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January 11, 2011
Is Content the Only New Constraint for "Digital-First" Legal Publishers' Growth?
Once a legal publishing company has built out its web technology and digital publishing infrastructure, is content the constraint on the company's growth? ALM's CEO Bill Pollak says "yes." In a recent post about ALM's transformation from a traditional print-based publisher to a "digital-first" media and information provider Pollack writes,
[T]he new constraint [on ALM's growth] will be content. We're going to need to create, curate, license and otherwise gain access to the content we'll need for our rapidly growing family of websites and data products. Some of that content may be "news" in the traditional sense, but I suspect only a small part. More will be substantive, must-have information that our audience values either on its own or when integrated with other content that makes it more valuable. Content is the new constraint, since without it we cannot launch all the new products we have in our plans for the next several years. And that's a very big transformation for this company.
Certainly content is a new constraint for digital-first legal publishers who do not have large inventories of digital content. Less so for our very large legal vendors who have plenty of digital content for re-purposing into new products and services. It certainly is cost-efficient to re-mix a stored inventory of digital content and to the extent those new products and services find a market, it is an excellent business model for revenue generation.
In his post, Pollack talks about ALM re-inventing the legal treatise.
With the digitization of our book content and the launch of Law Journal Press Online, we have transformed a book into software, and a purchaser into a subscriber. We're now solidly in the e-book business.
Law Journal Press Online offers access via the web and mobile to the complete text of its print editions with updates added automatically; annual flat rate pricing for law firms and libraries for acquired treatises with all updates included at no additional charges; discounted group accounts or site licenses, and research functionality that includes the ability to highlight, bookmark, annotate, organize, and print or export research. See the Company's Nov. 2010 press release, ALM’s Law Journal Press Online Delivers Next Generation Research Services for Lawyers and Law Librarians. (Anyone remember when one of our very expensive large legal vendors referred to law librarians in the title of recent press release?)
In principle, Law Journal Press Online is an interesting twist on Law eBooks. It certainly is more innovative than current eBooks offered by West and CCH, for example. Automatically updated treatises with group accounts or site licenses as offered by Law Journal Press Online is more institutional buyer-friendly, at least for in-house users at law firms and corporate legal departments. Perhaps, also in the legal academy and, when IP-authenticated, also in the public sector to some extent. In practice. however, I'm clueless about Law Journal Press Online. Our little county law library still has a couple of Law Journal Press titles in print but most of the Company's titles aren't appropriate for our user population, meaning I haven't seen any of the eBook editions yet so I don't know whether they offer one feature I expect our major vendors will eventually offer in their eBooks, namely embedded links in text to cited resources. In principle, I lean toward liking AlM's delivery system. See also, Cambridge Books Online, a Law eBooks Model for WEXIS? But... .
As Philip Ruppel, president of McGraw-Hill Professional, has stated "[i]nteractivity has arrived and will change the nature of the e-book." Quoting from eBook Trends That Will Change the Future of Publishing Sooner Rather Than Later. See also, For Book Publishers, the eBook Nirvana May Finally Arrive in 2011. Ruppel was refering to many facets of interactivity but my hunch is as the law eBook format evolves connectivity to Lexis, West, CCH and BNA databases will be high up on the product development agenda. Here is where a company like ALM will be at a competititve disadvantage until LAW.GOV's bulk distribution of authenticated primary resources is deployed for current and back files, ah, unless or when Bloomberg Law gets into an acquisitive mood.
Hello, Bloomberg Law, buy BNA and Law Journal Press and you will be on the road to providing a total package, one that includes premium secondary content for the "digital first" legal vendor you are trying to become. Then leave the authors and editorial staffs of both companies alone to do their thing so as not to commoditize the content of their legal analysis and commentary. BNA only has about 1% of worldwide market share, Law Journal Press, even less; small change for you folks. Might be time to get serious. The combined sales catalogs of both companies aligns well with the market you are going after. But I digress... .
The business model to watch in the eBook marketplace according to Ruppel is the contextual upsell of in-book apps. This too shall come in law eBook publishing as part of the enhanced eBook trend. Think regulatory compliance, for example. Back in the dark ages of the early 1990s, CCH had plenty of content and expertise but was so technology-constrained that it could not even wrap its corporate head around professional-grade tax preparation software integrated with its market-leading tax content. Today, think, for example, dovetailing something like SOX compliance with updated SEC primary resources and secondary content as a contentual upsell of in-book apps. Think also practice and procedure before the IRS and in Tax Court, integrated wills, trusts and probate in state-specific enhanced eBooks, etc.. This will happen.
Content may be a constraint, content may be "software," but it is not the only new constraint. The creative destruction that encompasses entrepreneurial risk-taking among our major legal vendors who have been conducting business as usual for far too long is the more fundamental new constraint. The enhanced eBook will become a platform for the delivery of speciality intelligent legal information systems to individual practitioners. Who is preparing to be the first to launch?
End note. A big hat tip to Jason Wilson for calling attention to ALM CEO Bill Pollak's post in his highly recommended Exactly what do you mean by “curating”? post. [JH]
I think that this is really a good way to show that the website still exists, as this would help to show the presence of the business.
Posted by: email@example.com | Jan 11, 2011 7:24:07 AM