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Substack and Legal Publishing


Can the new email newsletter publishing platform, Substack make inroads into the legal publishing arena?

When the New York Time’s Ben Smith reports this morning that Danny Lavery, the publisher of a blog and newsletter, just signed a two year, $430,000 contract with Substack and that his wife, Grace Lavery, a professor at UC-Berkeley, who edits another publication, signed on for a $125,000 advance, you have to wonder.

Substack’s model is to disrupt the model of traditional journalism, where reporters and editors are woefully underpaid today -if the have jobs at all.

Substack is direct to consumer media. Substack pays advances to a couple dozen writers with the remaining receiving email subscription moneys, of which Substack receives ten percent.

For the ten percent, Substack is working on adding elements of centralized support, such as password retrieval and limited legal and editing help.

Just as LexBlog is working to develop communities of bloggers for collaboration and cross promotion, Substack says their community of writers may receive some cross-promotion.

Substack is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, a high profile venture capital firm that, among other things, is looking to disrupt the publishing and media industry.

Smith is right that a shift in power toward individuals and direct payments has broad implications. And it’s working on a limited basis.

“…My informal survey of Substack writers found that most are fond of the company and plan to stick around for now — but not out of the sense of loyalty, shared mission or deep identification that used to run through media companies.

Similar disruption has been taking place in legal publishing for years.

Tens of thousands of legal bloggers, in the U.S. alone, are publishing much more, in more detail and on more subjects than traditional legal publishers.

Rather than publish for traditional legal publishers who then sell the content, legal professionals are publishing on their own platform for business development and status.

Though blogging and Substack bring similar disruption, it’s doubtful lawyers, and in particular, blogging lawyers will turn to substack..

One, blogging has established itself as the leading means for lawyers to self-publish to the net. The power has already shifted as a result.

Two, blogs deliver each post to email subscribers already. Shifting to another platform is not needed.

Three, blogs are cited by other publications – other blogs, legal publications, legal briefs and the courts.

And four, where writers and reporters may be motivated by the loss of a job for establishing a publication (newsletter) as a means of supporting a family, most lawyers are not. Though blogs significantly bump a lawyers earnings, indirectly.

Substack will, of course, attract prominent legal writers.

David Lat’s Original Jurisdiction, running on Substack, is an excellent publication. I could easily see Lat developing a legal publication on Substack generating a decent amount from subscriptions. I believe my current subscription is free.

Substack will be interesting to watch, just as we have watched Medium, Ghost (smaller open source writing platform), and Facebook for publishing, but blogging on WordPress, with accompanying blogger communities, is likely to dictate the future of legal publishing.

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