I am intrigued by possible comparisons between US law schools (a single industry, with close to 200 “brands”) and Hostess Brands (a single company, with roughly 25 American brands). As just about every American consumer now knows, in connection with a current bankruptcy proceeding Hostess is in the process of liquidating its assets.
Since 2003, Hostess revenues dropped by roughly $1 billion – from just over $3.5b to just under $2.5b – or well over 20%. Poor marketing and fickle tastes may account for much of this, but it seems clear that a lot of the decline is due to changing consumer demand. There is a lot of unhappiness in the blogosphere about the momentary loss of Twinkies, but I have yet to see lamentations for Wonder Bread.
Media and popular commentary has been divided between efforts to blame greedy ownership and intransigent labor. One emerging theme, which appears to unite the two sides, is that Hostess could not and cannot survive solely on the brand value of its history. Nostalgia only sells so many Ding Dongs. Whether or not Hostess Brands was actually innovating on the inside, whether with respect to its products or with respect to its cost structure or both, the company has had a reputation as stodgy, even eternally unchanging. Sort of like a Twinkie itself.
It was innovate — and appear to innovate, which is a brand value in itself — or die. Blame aside, one way to read the closure of Hostess is as a story of the failure of the enterprise (all parties included) to adapt to a shifting marketplace for its product. If the American Hostess brands survive, in a post-Hostess world, my bet is they are likely to be re-positioned within one or more much more innovative and nimble companies.
Could the current status of American law schools be characterized in much the same way, that is, as a challenge of adapting a historically-grounded, largely nostalgia-based product/service to a rapidly changing marketplace? For one account that takes that a version of that view (of law schools, not Hostess), take a look at this recent post on legal education and legal services at The Faculty Lounge. Be sure to read the comments.