Building a Successful Media Company in 12 Months

An Interview with Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper

We hopped on Clubhouse with Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper, founders of the writer collective Every, for a wide-ranging chat about building their media company, working within a writer collective, and the current state of online writing.

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When someone asks what Every is, what do you tell them?

Dan: We describe Every as a bundle of business-focused newsletters. What we ultimately want to do is cover every topic in business—every job role, every subject area, and every industry. We collect all of our newsletters into a single offering where readers pay one price and they get access to everything that we make. 

It's a little bit different from other types of media companies in a few ways: 

1. We don't break news or do scoops. We focus specifically on analysis and commentary.
2. We write for the practitioner to help make them better at their jobs. We write in a way that’s entertaining but also helps readers in their business lives. 
3. We're structured as a writer’s collective, which is a new model for a media company. A writer collective is somewhere between working at the New York Times and starting an independent Substack publication.

How has your thinking on bundling evolved since publishing Bundle Magic almost a year ago?

Nathan: When Dan and I bundled our newsletters Divinations and Superorganizers, we weren't concerned about how to split revenue because we were just starting the company. But when we began doing deals with other writers, we had to figure out a fair way to split it up.

It's a tricky and extremely hard problem to solve. The way we think about it is like running a thought experiment. If newsletter A were to leave the bundle, how many people would churn? Then you can figure out how much revenue you would lose and you can use that as a proxy for how much newsletter A’s writer should be paid. Because that's the value that they're providing. 

Our three principles when it comes to revenue splits for collective writers are that they’re fair, transparent, and simple.

You’ve grown from two newsletters to thirteen in less than a year. How do you think about what writers to bring on next?

Dan: Generally, what we're looking for is, do they have expertise in a certain subject area? Do they have a voice? Can they write well? And then do they have an audience? 

If they have an audience, we can work with them to build a newsletter around them.

And then if they don't have an audience, but they do have the voice and the subject matter expertise, we can also work with them. We can bring the audience on day one. If they're doing great work, we can help them get seen.

We are constrained by finding people who we feel are going to do exceptional work. There aren’t many people who are doing great business practitioner writing right now. There are some, but we want to make that as big as possible. Helping emerging writers who have a lot of potential get better is a competency that we're building over time.

What do most people or investors undervalue or overlook with media?

Nathan: We set out to raise a really small amount of money, mostly from angel investors. We didn't expect them to be very interested in a media company. But we pitched it to people we knew were broadly interested in consumer subscriptions as a category. 

It's interesting to think about whether media is a good investment or not. Many media companies work on advertising models, which means they can’t make that much money per user. And it costs money to create content. Our brand architecture approach enables us to scale more efficiently than a lot of other media companies. Each brand within our collective is specific to its audience. That makes it potentially interesting as a venture bet.

Why did you decide to move off of Substack and create your own technology?

Nathan: Every media company needs to have some sort of technology that delivers their media to people. And the question is whether they build it in-house or if they use something that's off the shelf.

For us, once we started thinking through how the bundle would work as it scales we realized nothing works exactly the way we want it to. You can technically customize WordPress or Ghost or whatever a little bit, but it's a pain and they’re not really built for that. It felt like it was going to be the right move for us, in the long run, to have granular control. 

Before we built our own solution, we started by first trying to understand the most important questions. What does it take to get someone to subscribe? What does it take to write something that people like? What does it take to work with other writers and be good editors and partners?

When should writers consider starting a bundle?

Dan: We think bundles are good for readers because they don't have to subscribe to a lot of individual subscriptions. They can pay one price and get access to a bunch of different writers, which we think is a better experience. It’s also better for writers in a particular kind of position.

Nathan: There's always a trade-off when you're a part of a bundle—you have to coordinate with other people and you have to be writing on a somewhat similar topic. But the advantage is that when you do well, your coworker does well too. There's a strength in numbers to build distribution and create a flywheel.

But you're likely going to make less money and you're going to have less control. So it depends on what you're optimizing for.

What are some complexities with bundles that most people might not be aware of?

Dan: The biggest ones are figuring out who owns what and how you get paid. How do you figure out who's bringing in the subscribers and how do you split the revenue?

Expectations around publishing cadence can be tricky too. If one person is publishing four times a week and one person is publishing once a week, you may run into trouble with splitting revenue, for example. 

Also, it's a creative partnership and creative partnerships are risky. Not just financially, but emotionally. Finding people who are like-minded and have similar goals is important.

It’s like starting a company. Many of the same rules apply.

Nathan: One of the biggest things we've learned is that financial incentives aren’t everything. As we added more newsletters, we realized we needed to figure out our bottlenecks. Do our writers not have enough ideas that they feel are worth writing about? That's a potentially solvable problem. Once we isolate it, do they start posts, but then can't get them to the finish line? That's a different type of problem with a different kind of solution.

We started building management structures that are like support services to help writers get over the hill. Because it's an extremely hard hill.

When I was at Substack you wouldn't believe the drop-off. Very few Substack publications that had published one post ever published a second post.

For us, we’re investing our time and our money. We’re literally invested in the success of our writers, so we do everything we can to make sure they’re going to succeed. 

Where do you think long-form, high-quality writing fits into the media landscape over the next few years?

Dan: Long-form writing has been around for a really long time. And there have been many revolutionary new technologies to replace long-form writing over the last one-hundred years or so. Radio, TV, the Internet, phones, etc. We're probably reading less long-form writing today than we were a hundred years ago because there are more options.

But if you want to deeply understand or engage with an idea, long-form reading is the best way to do that. And it’s something that you can’t replicate quite the same with anything else. We’ve found, for people who are interested in ideas and learning, or are ambitious about their career, they’re willing to pay for long-form writing. 

There's always going to be demand for really, really good writing. 

What are some unexpected benefits to having more writers and collaborators as part of the collective?

Dan: Editing and getting feedback from colleagues is important. Our editor Rachel says there are two ways to really hone a piece of writing: put it in a drawer and come back to it a week later or get a fresh brain to look at it. Because we run on a schedule, having someone else look at your work and getting their immediate reaction is invaluable.

Nathan: It matters whose brain it is and the trust that you have in that brain too.

Dan: It's like a form of play where we're all getting together to uncover what is intriguing us about the world. Because being able to be able to identify what's interesting is the first step to being able to write about it. And being part of a collective to do that is amazing. I get to wake up and talk to smart, interesting people every day.

What’s a question that you haven’t been asked that you’d love to talk more about?

Nathan: People don’t ask about the emotional side of creative endeavors enough. 

As I mentioned earlier, I saw that funnel at Substack where people drop off after publishing one newsletter. There’s a level of aspiration there. Thinking about what stands in the way of publishing more is interesting from a human and emotional perspective.

If people spent 50% more time in therapy or something similar, the world would be a different place. There would be a lot more success in the world.

Dan: We're saying this from a place of having gone to couples therapy every week for the last twelve months. Everyone should do it; it's amazing. People tend to be afraid of doing couples therapy versus coaching, because they think a coach will know more about business. Sometimes that's true, but in our experience so far, the details of the business situations are not that important. It's all relational. 

This is another cool thing about being part of a collective and having creative partners. In a lot of ways, it’s a mirror. I know a lot more about who I am and how I react in different situations now. 

How long do you spend on a typical post? What is the process to construct an idea and put a piece of writing together?

Dan: It depends on the post and where you are in your process as a writer. For example, if you're someone who tends to be a perfectionist, you should make the mistake of publishing too early. But if you're someone that publishes a lot and you don't think the quality is high enough, that’s when it makes sense to take your time and focus on quality.

We're at a point where enough people see what we write that we tend to want to spend more time on it to make it higher quality. We care about making these pieces thoughtful and making sure they represent the best of what we can do within the constraints of the time we have.

Nathan: The minimum a writer spends is seven or eight hours on getting to a first draft. And then there are another seven or eight hours of edits over the course of a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

One of the things I'm most excited about as we scale is taking on bigger projects. Some bigger risks with potentially bigger rewards.

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You can follow Nathan on Twitter here and Dan on Twitter here, or check out Every here.

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