Another idea for the intellectual space

The goals are to:

  • Reward old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism. Find the next James Fallows, the next Chris Arnade, the next Sam Quinones.
  • Reward people who serialize major projects on line, rather than going through the book process
  • Reward people who engage in high-level discourse, fighting the trend toward what Tyler calls “Twitter economics”
  • Discover, promote, and compensate talented commentators. Find the next Scott Alexander, the next Matt Yglesias, the next Coleman Hughes

Think of this idea as a cross between a multi-author Substack and Tyler’s Emergent Ventures. Think of a producer/editor (me, for example) having a stable of 100 contributors, each of whom contributes on average one essay or podcast about every 20 days, for a total across all contributors of about 5 a day. All contributions would sit behind a single paywall, as in a newspaper subscription. Perhaps it could run on Substack, with the editor handling the administration involved in managing and compensating the contributors.

Each day, a subscriber would receive a newsletter with 200-word summaries of each of the daily contributions, along with a link to each contribution. Assuming 100,000 subscribers each paying $100 a year, that would allow for average compensation of $100,000 a year to each contributor (less after paying for overhead expenses, such as payments to Substack if we were to use that platform).

At first, we would have to get some established contributors to bring in subscribers. These contributors would have to be willing to be paid less than the value of the subscriber base they pull in, so that there would be funds for the new talents.

The editor’s job is to filter contributors, not each individual contribution. As a contributor, you produce your essay or your podcast without interference. The editor acts as an adviser. I would be willing to be an editor without monetary compensation, but as the project scales up there would be paid editors.

I do not have the connections to be able to find enough contributors to pull this off myself. But I think I could with the help of others (Reihan Salam? Tyler?)

It is a project that could scale up with more editors. It is hard to know in advance whether revenue is maximized with one giant bundle or with different bundles based on topics or channels or user-defined packages (it’s like the Cable TV pricing problem in that sense).

At sufficient scale, this project could invade the space of major news media, the advertising-based models of news provided by Google/Twitter/Facebook, and university presses.