profile page, you should see a link to Update this Listing. Or you can go directly to http://www.martindale.com/xp/legal/About_Martindale/Products_and_Services/Professional_Listings/professional_listings.xml. On that page, click over to the Request a Listing Change tab and just fill out the form. Changes are reviewed by our editorial team so changes won’t be immediate.

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Doug Cornelius wrote onOctober 10, 2008 at 6:34 am

Jonathan – Thanks for the shout-out. Unfortunately, my profile is no longer correct. My last day at Goodwin Procter was Oct. 9. My new position will be the Chief Compliance Officer for Beacon Capital Partners starting on Oct. 20.

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