This came out of nowhere.
Yesterday morning, one of our favorite legal voices suddenly shifted domains. The Volokh Conspiracy went mainstream media and was consumed by a corporate giant -- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Washington Post. Will the libertarians suddenly become liberal? Will we be able to continue to read their rants without forking over cash money?
Relax everybody. It seems, other than a domain name redirect, we predict it'll be business as usual.
Reasonable minds could debate the effect of corporate ownership on a blog's voice. After all, if the mothership is paying the bills, are you ever going to bite the hand that feeds you? If WaPo or Amazon gets into a massive legal dispute, can you really remain objective?
Eugene Volokh says yes:
"We will also retain full editorial control over what we write. And this full editorial control will be made easy by the facts that we have (1) day jobs, (2) continued ownership of our trademark and the volokh.com domain, and (3) plenty of happy experience blogging on our own, should the need arise to return to that." (emphasis original)
Volokh also emphasizes that even with the additional advertising revenue, "Our hourly rate for our blogging time will remain pretty pathetic. We're not in it for the money; if we were, we'd be writing briefs, not blog posts."
It should be noted that we too are part of a mainstream media corporate behemoth -- Thomson Reuters. Does it change the way we write? It's hard to say, but personally, I take solace in the fact that I'm a minnow in the Reuters ocean.
Volokh may not have that luxury. Then again, no matter what he says, he's a legal heavyweight and law professor. That should buy at least some editorial freedom.
This is the biggest issue for me personally. Put up a paywall? Unless the paywall is easily avoided, my traffic is probably headed elsewhere. (My disposable income is reserved for Taylor Swift albums, sorry.)
Fortunately, as Volokh notes, WaPo has a "rather permeable paywall." For the next six months, all VC content is free. After that, the first 10 pages of WaPo content is free, as is content accessed via VC's (cough cough, "award-winning") Twitter feed.
Plus, if you have a .edu or .gov email address, apparently WaPo gives you free access to all of their content, Volokh included.
This should make little to no difference whatsoever. They'll get some more ad revenue, and a wider audience. Readers will have to deal with hurdling the occasional paywall. But hang around, let's see if this is the future of legal blogging, or just a nice opportunity for an already established voice in the field.
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