“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.