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Could Flipboard drive the future of legal publishing?

Flipboard legal publishing I’ve never bought the argument that law firms should have iPhone apps for the distribution of their content. It made no sense that consumers of legal services (whether a corporate exec or consumer) were going to download and browse multiple apps to get legal information. Now I’m starting to wonder if legal publishers (ALM and it’s many publications, including Law.com, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis, or Wolters Kluwer) should build their own apps for distribution of their content on mobile devices. The same question applies to curators of legal publishing such as my own company, LexBlog. We have a network of over 7,000 lawyers publishing to law blogs. The content is automatically aggregated and then manually curated by our editorial team to LXBN. Would these legal publishers be better served using a third party application, ala Flipboard, for distribution of their content? Would these publishers be better served by focusing on what they know best — reporting, editing, and publishing as opposed to the technology required for building apps. Flipboard is a social magazine application and company founded last year by Mike McCue, former VP Technology at Netscape and CEO of Tellme, and Evan Doll, a former Senior iPhone Software Engineer, based out of Palo Alto, originally for Apple’s iPad tablet computer and now, the iPhone. Flipboard collects the content of social networks and other websites and presents the content in a magazine-like format on the iPad and iPhone. The application is designed specifically for iPad’s and iPhone’s touch screens and allows users to “flip” through their social networking feeds and feeds from websites that have partnered with Flipboard. Though a publisher’s ‘partnership’ with Flipboard may get a publisher’s content into ‘pre-filled’ content channels on Flipboard, partnership is not necessary to get your content, as a publisher, onto Flipboard. I was able to do a search for LXBN on Flipboard, see our network’s content displayed, and then add LXBN as a channel that displayed when I opened Flipboard. How popular is Flipboard?

  • Flipboard tablet downloads top 4.5 million.
  • Flipboard is now on 1 in 10 iPads.
  • Flipboard, which began just for iPads, added an iPhone application last week. The Flipboard iPhone app has been downloaded 1 million times already.
  • Flipboard released their first international edition for China after being blocked by China’s “great firewall.” Flipboard now has over 1 million users in China.

I have met with many lawyers who love Flipboard. Rather than Google Reader, they like the magazine-like format and the crisp, clean and pleasing interface of Flipboard. The same for executives. I was meeting with a former CEO of a Legal Technology company which sold for north of $100 million about LXBN. He mentioned that he loved using Flipboard. I told him to do a search for LXBN on Flipboard and pull it up. He was able to easily grasp the depth and breadth of the legal content and insight we were curating across various areas of the law. Legal insight he could use. Why would Flipboard become the future for legal publishing? Any number of reasons.

  • Flipboard is already going to be on the mobile devices of publishers’ subscribers and potential subscribers. It’s going to take a change in behavior, and more time, for subscribers of legal publishers to use another app produced by the publisher.
  • Flipboard is going to refine its app on various fronts. The user interface will be upgraded regularly. Technology will be regularly deployed and refined that will deliver content to readers based on their interests and the people they are connected to in social networks. Publishers will not be able to develop an app, check that one off the list, and let it sit.
  • Legal publishers have never been in the business of developing the vehicle on which their content was consumed. Publishers did not produce paper nor did publishers produce and drive the vehicles which brought their publications to readers. Getting into that business is not trivial.
  • Legal publishers in Toronto, New York, Dayton, London, and Amsterdam may not be able to hire and retain the technology minds available in Seattle, the Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin.

I was talking to my friend Greg Storey, President of Happy Cog West, this morning and raised the Flipboard versus independent app question with him. Greg has 18 years of interactive creative and development experience. Greg sees a lot of publishers looking to develop their own app which can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store. They want to say they are in the App Store and want people to find and review their app in the App Store. But what’s better? To have an independent app in the App Store or to ride the coattails of a company like Flipboard, which may be bringing us the new way in which content is delivered and consumed. Part of me feels like LXBN should have its own app. The other part wonders if we’re going to move away from apps from independent publishers and onto an app where we’ll receive content from multiple sources on multiple subjects. If the latter, publishers are going to see even greater change than they’ve seen to date. I also wonder if I can continue to provide my network members and readers the level of technology advancements that a company like Flipboard can bring when they are focused 100% of the time on technology associated with content delivery. What do you think? Independent apps from publishers? Or companies like Flipboard serving as distribution channels? You may also discuss in the comments at Google+.

  • http://www.mikemcbrideonline.com Mike McBride

    Much like you Kevin, I’ve never wanted to go and grab a different app for every site or network I happen to visit. It seems like a step back, to the time when you had to go to every site to see if there was new content, before RSS readers made consuming content so much easier. So yes, I’d much rather make my site’s content available in Flipboard than try and create my own app.
    The larger question to me, as an individual publisher, is if I’m already pushing out an RSS feed that anyone can add to Flipboard or whatever other aggregation tool they use, do I really need to try and create a “flipboard” or Google Currents edition of the same content? Speaking as an individual, I don’t think so. As a network owner, you may feel differently, and a partnership may be of more benefit to you.

  • http://kevin.lexblog.com Kevin

    Thanks for the comment Mike. Though you’re not presenting the view of Ogletree Deakins, where you work, your perspective as someone working in large is an interesting one.
    I think you’re right that a publisher need not create a Flipboard or Currrents edition per se. The question from my standpoint as a publisher is if I take a relationship up a notch with Flipboard, then perhaps my content is displayed by default to users of Flipboard or Currents.

  • http://www.mikemcbrideonline.com Mike McBride

    Yes, I am definitely speaking more as an individual blogger, who does this for fun on the side, than on behalf of my firm. ;-)
    As an individual blogger, it’s not worth the effort, and certainly not worth the expense, to partner with Flipboard. As a network owner like yourself, that partnership could be an add-on benefit to hosting your blog with Lexblog, so there’s definitely more to consider there, for sure!

  • Philip

    Does Flipboard allow for “Pay-per-view” content? I know that I can add an RSS feed to it, but the RSS feed needs to be publicly available.

  • http://kevin.lexblog.com Kevin

    Flipboard does not have per view content. It’s business model from everything I have read is advertising based. Flipboard does not expect to make a profit for 2 to 3 years and well is backed financially ($50Million investment on valuation of $200 Million) and appear well positioned to deliver the future. Subscription models have been very tough. THe NYT, WSJ, Financial Times, and the like have succeeded where many other publishers who though the iPad was going to be a panacea have struggled with their own subscription based apps.