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Bill Pollak, CEO of ALM [LexBlog Q & A]

April 25, 2008

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s LexBlog Q & A with Mario Sundar of LinkedIn (which focused less on the law and more on social networking), we’re shifting gears back to the legal realm. And who better to bring us back in style than Bill Pollak of ALM?

Bill, who has been with the company since it’s formation and currently serves as their CEO, brings a unique understanding of legal publishing to the table. In our e-mail exchange, he offers his perspectives on the current state of legal publishing, the ALM’s use of technology at their website, and how he thinks ALM will fare in a world where traditional publications are continuing to fall by the wayside. See the full text in it’s usual location (after the jump).

1. Rob La Gatta: When you started with ALM (at a time the Internet was still quite young), did you ever imagine the web would have had as profound an impact on your business as it has thus far?

William Pollak: All of my 1998 assumptions about the web have turned out to be wrong. Of course we all knew that we were witnessing the start of a new medium, and that certain parts of our predominantly print franchises would be jeopardized by the web. But the idea of user-generated content in all its many forms, and the revolution that that would bring to the dissemination of information, was far from being on my radar 10 years ago.

The idea that we newspaper and magazine publishers would originate our content electronically before or instead of putting it into our print publications was also not foreseen by most of us. And the idea that this new medium would not only eat into our historical revenue base but also open up dramatic new opportunities—things like webinars and new kinds of directories and blog networks—well, we didn’t see those coming 10 years ago either.

That being said, I should say that I’m also amazed at how little the web has impacted other parts of our business. For instance, powerful print brands remain powerful even in the electronic world, and have not really been supplanted by web upstarts. And law firms, by and large, continue to market themselves in much the same way as they have always marketed themselves.

Individual lawyers may have launched blogs and other initiatives to market their own expertise, but few firms have figured out how to use the web to extend their brands, generate leads and build their businesses. And, to give a third example, information may be more available for free via Google and the web than ever before, but West and Lexis remain healthy and vibrant businesses, just as they were 10 years ago. So we need to be careful not to overstate the impact of this admittedly powerful medium.

2. Rob La Gatta: Can you provide some insight on when ALM decided to begin incorporating RSS feeds onto, and what prompted this addition? Any information about the number of subscribers?

William Pollak: We began to incorporate RSS feeds around 5 years ago, as we learned the value of pushing our content out to other websites and RSS readers. Although we have no good measure of the number of RSS subscribers, or the traffic they generate back to our sites, our sense is that they have become an important source of traffic for us.

3. Rob La Gatta: What must a blogger do to get their blog included in your Blog Network?

William Pollak: Blogs are selected for our Blog Network in much the same way that outside columnists are chosen for our newspapers.

We look, first and foremost, at the quality of what’s being posted, the frequency and seriousness with which the blogger seems to take their blog, and our judgment of the value being potentially provided to our readers. Given our current list of blogs, we look for new offerings which will fill niches and add to our overall coverage. Right now we are particularly focused on finding blogs which cover the international business and practice of law, for example. And, of course, we look at the traffic which a new blog would likely bring to our network and to our advertisers—generally speaking, more traffic is better than less.

4. Rob La Gatta: What do you think is in store for ALM’s print publications, in a time so when many newspapers and magazines are fading away? Is ALM is equipped to weather the storm?

William Pollak: Our newspapers are thriving and, I suspect, will continue to do well in the years to come. We are in the process of reinventing what a legal newspaper should be, and increasingly recognize that they are less about “news” and have become much more important for the court and legal information which they provide. We continue to gather and publish, both in print and online, a wide array of decisions, decision summaries, verdicts, court rules, calendars and the like. And many readers tell us that print is still their preferred means of receiving that information even while more and more of it becomes available from us online.

Magazines are somewhat more challenged, since most lack the element of “must have” information that one finds in a legal newspaper. I believe our magazines need to do much more to build their brands online, and turn themselves from monthly providers of feature stories and surveys into daily providers of community news and information. That will not be an easy transition, but I think we are strong enough to see it through.

As you may know, ALM was acquired last summer by Incisive Media in London. Through that acquisition, we have gained access to dramatically improved web technology and a team of experienced business-to-business publishers who are well-ahead of us in their transition to online publishing. As we now upgrade to new content management tools and other capabilities, I think you will see that ALM has the resources needed to succeed in the electronic age.

5. Rob La Gatta:

In your eyes, what has been the most valuable impact the Internet has had upon the legal profession so far, and why?

William Pollak: The biggest impact of the web in the publishing industry has been to level the field separating journalists from readers.

In the pre-web era the paradigm was simple—editors figured out what was important, presented it to the reader, and the reader took it in. Now, there is much more back-and-forth, and much more user participation in the process of news gathering and analysis. Journalists may still be subject-matter experts on various topics, and their voice may be one which readers still want to hear. But the journalist now has to listen and react to users in a more direct way, and can no longer assume that their word will be the last heard on a given topic.

That’s an important and, I think, welcome change. It expands dramatically the amount of content available to include in—or link to—a given story. And I think it has the potential to build a much tighter bond between publishers and readers.

Interested in hearing more? Recent LexBlog Q & A posts:

Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.

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