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Legal publishers and journalists need to rethink business with rise of law blogs

I follow developments in the journalism business because there is so much to be learned here as to future of legal blogging. Not only as to legal blogs themselves, but also how blogs will intersect with legal journalism and legal publishing going forward.

The Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton (@jbentonshared a wonderful piece this morning by technology writer Ben Thompson (@monkbent) on the need for journalists to fundamentally rethink their business.

— More and more journalism will be small endeavors, often with only a single writer. The writer will have a narrow focus and be an expert in the field they cover. Distribution will be free (a website), and most marketing will be done through social channels. The main cost will be the writer’s salary.

— Monetization will come from dedicated readers around the world through a freemium model; primary content will be free, with increased access to further discussions, additional writing, data, the author, etc. available for-pay.

— A small number of dedicated news organizations focused on hard news (including the “Baghdad bureau”) will survive after a difficult transition to a business model primarily focused on subscriptions, with premium advertising as a secondary line of revenue. This is the opposite of the traditional model, where advertising is the primary source of revenue, with subscriptions secondary.

This feels so spot on as to legal blogs and the future of legal publishing.

  • Insight and commentary on the law (secondary law) will be a small endeavor. A single lawyer or small group of lawyers will blog on a narrow niche they practice in. The tighter the niche the better. Distribution will be free and open. Social publishing via sharing by others across social media will play as big a role as publishing on the blog itself. More general treatises and journals that have served as secondary law will decline in importance.
  • Monetization for legal blogs will come from the fact that law blogs are free and open. Lawyers will enhance their reputations and build relationships like never before. Becoming a “go to” lawyer by virtue of bogging enables lawyers to realize sizable earnings. There will be no need to monetize legal commentary behind subscription based paywalls of large legal publishers.
  • Legal news and reporting, with a focus on investigative reporting, will likely be done by smaller streamlined news organizations. LexisNexis’ Law360 and an evolving will play a roll. You’ll also see original reporting from blogs and legal networks such as LexBlog’s LXBN.

As Thompson says, this transition will be a painful one:

[T]he number of traditional journalists and newspapers will decrease dramatically. Moreover, those that succeed will need to have a much expanded skillset from journalists of yore, including basic website management, self-promotion, business skills, speaking ability, etc. (teaching these skills is an important opportunity for journalism schools). What is sure to be most frightening — or exciting, depending on your outlook — is that the market will, for the first time in the history of news, be the ultimate arbiter of what writers are worthwhile.

It’ll take time, but we’re going to see legal blogs replace treatises, journals, and reviews. Subscriptions being paid for such secondary law will go away as we move to the free and open commentary of blogs.

Legal journalists and reporters will begin to operate in environments such as Mashable, Business Insider, and Vox Media. They’ll be competing with law bloggers. Unfortunately, they are also apt to find themselves competing with recent journalism grads who are tech savvy, experienced in social media, and willing to work for less.

Blogs, in addition to standing in their own right, could be leveraged by legal publishers. There are business models arising out of user generated content, leveraged correctly, along with solutions empowering bloggers.

Interesting days ahead. Who knew legal blogging would parallel transitions in journalism and publishing.

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