Helium Pricing

Helium is lighter than air, so a balloon filled with it will obviously keep floating upwards.  Not that it’s a publishing industry strategy, but if you look at the Consumer Price Index as the air, the cost of legal publications is a helium balloon by comparison.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) just released its latest edition of the Price Index for Legal Publications (PDF – requires AALL membership).  The index — actually indexes, there are several publication categories, with an index for each — measures price changes since 2005, the baseline year.  One caveat to the indexes: a few categories, such as Reporters, index only 1 to 3 titles.  This makes little sense in my opinion. You wouldn’t follow IBM’s stock price and call it an “index” that represents the market.  Most categories have a sample of 30 or more titles, though, and here are some of the standout numbers in those categories:

  • Serials (including periodicals) prices have gone up 30.9% since 2005.
  • Academic periodicals (i.e. journals) alone have gone up 34.6%.
  • State and federal codes are up 16%.
  • Supplemental treatises (those kept up to date by pocket parts, supplements, revised volumes, or replacement pages) have gone up 37.7% since 2005.
  • 2007, for whatever reasons, was a particularly inflationary year.  Many of the legal publication categories had double-digit increases, and several went up over 20% in that year alone.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has looked like this since 2005:

year CPI % change
2005 195.3
2006 201.6 3.2
2007 207.3 2.8
2008 215.3 3.8

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The CPI increase is even more mellow when you remove food and energy, two of the more volatile factors, from the equation:

CPI – All items less food and energy
year CPI % change
2005 200.9
2006 205.9 2.5
2007 210.7 2.3
2008 215.56 2.3

(Source: BLS)

It’s hard to see how these increases are going to be sustainable, especially when seen against a more standard measure of inflation in the CPI.  If legal publication prices were indeed like helium balloons, they’d be closing in on the altitude where they’d burst.

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