And so it begins. My erstwhile TechCrunch colleague, Alexia Tstosis has just published a post all about what I’m up to with Not Safe For Work Corporation. She even convinced me to do a Skype interview to fill in some gaps.
Truth be told, I’ve never truly understood the point of “stealth mode”. The idea that somehow not telling people what your new company is doing — in the interests, presumably, of protecting your idea from imitators — is at best short-sighted and at worst counter-productive.
As you’ll know if you’ve been following the ridiculous inside beltway drama of the past few weeks, my timing for leaving TechCrunch and returning to start-up land wasn’t entirely my own. The raw concept for NSFWCorp had been floating around in my head for months — maybe over a year — but it remained a raw concept; a series of strong opinions on what the media landscape needed, and a list of things that annoyed me about a certain subset of the publishing industry. And then all shit broke loose. And suddenly it was time to make this thing happen.
So for the past two or three weeks I’ve been working like a man possessed: flying across the country and back to meet scores of experts in dozens of disciplines. I’ve filled half a dozen notebooks, I’ve made my ear red and sore through phone calls, I’ve secured investment and incorporated a company and retained a lawyer and opened a corporate bank account and done all kinds of other grown up things. But above all, I’ve turned “I” into “We”: there are other people working on this thing now. Brilliant, inspiring people who know all kinds of things about which I’m clueless but which will be vital to the success of NSFW. The beginnings, in fact, of The Best Team In The World. (I’ll introduce you to some of them very soon).
Between us we’ve taken the thousand nebulous half-formed blobs of idea-mercury sloshing around in my brain, merged them with similar blogs in their own brains and corralled them into one magnificent, glistening ball. The Core Concept of NSFW.
And here it is…
In a nut, Not Safe For Work Corporation is a publishing company. In a slightly bigger nut, it’s a magazine publishing company. And in a nut that’s even bigger still, it’s a magazine publishing company specializing in creating wonderful publications for the Kindle, iPad and other tablets and e-reader devices.
A couple of months back, I wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Now Can We All Agree That The “High Quality Web Content” Experiment Has Failed?” In it, I talked about the numerous ways in which ad-supported, free-to-access online content has failed readers by elevating PR-driven SEO garbage high above real honest-to-goodness journalism.
But now, thanks to the Kindle, the iPad, the Nook et al, there is another way. Readers on those devices have proved themselves ready, willing and able to pay to read high quality writing. They pay to read the New Yorker on their iPad, they pay to read Byliner‘s long-form journalism on their Kindles. Partly this willingness comes from the fact that tablets and e-readers make reading enjoyable again, but an equal part of the economic viability of those platforms is the fact that there has never been an assumption that content on them would be free. And when writers and publishers are being paid, they do their best work.
But still, for all the potential that e-readers and tablets offer, what we’ve seen is a succession of existing media brands – Wired, Vanity Fair, the Economist – translating their print product on to tablets often with only a few DVD extras to differentiate them from their dead tree parents. The apps themselves are wonderful, but there’s nothing original or fresh about their content. The only significant publication designed from the ground up for tablets is Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Daily’. But again, the lack of originality is remarkable, and sad — especially given how many talented writers and editors are involved. The Daily is a naked attempt to ensure the future of the traditional newspaper format by creating an iPad newspaper that reads just like any one of Newscorp’s countless print newspapers. Hell, the Daily even tries to break news. (Sorry Rupert, but the future of breaking news remains on free sites, on the Internet.)
For months I’ve been watching the baby steps of tablet-based magazine publishing and imagining what it would look like if a true start-up came along and decided to invent a brand new publication, entirely from scratch. What would that publication cover? Who would its audience be? What form would it take? What frequency? What price? And once all of those questions have been answered, what would the startup’s second title be? And the third?
Not Safe For Work Corporation answers those questions.
Our first publication, launching in January 2012 will be ‘The New Gambit’, a weekly news magazine that’s maybe best described as “the Economist as written by the Daily Show”. In other words, it’ll tell you everything you need to know (and maybe even think) about the week’s events, but it’ll make you laugh your ass off while it’s doing it.
It’ll be available on Kindle, iPad, Nook and every other ereader/tablet device we can publish on. None of the content will be published on the web — to read it, you’ll need to subscribe. It’ll cost 99c an issue, or around $50 per year. Subscribers will also get a bunch of other cool stuff that I’m not ready to talk about quite yet. And if you don’t laugh out loud at least once in every issue, we’ll give you your money back.
So, that’s the skeleton of the idea. But we’ve already started to put meat on those bones. For one thing, as a former struggling freelancer, I’m determined that we’ll respect professional writing, and worship professional writers. Our team will be a mix or staff writers and full time, but even one-off contributors will be paid well, and paid promptly.
We’re working to create a place — both physical and philosophical — where great writers can do their best work. Where reporters (and there will be plenty of real reporting) know that their editors have their back, and where funny people can finally get paid for doing what they’re good at. On a slightly more serious note, our advisory board includes world renowned experts in journalistic ethics who will help us build a new framework for the future of digital reporting. PR freebies and SEO have absolutely no place at NSFW. We’ll decide what’s fit to publish and we’ll pay our way. Our readers, not advertisers, are our customers.
There a limitless amount more to be said about all of this, and I’ll say more about it in due course here on the blog. But first and most pressingly, being out of stealth mode means I’m able to be a lot more open about the kind of people we’re hoping will join this exciting adventure.
First and foremost, if you’re blisteringly funny and able to write topical jokes to order, drop what you’re doing and email me. Likewise if you’re a brilliant but under-appreciated editor or a first rate publisher looking for a new challenge. We’re hiring at all points on the editorial and publishing chain.
Beyond that, consider this an open audition: if any of the above has caused a synapse to fire — if you have ideas for what you’d like to see in your dream ereader/tablet magazine, if you have strong feelings on the future of journalism, or if you just want to tell us what you think of the name ‘The New Gambit’ send me an email. I or someone one degree of separation from me will do my/their best to reply within 24 hours or so. But please be patient — things are more crazy even than this rapid-fire, under-edited post suggests.
One other thing: we are, as I explained here, based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many of the positions we’re hiring for — particularly the senior ones — will be based here. But if you’re unable to relocate, that need not be a deal breaker. If you’re the funniest man in Belgium, want to hear from you. If you’re the best damn publisher on the East Coast then I’ll fly to see you, or put you on a plane to Vegas for a chat. Again, send me an email and we’ll figure something out.
We’re aiming to have a pilot issue ready by the end of the year, and to begin a regular publishing schedule very early in 2012 so things are operating at top speed. I’m really excited by what we’re building here. Hopefully you are too. Without a hint of hyperbole, it’s going to be the best fucking thing ever.
Image credit: Ari Moore (Licensed under Creative Commons)