By Kevin O'Keefe

When will the cord be cut in legal publishing?

fullsizeoutput_cc9

Law firms, law schools, public relations firms and even the courts use third party publishing platforms — and, by doing so, most hand over control of their content to third party publishers. 

Most of the publishing platforms the creators of the content pay for while some creators give their content to a third party publisher in exchange for distribution and notoriety.

Examples include:

  • Legal scholarship published on third party solutions with many of those third party publishers then selling access  to such content by subscription.
  • Articles and blog posts that creators pay to have distributed by distribution services, some of which index the content in the distributor’s names, versus the creator’s name.
  • Articles written for third-party publishers and news sites in exchange for the publicity and notoriety.
  • Courts enabling large legal publishers to publish the court’s case law which third party publishers then sell effective access of such law back to people. 

This made sense before digital publishing. How else could one get an article published and distributed without a third party publisher? How else could courts get the law published?

Digital publishing puts a printing press and distribution systems in the hands of any publisher in the law (not third party publishers). At some cost of course. But not at the cost of losing ownership or control of their works.

Techdirt’s Karl Bode writes today that ESPN has lost $14 million due to cord cutting in sports media licensing and distribution because of the market’s change to digital.

The penalty for ESPN’s failure to adapt has been severe. Disney’s recent earnings revealed that ESPN lost another 2 million regular viewers this year. And while ESPN still has 86 million regular viewers, that’s a 14 million regular viewer dip from the 100 million regular viewers it enjoyed in 2011. Those 14 million lost users generated around $1.44 billion per year for the “worldwide leader in sports,” which is still saddled with the severe costs of set redesigns and sports licensing contracts the company struck while it was busy not seeing the massive locomotive of market change bearing down upon it.

Market shifting caused some of the problem, but ESPN management’s refusal to listen was the real problem.

ESPN execs often tried to shoot the messengers instead of listening to the message. And once the damage was done, ESPN decided to fire hundreds of longstanding sports journalists and support personnel…

Common sense dictates that sooner or later, legal content creators (the true publishers) are going to take control of their digital publishing. They are going to cut the cord. 

Sure, content distributors, third-party publishers and news sites will make use of the content, by license (could be perpetual and, in some cases, be paid for) but the content will be published first on a domain and on a system the creator controls.

It’s a losing proposition for today’s large legal publishers to ignore change and count on the law being slow to change and people and organizations being afraid to challenge them.

Again, many cable and broadcast industry executives are under the mistaken impression they get to choose when to adapt to the markets shifting around them. In reality they only have two choices. One, get out ahead of the shift toward streaming video by giving consumers what they actually want, even if that means losing some money in the short term. Or, refuse to adapt, double down on the belief that traditional cable TV is a cash cow that will never die, and watch as smaller, more flexible outfits continue to steal your massive subscriber base out from beneath your feet.

Lest legal publishers think the cord can’t be cut in legal, look at just one legal publication, LexisNexis’ Martindale-Hubbell. A cash cow that relied on law firms paying them into the hundreds of thousands dollars, each, per year, to have their content published and distributed. 

From Martindalle’s peak to being sold off for near nothing with everyone losing their jobs took only five years.

When will legal publishing see its cord cutting – en masse? 

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

Subscribe
Subscribe to Real Lawyers Have Blogs via Email or RSS
Please enter a valid email address and click the button.
Recent Posts
More content can be found in the Search section.