’s Top 500 Writers

It’s either the most brilliant or the stupidest move ever.  And that applies either to American Lawyer Media or to the first 500 people dumb enough to take them up on it. Or maybe both.  Bob Ambrogi broke the news: will be inviting outside authors to become regular contributors to the site. When this network launches in November, it is expected to have at least 100 contributors. By the time of LegalTech in February, the editors hope to have as many as 500 contributors.

The contributors will not be paid but will be given access to a WordPress-based platform that will allow them to publish directly to the site. These contributors are expected to include individuals from all walks of the legal profession, including lawyers, law professors, legal marketers, legal recruiters and the like.

Sound familiar?  The concept made Arianna Huffington a fortune when AOL acquired Huff Post.  It wasn’t nearly as good for the writers that made Huff Post worth buying, who got squat from the deal.  But then, they agreed to write for free for the opportunity to make a name for themselves on the internet. In other words, they got what they bargained for, as did Arianna.  She just did a better job of it.

Keith Lee runs with this point at Associates Mind.

Woo! If there is one thing I really like to do, it’s work for free and have someone else make money off of my work. That sounds like the best. I mean, isn’t going to pay contributors, but “give them access to a WordPress platform!!”  I am blown away. That is beyond generous. Where else could you get access to WordPress?

I’d almost say contributors should pay for the privilege – actually, that’s a much better idea! Why should only make money off of advertising and referrals? They could also make money by charging people for “access” to be a contributor. They’re leaving money on the table! Someone didn’t do their due diligence on this one.

Of course, there is no shortage of lawyers who would love to be able to claim they write for a major legal publisher, just as every other lawyer these days writes a self-published book that sells a grand total of three copies just so they can claim they’re an author and “wrote the book” on their practice area.

In the age of hype, this is far more solid hype than most have to offer.  It’s certainly better than paying a few thou to some schemer get a phony award, or make claims of vast experience in the eight months of practicing law before you got canned, even though that’s good enough to get you a video on Bloomberg Law. Ironically, the same internet expert has a column in the National Law Journal, an ALM publication. It’s not a good column, but it’s there.

Unlike Keith, I can’t complain about the deal being offered to the 100 to 500 “contributors.”  If they want to give the milk away for free, that’s their business.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they get 1000 lawyers offering up their services. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more. There is no shortage of lawyers being told to get their name out there, write, show their brilliance and, ?????, PROFIT!

But there is a concern, a very real concern, that ALM offering its pixels to bottom feeders will violate the primary rule of the blawgosphere: don’t make people stupider.  Having a cool URL Law dot com, is a powerful thing.  In the digital age, it’s got inherent credibility, and confers that cred upon anyone whose content appears on its pages.  Even though I’ve never been a fan of ALM’s online content, and don’t think it reflects the depth of thought one might hope ALM would offer, its shallow content has captured eyeballs and pagerank.  Google something and ALM is up there.

Other people, by which I mean non-lawyers, use the internet to learn how to deal with their legal questions, problems and issues.  They’ve been told that they can manage their legal lives via Google, by a plethora of lawprofs and their futurist gurus.  Certainly, they know what they’re talking about, because they’re law professors, and everyone knows that law professors know stuff. So they Google away, find content on the internet, and then rob a bank, secure in the knowledge that some post somewhere said they can get away with it if they declare themselves sovereign. Okay, unfair example, but you get the point.

Now it’s possible that those first 100 contributors, eager to bask in the glory of ALM’s credibility and desirous of being able to promote themselves as a writer for such a prestigious publisher, will provide content which, though given for free, will be accurate, thoughtful and deep.  It’s possible.

But given that the quality of ALM’s content from the writers it pays is, well, shallow and, on occasion, mindlessly dumb, I’m not hopeful that it’s going to do better with freebies.

For quite some time, I’ve been hearing from people who inform me that they read something on the internet so they know what they’re talking about.  After all, if someone wrote it, it must be true. Despite knowing that they sell keyboards to anyone, there remains a bone in people’s head that says that everything one finds on Google is true, especially if it suits one’s confirmation bias or serves one’s goals.  Beating back this belief can be very hard, sometimes impossible, because people don’t want to learn that they can’t really avoid their obligation to obey laws and pay taxes because flags have “maritime” fringes on them.

Will ALM’s new plan feed into the stupid?  It will give it free fodder, which may serve its purpose because ALM is a business, selling subscriptions and marketing, and is not in the business of not making people stupider. But will it serve to make the internet, the blawgosphere, a better place?  Does anybody at ALM care?


2 comments on “’s Top 500 Writers

  1. Alli G

    Has the HuffPo/Forbes model been proven financially successful? I’m not clear that it has, but I might have missed the HuffPo/Forbes column on it. I rarely read them anymore because I have to do so much research to independently verify facts and assertions. (And I’m not just being snide–I’m serious about the last part.)

    Also–I think this is the first time I have commented on your blog since you made the move to WordPress. I see I now have to complete a math problem to prove I’m a person. Are you trying to challenge the assumption that lawyers can’t do math?

    1. SHG Post author

      Hi Alli. It’s certainly proven financially successful for Arianna, but I’m not sure it scales down to ALM. And yes, a simple math question has proven to be something of a problem for some regular commenters. Heh.

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