My debate about Matter with Felix Salmon got some pretty good traction on the internet, as it was blogged about by Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, Matthew Yglesias at Slate, KPCC, Wired, Techdirt, Poynter, and more. I missed all of this as these responses appeared during my scramble to get my act together prior to heading down to Austin for SXSW. I figured now would be a great opportunity to sum up the points that I made, because my 45 minute debate was reduced to 4.5 minutes on ReutersTV and Felix encouraged me to respond at length:
Stephen Robert Morse’s list of reasons why Matter has an unsustainable business model and likely won’t succeed
1. A plethora of science and tech magazines (Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, The New Scientist, Scientific American, etc.) as well as non exclusively science magazines (Mother Jones, The Atlantic, etc.) already provide free long-form content that covers science and tech. When these organizations do charge subscription fees, it is not on a per article basis. Therefore, consumers achieve way higher value than the one article per week that Matter plans to offer for 99 cents.
2. The costs of producing and editing a high quality piece are generally in the $6,000 range. This estimate includes $5,000 to pay the reporter and cover the reporters costs, plus $1,000 to pay an editor for a week’s worth of work. This doesn’t include any legal reviews, technical considerations, or marketing budgets which also have to be included in the final production costs.
3. As part of their Kickstarter campaign, the Matter team already sold the exclusive right to advertise as part of their corporate level sponsorship for seven months (at the time of this writing). There proposition that there would be no influence from advertisers is now nonsense. In my opinion, the Matter team already lied by implying that their publication would be advertisement free based on quotes from their video critiquing advertising beside articles and writing in their pitch: “We’re building MATTER for readers, not advertisers.”
4. Matter now has over 1,000 people on their “Editorial Board.” Is that supposed to be a good thing? Who will the editorial board be permitted to choose from to write the articles? It’s likely that the authors and their cronies will be decide the slate of candidates whom the crowdsourced public can vote on to write stories to begin with.
5. When I originally wrote my piece, Matter had not even hit its $50K goal. Now, it is at $120,000, which should in theory give it more money than just producing 8 issues. One of my original criticisms was the publication would run out of money after only two months. Now, I presume they can produce approximately 20 issues, or 6 months worth of content, which is still nothing too impressive. As they say in their trailer, “Producing high quality long-form journalism is expensive.”
6. Having a great trailer for a Kickstarter project with big names endorsing a non-existent product is disingenuous as they create a false hope. (And it makes the web-celebrities lack all future credibility in my book.) If the journalists responsible for this project were so great, they would already be household names after years of science and tech reporting, but they are not.
7. Long-form journalism specialist publication The Atavist has become profitable not by selling their journalism, but by having an ancillary revenue stream: The Atavist makes approximately 50% of their revenues by licensing their priority software to others.