National Public Radio recently issued a directive that its on-air staff should pull back on promoting podcasts. NPR podcasts. The risk that NPR is losing its live listeners to its own on-demand offerings must raise fears that it will, in turn, also face the loss of its traditional donor base. Digital technologies and the on-demand economy threaten even the delivery of news and information and they are impacting the delivery of other types of information-based services, like legal services. As in the delivery of the news, technology is making legal services cheaper to provide and easier to access.
But no one can really question whether listening to a podcast at one’s leisure is any different from listening to a live radio broadcast. The only difference is the convenience: i.e., no one has to orchestrate one’s schedule and listening habits to hear that favorite program when it is offered live. We are no longer a nation that gathers around the radio or the television at the same time every day of the week to hear the news, The Lone Ranger, or the Ed Sullivan show. This means one can both hear one’s favorite programming and likely explore new offerings, making life a little richer. For example, I am a long-time fan of WNYC’s Brian Lehrer but couldn’t tell you (a) the last time I listened to his late morning show live because it falls during prime work hours, or (b) whether I EVER have done so. Similarly, there are other programs that I only access as podcasts and only ever have, like Slate’s amazing lineup, including the Culture Gabfest and the Political Gabfest, or Dan Carlin’s mind blowing Hardcore History (which I learned about from the Political Gabfest!).
But can a “digital, on-demand” lawyer substitute for the “real thing”? The shift to a digital, on-demand world like we are seeing in other contexts (ride sharing, home sharing) clearly poses a threat to traditional providers of information, like news outlets and lawyers. NPR is trying to figure out how to navigate that change. The legal profession is in the midst of this change as well and will have to consider ways to adapt to it while ensuring the provision of high quality and meaningful access to justice.
I explore some of these issues in depth in my recent piece: Uber for Lawyers.