People with good ideas already have access to the largest self-assembled audiences in the history of publishing. Is it time for them to start their own content-driven businesses?
Increasingly, I think the answer is “yes”. Content marketers offer some leading-edge signals of this trend, as do digital publishers like Vox Media. Speaking frankly, it is often easier to start fresh than it is to adapt a legacy publishing business.
When Chris Hughes, the latest in a long history of wealthy owners of The New Republic, announced plans to make his magazine the basis for a “digital media company”, his staff rejected the proposed changes and the way he handled them.
Most left the magazine. “If he wanted to create a digital media company”, the sentiment ran, “Why didn’t he just start his own?” Of course, the question says more about the magazine than it does about Chris Hughes.
The New Republic meltdown has been dissected by a wide range of media voices, with much of the coverage focused on what Chris Hughes may have done wrong. LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman offers a different perspective, one that reminded me of the four questions I ask publishing startups:
- Are you looking to write or communicate about something that matters to you? If not, stop here. It’s not worth trying.
- Can you find ways to connect it to audiences who may not know they need you (yet)? Your content has to be relevant, unique and impactful. It doesn’t work if you’re seen as offering only one or two of these characteristics. And, you need to exploit available platforms to help with discovery.
- Are you willing (and able) to create more value than you capture? That is, are you willing to do what you can to help your audience, rather than simply advance your own cause? Do you care about outcomes for your readership?
- Are you in this for the long term? If you’re focused on an audience and committed to shared outcomes, change takes time (and money). Make sure you have both.
Outside of the owner, many at The New Republic seemed to focus on their established audience, not the one that knew little or nothing of the 100-year-old magazine.
No doubt the former guard felt it published content that is “relevant, unique and impactful”. But they apparently never asked themselves, “If that’s true, why have we been losing money for 100 years?”