Legal publishers play an important role in the legal market. They have moved from print, to digital content, to assembling an array of services. How will changing technology affect the publishers? 

A large legal publisher recently asked me to address this question. This was not a research project; rather, it was based on my own market observations (plus a few conversations with friends in large law firms). Here are some comments on my Legal Publishers in 2007 and Beyond presentation…

Business Context: The market for primary and secondary legal content is big but well penetrated. To maintain growth, large publishers now offer a wider range of content, software, and services (often by acquisition). This strategy lets them address a bigger portion of the legal value chain, gaining a greater share of law firm wallet.

Content Delivery: New technology alters information delivery; in particular, portals, taxonomies, search, RSS, and mobile devices drive personalized delivery. In the past, lawyers visited multiple sources. Today, information comes to them on a custom basis. As systems incorporate more business logic, the chances increase that the right lawyers see the right information at the right time. Changes in information create some market tensions: (1) Pricing and licensing are open (if not contentious) issues. (2) Law firms want delivery via multiple channels, on flexible license terms, from multiple sources, via the platform of their choice but publishers sometimes want to control delivery.

Content Creation: Blogs, podcasts, wikis, XML, and other new (web 2.0) technologies will affect content creation more than delivery. Law firms have always generated a lot of content. Now, via blogs and RSS, they can distribute it more widely at low cost (see, e.g., the list of large firm blogs and RSS feeds). Government content is increasingly available over the web, with some agencies adding value over time (e.g., the SEC will add XBRML tags to EDGAR). Separately, low cost hardware and software platforms let niche content providers thrive. The growth of law firms, the government, and niche players as content providers could threaten publishers.

Opportunities: Publishers can take advantage of new technologies to expand their delivery channels and customer base. With multiple new sources, customers may want a single, aggregated, vetted, and tagged source. And publishers also have deep expertise (human editors) that can continue to add value in new ways.

Summary: Technology is a two-edged sword for publishers. The likely outcome is that new technology propels publisher growth, albeit with some bumps along the way.