DISCLAIMER: To clarify any questions that may arise over my use of language in this post, I used the words “scam” and “snake oil salesmen” with hyperbole in mind. The same goes for my references to English accents. (I recently returned to America after spending the better part of the past 1.5 years in the UK.) My blogs sit at the intersection of my opinion, current events, and humor. This blog was first published at StephenRobertMorse.TowKnight.com, but my words do not reflect the opinions of the Tow-Knight Center, the City University of New York, or anyone other than myself.
UPDATE: As was expected, Matter has aleady hit their goal of raising $50K (currently at $57K) with 28 days to go. I estimate that they will hit $500,000, but I still do not support the structure of their business, even if they have outlined some sort of a business plan in response to this post.
Learning from Mel Brooks’ The Producers, creating and executing a successful Kickstarter goes something like this:
Step 1: We find the best video production team we can afford.
Step 2: We find a big name techie spokesman and some guys with posh English accents to star in the trailer.
Step 3: We raise two million dollars…There’s a huge Kickstarter community out there!
Step 4: We hire the best tech writers we can to put out a few issues. And before you can say
Step 5: We close our publication, take our two million, and go to Rio.
I noticed a Tweet this morning that promoted a Kickstarter campaign for Matter, a long-form journalism effort that comes from an international group of journalists who previously wrote for mainstream publications that cover science/tech. While the trailer has an obscenely high production value and the project may have some biggish-in-this-insular-world names on screen, they never make a point to say where the money that unsuspecting victims donate is actually going.
(I know as well as the next guy that Americans are so easily duped by posh British accents of the Oxford/Cambridge variety that they would probably donate to these guys if they were selling a pile of sludge. Let’s just call them Snake Oil Salesmen 2.0.)
Yes, they’ve got Evan Doll (co-founder of Flipboard) and Cory Doctorow (co-founder of Boing Boing) promoting the project in their trailer, but what does this effort actually do to save journalism or create a sustainable business model for long-form reporting?
Investing in sustainable models that help save long-form journalism
On the other hand, my colleague Noah Rosenberg is developing a project that actually seeks to create a SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODEL for long-form journalism. And people like Evan Ratliff at The Atavist and the folks over at Byliner have already invested in creating these models too.
Matter claims: “Every week, we will publish a single piece of top-tier long-form journalism about big issues in technology and science.” This is NOT a sustainable business model. It means that a top quality writer who commands 75 cents per word will blow through this money very quickly. And it mentions nothing of the costs of editing and promoting the content, or the costs associated with research and travel to create these pieces about the aforementioned big issues.
And in their Hollywood-quality trailer pitch, they say “Nobody’s built to produce this stuff.” Actually, people are built to produce this stuff. Many of them. From Mother Jones to The New Yorker to The New York Times to the aforementioned startups to the publications that these dudes previously worked for…
Anyone who would ever consider financing these self-proclaimed top notch journalists (in return for T-shirts, cupcakes, and whatever other junk they are offering) to write cool stories about saving the planet, shouldn’t. Your money would be better invested in projects that can actually have long-term financial viability and longevity. Buy a subscription to one of the other legacy magazines already out there that produce way more content.
I don’t doubt that this project will hit $50K within a day or two. But it is a scam in that the costs of completing an operation like this have not been articulated to the people who may be making donations to the project. In my humble opinion, a solid trailer is the key to success on Kickstarter. And with 28 days left, these guys may raise $500,000. But I don’t like it one bit. Where will that money go?
To potential Kickstarter donors who hope to save journalism: Invest in business models that has been thought out and created to do more than produce one long-form article every week. This project is just something cute, like a meme-of-the-week. It lacks a thorough plan.
But who am I to tell people how to spend their money? I’ve just got to come up with something better…