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Executive Report - By Thomas Baekdal - December 2017

A Guide to Journalists Thinking about Starting an Individual Media Company

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Johannes Klingebiel
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One of the emerging media trends is that many journalists are thinking about starting their own individual media companies, to create their own channels and get monetized directly.

I see this more and more on Twitter. Here, for instance, is just one of many examples...

Rossalyn Warren is a journalist who has written for the Guardian, VICE, NYT, and Washington Post. She is thinking perhaps there is another way to make a living, rather than selling articles on a freelance basis to existing media companies.

Throughout 2017, I have also received a lot of emails about this. The reason people ask me, is because I'm one of the people who actually made this work. Back in 2010, I started Baekdal Plus, my subscription based part of this site (which you are reading now), where I provide my readers with guidance, trends, and strategic insights about the media industry... for $9/month.

While I also do media consulting (mostly for very large, traditional media companies), Baekdal Plus alone is able to sustain me, and this is how I make my living.

So, in this article, I will give you my advice on creating a sustainable individual media company.

This article has several sections. We will talk about the business models and the financial perspective and all the challenges we have with that. And then we are going to talk about you, and the strategy of getting people to connect with you as an individual.

And this is not a quick read. This report is 46 pages long, because I wanted to give you a very in-depth perspective on this.

So, if you are thinking about creating your own media channel, grab yourself a cup of coffee, and let's get going.

Four massively different types of media

One of the fundamental aspects of the media industry today is that we are seeing a split in how it is defined. In the old days, media was defined as local and national newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, and the definition of each was pretty straight forward.

It was a format-first approach, where the format also defined your editorial focus. There was a distinctive editorial difference between being a newspaper reporter, a journalist working for a magazine, and someone creating shows for TV.

Today, the internet has completely eradicated this way of defining media. This is partly because the internet is format agnostic (it doesn't care whether something is text or video); partly because the distribution is frictionless (remember, a monthly magazine was monthly because of the distribution cost); and partly because the way way people behave online is very different.

The result is that the internet has redefined the media around moments and intents.

Specifically, the world of media is now defined like this:

Don't focus too much on the labels, this is only supposed to give you a type of 'macro' view. Focus instead on how different they are.

This is something incredibly important to understand if you want to create your own channel, and especially if you want to convince people to support you financially.

Forget about formats. Forget about how the media used to be defined, and don't focus on whether you are a magazine, newspaper, or something else. None of those things make any sense anymore.

Instead, focus on creating something for the 'right moment' with the 'right intent', because this is going to define the way you are going to convince people to support you.

Let me give you a simple example.

When you look at old media, you'll see that most articles are created to fill people's 'empty time'. That is, it's content written for people who are just... well... bored.

Here, for instance, is Cosmopolitan:

Ask yourself: When do people read this?

You see what I mean?

This is low-intent content created for the micro-moments. It has no actual value, and the only reason it gets any traffic is because people have a lot of these moments every single day.

In the past, people were willing to pay for this, because we didn't have the internet, so people would buy Cosmopolitan to just have something random to read. But today, because of the internet and the dominance of Facebook, asking people to pay for this is almost impossible.

This is why magazines like Cosmopolitan have yet to come up with a digital business model that actually works, and are instead just trying to optimize for exposure at scale (aka, what Facebook is doing). But in doing so, they are also eliminating themselves from the market for anything else.

The more you focus on low-intent micro-moments, the harder it is to get people to connect with you for more valuable reasons.

This is so important to understand because, if you want to convince people to support you directly, you won't be able to scale this way, and so you have to focus on an entirely different path.

In other words, no-matter what you choose to focus on, it has to be the opposite of Cosmopolitan. Or, more specifically, it has to be the opposite of a low-intent micro-moment.

So what can this be?

Well, there are thousands of different ways this can be done, but fundamentally, you have these three options:

High-intent micro-moment

You can create content for a high-intent micro-moment. This is when you are giving people something of truly remarkable value in a very condensed and efficient way, in just a short amount of time.

For instance, as a journalist, you could create a daily email that would summarize all the important things people need to know for the day ahead.

In other words, you would write one email per day to your subscribers, where you put in the maximum effort to pick out, distill, and optimize only the news that is hyper-relevant for your audiencethat day.

It would be future-focused (focused on the day ahead rather than what happened yesterday), and it would be hyper-targeted to an exceptionally specific type of audience.

It would provide this news in a way that people could read as insights, rather than just as a random news report. It would be fact- and data-based, meaning that each micro-story could be 100% trusted by your readers, because you have demonstrated that every single word has been checked for accuracy.

And this is what you would send to your subscribers every morning.

You see what I mean? One very specific, exceptionally valuable, high-intent email, per day.

Would people pay for this?

Yes - if you execute well, deliver what you promise, make it valuable enough, and stay true to your target audience.

In fact, I wrote a whole article about this in: "The Trend of Creating High-Value Snackable Content" (29 pages).

Notice how creating a media channel like this is very different from how traditional companies do things. This is not about volume. This is not general-purpose news. This is not about creating something for a mass-market.

It is hyper-specific, hyper-efficient content where you optimize people's time. In other words, your selling point is that you act more like a personal assistant.

Imagine you are a wealthy individual, but you are tired of all the low-intent content you find every day online. So, to fix this, you decide to hire your own journalist to write a personal newspaper, just for you.

Think about how awesome that would be.

But also think about how this would change the focus of that journalism. For instance, you would never accept that your personal journalist wrote a deceptive headline. You would never accept a story that hadn't been researched and checked. You would demand that each story had gone through an incredibly strict process of selection, in order to make sure it was worth your time.

You would demand an entirely different level of relevancy. And since this journalist was hired by you to deliver news directly to you, trust (both ways) is paramount. Because the second your personal journalist violates the trust you have in them, you are going to fire them.

Imagine if this was the high-intent micro-moment product you had to offer people. An entirely different form of news service, where scale and traffic have no meaning because you are always making it for an audience of one.

Now, obviously, it's not profitable to just have one reader, but think about this as a concept. Can you create a news service that is specific enough to be relevant on an individual level? Maybe not to a specific person, but within a specific focus area? And one where you put in the value, focus, effort, and trust, so that it feels like it's a personal news service?

Would people pay for that? Would they choose to either subscribe to your daily briefing, or support you on Patreon?

Yes, of course they will.

There is a massive market out there for news that isn't optimized for a generalized 'low-intent audience'. But to meet this market, you have to change your approach.

Low-intent macro-moment

The second way to get people to pay is to focus on low-intent macro-moments.

This is a very different type of media to what we just talked about. Here, the audience isn't looking for anything specific (although you still have to be relevant), but are instead looking to have a prolonged valuable time.

In the past, the way publishers solved this was with magazines. We would create a magazine with 150 pages, filled with one- and two-page articles about all types of things that people would then sit down with and relax for, perhaps 20 minutes at a time.

Since the focus was a bit random, people didn't have any real intent towards any of the articles, but instead focused on the magazine as a whole.

Today, this behavior is still very much the same, but the way it plays out is very different. The low-intent snacking of casually flipping through 150 pages has been replaced by Facebook and has turned into a low-intent micro-moment, and instead we now see single productions designed to take up the full amount of time.

A perfect example of this is YouTube. Most of the really successful YouTubers will create 10-20 minute videos, focusing on creating a singlelow-intent macro-moment for people to enjoy.

And the examples of this are many.

Here, for instance, is Mark Brown, who runs a very popular channel discussing game design and game mechanics.


Here, Natalie Dennis from Google is explaining how computers hear sounds, and how that is now expanding beyond speech:


Here Donal Skehan and Gemma Stafford demonstrate how to make delicious homemade digestive biscuits:


And here, Robert Llewellyn talks about conductive charging for electric cars:


...and the list goes on and on.

The common factor with all of these is that they are all low-intent macro-moments.

And again, we see how each of these has obvious business potentials for direct support and donations. For instance, Robert Llewellyn's Fully Charged is supported through Patreon, which they set up about a year ago.

It's still early in the process, but he has now reached 2,505 supporters generating $9,977 per month. This doesn't sound like much if you are a big media company, but if you are just one person, that's $120,000 in total annual revenue.

Granted, Fully Charged is actually run by three people, so they need it to grow some more before this becomes truly sustainable. But, this is after only one year on Patreon, and this is on top of the advertising revenue from YouTube.

So, why does this work?

It works because people don't just have a single type of media moment, and this fills the need for content that is worth watching when you actually want to watch something.

It's the same reason Netflix is successful, or why you watch Game of Thrones on HBO.

They are not high-intent because you're not trying to solve a critical need, but people do need about 4 hours of down-time every day, and this fills that space.

The key to making people pay for it, though, is to do one of two things. Either you create content that is so interesting that people want you to keep making it, or you create something that serves a larger purpose that people want to support.

In other words, it's purpose-based.

In Robert Llewellyn's case, it's a combination of both. First, the videos he makes are very insightful and extremely well made, and because of this people are willing to support him. It's a wonderful channel to follow.

But Robert has also positioned himself as an advocate for the renewable movement, so people don't just pay because of the content, but also because they feel like they are helping to push this renewable movement forward.

So, this works because you have a combination of time worth spending, content worth watching, and a cause worth supporting.

So, if you, as a journalist, want to be a part of this market, you have to do the same thing. Don't just create random content. Instead, laser focus your efforts on providing people something that is worth following and worth supporting.

This can either be seriously good coverage of something important in people's lives, that they can't really get from other sources, or it can be a deeper journalistic focus where you are trying to change something in society.

The point here, though, is to make sure you create macro-moments. Optimizing this for Facebook would kill it immediately.

High-intent macro-moment

Finally, we have the high-intent macro-moments. This is a special type of focus because these moments exist in a space where you have this exceptionally high-end need that we talked about earlier, but it's also based on getting people to spend a prolonged time with you.

It is pretty much the hardest thing you can do.

What I do here on this site with Baekdal Plus, for instance, is in this space. This article you are reading now is designed to be a high-intent macro-moment. It's high-intent because it's laser focused on helping a very specific type of audience (you) with answers and guidance for a very specific type of problem. And it's a macro-moment, because this article is 46 pages long and will take you about 20-30 minutes to read (and even longer if you watch all the embedded videos).

Baekdal Plus is just one example, but we see the same thing with many types of media.

For instance, over the past several years, the fitness space has been transformed by this type of moment. While in the past, publishers would publish fitness articles the same way they would publish anything else, today we see a growing demand for training. So, instead of reading an article about fitness, you now subscribe to an online fitness site.

This, again, is a high-intent (you want to learn/train) macro-moment (because you are using this content while doing so).

We see the same with the growing number of learning channels; with people providing business intelligence; and with people writing reports for an audience with a specific profession and need.

Skift is another perfect example of this high-intent macro-moment market. Their business model is Skift Research, where they provide people with 20 reports per year about important trends in the travel industry.

Three markets, extreme focus

The three markets I mentioned above apply to every publisher of any size, but they're even more important if you are trying to create a channel on your own.

That's because, while it's easy for big sites like Netflix to get people to subscribe because there is always something to watch, imagine if someone asked you to subscribe to just their videos.

Offering people content from a single focus requires an entirely different level of purchasing decision.

So, for an individual creating your own channel and asking people to support you financially doing so, you need to consider each of these three markets and then go to the absolute extreme in terms of value, focus, niche, and expertise offered... because that is the only way you will ever get people to pay.

The focus you need to put into this as an individual is a thousand times more intense than the focus a regular publisher would have to put into it. And the requirement for 'return' by your readers is just as high.

This also means that there are a lot of things that just don't work. Specifically, any editorial focus where there isn't a clear personal benefit for your audience won't work for individual creators.

For journalists this creates a very big challenge, because journalists are trained to be random. For instance, after the closing of the Gothamist and DNAinfo, the local news sites in New York, I noticed some journalists started talking about creating individual media sites instead.

The problem is that while local news as a concept is very important, it often doesn't have any real impact on people's personal lives.

This is a big reason why local newspapers are in so much trouble. Part of it is because of changes in the market as a whole, but just as importantly, local news isn't as valuable as most journalists think.

Let me give an example of the sort of thing I often come across when I hear about journalists wanting to start their own local news channels (or when startups try to create local crowdsource platforms).

On November 4th, we heard the sad news that the local Baltimore City Paper was being closed by Tronc, so a bunch of the old journalists decided to create a new newspaper:

The reason why the old local newspaper failed was because it wasn't profitable. So what do you think this new newspaper is going to be about?

The answer seems to be more of the same. They will cover a wide ranging list of topics, just like the old newspaper. They will hold local government to account; they will be monetized by random advertising; they will focus on local news and entertainment... and come out in print.

Just like the old newspaper.

So, I tweeted this:

This is sadly a very common pattern I see when journalists talk about starting a media company. You're not doing anything new. You just keep focusing on the same mass-market, a little bit of everything, randomized coverage of 'giving people more'.

This doesn't work.

You can't get people to support you if you just create news the old way. You need to completely redefine your focus, and make that focus many times more valuable.

So what problem are you actually solving? What specific service do you provide to your readers? And what moment is that optimized for?

You have to be exceptionally clear on this, both for yourself so that you have a purpose to work with, and for your readers when you try to convince them to support your efforts.

Mind you, we also see that things failed to work at the other end of the scale. Sometimes your focus can be too much about you, and that doesn't work either.

This a common problem that I often see with YouTubers who have created channels that are more about their own personal enjoyment, than actual entertainment and information for others.

In fact, throughout this article, I have referred to this concept as convincing people to 'support you', but this is entirely the wrong way to think about it.

You see, the reason people decide to pay you is almost never because they want to support YOU, but is almost always because they want to pay you to support THEM.

This is a critical thing to understand.

It's the same here on this site. Sure, I love doing what I do, and it's brilliant that I can do it the way I'm doing it. But nobody is subscribing to Baekdal Plus because they want to support my personal work/lifestyle.

The reason people are subscribing to Baekdal Plus is because my reports help them be smarter about future media trends. My reports help their publications and their careers.

In other words, the reason people pay is because I am selling them a product. And just like any other product, its success is defined entirely by how useful or valuable that is to customers, not how enjoyable it is for you as a journalist.

So, a key element of getting people to pay you is to always remember that people pay because you are supposed to support them!

They are never supporting you!

This leads us to this...

Create a (hero) product

One of the best ways of refining not just your focus, but also how you are going to convince others to pay you for it, is to think about it as a product. This is true for all media, but it's even more important for individual journalists wanting to convince people.

For instance, if you are planning to put up a Patreon page, you can't just post "Hey, I'm doing some journalism... pay me". Instead, you need to present your product, and convince people it's worth buying into.

So how do you do this?

What you need is a combination of three things: Uniqueness, that 'one thing' (a restricted focus), and a demonstration of the passion and care you feel for what you are offering.

For instance, when Marques Brownlee reached 5 million subscribers, he did a live Q&A with his followers. And one of them asked him: "Do you think it's too late to start a tech review channel from zero subs?"

His answer was this:

The thing about starting a new channel in anything right now is that you need a niche, so you can just start a generic tech channel that does the same that everyone else does. And you need a way to be unique in some way.

So bring your own perspective, your own unique style, your own unique theme. Maybe talk about a certain type of technology, or you do hands-on.. you dive in deep into a certain rabbit hole that nobody else is talking about.

And starting from zero subscribers is no problem there because you are filling a gap that is not already filled. I think I see a lot of people starting YouTube channels now that are trying to do the same thing that is already being done. You are not really... You kind of are adding value to people, but if people can get the same thing somewhere else, they will.

In other words, don't just create random content like everyone else is already doing.

In another video, with Peter Mckinnon and Casey Neistat, they too gave people this advice to make it work.


As Casey said.

The easiest path to make a living on YouTube is to do one thing really well. Meaning, you can't be a jack-of-all trades. You have to sorta focus on one thing. I think Peter is a perfect example. Peter, on YouTube, represents like really high-quality, amazing cinematography, imagery, photography, and because of that he's able to represent himself in that narrow space. [...] Peter is able to work with companies and attract companies like that because he has that one thing that he is [doing] very, very well. If you think of some of the early, some of the early makeup girls on YouTube, they were experts when it came to makeup, whether it was wearing it, putting it on, using it, what worked, what didn't work. Because of that they were able to attract the right brands and build a meaningful career that way.

This is absolutely the key to building success in the digital world. If you try to just do traditional journalism where you provide people with a little bit of everything ... You. Will. Fail!

So, what is your one thing that you are going to do really, really well? What is that one focus?

I'm not saying that only one thing is going to support you 100%. But your primary editorial value, and your main selling point for when you are trying to get people to support you, must be defined by that one thing.

An equally important point is your passion.

In the digital world, passion is such a critical element for success, because it's the passion that tells your readers whether something is worth listening to or not.

Anyone can do journalism, but if you want to stand out, you have to show that you care about the topic more than it just being a job. And, if you don't express passion in your work, why would people support you on Patreon?

I want to give you an example of this as well.

You know when you are having a discussion with someone and they smile? The way you can tell whether that is a genuine smile or just a polite (or fake) smile is to look at their eyes.

Are they smiling with their eyes?

You see what I mean?

You can tell what people really think and how passionate they are about something by looking at their eyes, because, while it's easy to fake a smile with your mouth, your eyes tell us what you really think.

It's the same for the content you make. When I read your articles, when I hear you talk about them, when I follow you on Twitter, when I listen to your podcast, or watch a video you have made... does it make me feel that your eyes are smiling? ...Or does it just feel like you put out some content?

I don't mean 'smiling' as in whether it's positive and jovial in its presentation, but 'smiling' as in: Does it express the feeling of care, effort and passion about the work you did?

A great example is to look at people like Laura Brown, the Editor in Chief of InStyle.


Every single thing she does just exudes passion. And, in the digital world, this is such a critical element.

If you want to create a new individual media company, and you create a Patreon page explaining that one thing you will offer me in a really great way, how you express your passion is what actually turns people into supporters.

This is how you define your product.

You take all these elements and your personality, and then you match that to one of the business models I mentioned in the beginning (the moments and intents). And then you sketch out and create a product page where you explain exactly what it is that you are going to offer people.

And if at any point this starts to feel like it's not that good a sale, you need to keep working on it. Because the worst thing you can do is just to say, "here is a bit more content".

Be clear about what it is that you are selling.

What format?

Before we move on to the money part, let me just very quickly talk about formats.

One of the questions I often get is "what format should I focus on? Should I do video or something else?"

The answer to this is: It entirely depends on your focus.

For instance, if your focus is on the high-intent micro-moment that I talked about earlier, the best format is email newsletters (by far).

If it is high-end strategic insight and reports (for high-intent macro-moments), articles rule the day.

If you are trying to give people something enjoyable to spend time with when they are doing other things, podcasts have proven to be a very successful format (and growing strongly).

If you just want to create something entertaining, or where visually demonstrating something to people is important, video is better for that than anything else.

So, there is no single answer to this.

While many people talk about 'pivoting to video', this is not really a trend that we see outside the world of Facebook.

And, you probably need more than one format anyway. You need one format to keep connecting with people (like a newsletter) and another format for the actual content.

So, define your value and your focus first, and only then figure out which format(s) would fit that product the most.


We now come to the biggest question of all. What about the money? ...Or specifically, what price should you set, and what challenges will you face?

As for price, the answer is that there is no answer.

This is one of the most frustrating things about starting an individual media company. But the reality is that the 'right price' is the price you cannot set.

Let me give you a simple example:

Here on Baekdal Plus, I write 25 'Plus' reports per year about the trends and strategies in the media industry. Each report is about 35 pages long, and provides deep insights into different media trends.

Skift, which I mentioned earlier, is publishing 20 reports per year about trends and strategies for travel executives. In other words, we are kind of doing the same thing, although for executives in different industries.

So, you would think that the price would also be the same...but it isn't.

With Baekdal Plus, I charge $9/month (or $99/year) and I have learned that this is pretty much the maximum I can do. I have tried raising my prices, but it just doesn't work.

Meanwhile, Skift price their reports at $1,795 per year.

Okay, granted, Skift also offers analyst sessions and data sheets, and sometimes their reports are based on larger studies, but that's quite a difference in price.

This is the reality of creating individual media companies. There is a psychological barrier in people's minds that, if you are just one person, you are not worth paying big prices.

Even if the value and level of insight you are offering are the same, when you are just one person, it's incredibly hard to convince people to pay you real money.

For me, this is even more weird, because I also do strategic consulting where I create custom reports for publishers tailored to their specific situations and needs, and here I charge between $1,750 to $30,000 (depending on the scope).

So, it's not like people aren't willing to pay for the value I provide, it's just that when you do online in the form of articles, you run into this pricing barrier as an individual.

Another problem that you will often come across is that you can't price things right because people don't know what value you provide when they first convert.

I see this all the time.

When people first come across you and see what you have to offer, they don't fully realize how valuable it is going to be for them. So, they are not willing to pay $25/month, but they are willing to pay $5/month.

But then a year later, when people have learned how valuable your work is to them, they would be willing to pay $25.

The problem is that, at this point, you can't raise the price because, even though people know that you are worth more to them, nobody wants to pay more than they already are.

So, again, we are stuck at the wrong price.

I have been struggling with this for 7 years now, and it's one of the most frustrating things about being an individual media creator.

So, the price that you are most likely able to set is $5 to $10 per month for most people. It will be very difficult to set that any higher. But this is also completely the wrong price to set.

We see the same thing when we look at successful pricing levels on Patreon.

Take a channel like Fully Charged, which I mentioned earlier. This is their revenue breakdown:

Notice how most of their supporters only pay $2, but in terms of revenue, the people paying $10 actually generate the largest share of the revenue.

This is a very familiar picture I see across most Patreon accounts. And this is the kind of thing you can expect as well.

Here is another example. This is CPG Grey's Patreon account.

Please note that this revenue is 'per video', which is another interesting thing. Don't just do things per month because this is how the world used to work. Optimize your model for your product.

But look at the breakdown of revenue here.

Again, most people pay the minimum amount (which, in this case, is just one dollar), but it's not the best share of revenue. In this case, the best revenue is either to get people to pay $5... or to get them to pay $50.

In other words, we have fans and super fans.

Also notice that $3 is missing the mark. It's second worst in terms of revenue.

Yet another example is Canadaland.

This might be a much better example for journalists to look at. It's a podcast, but it's much more focused on what journalists would define as news. So what is their revenue breakdown?

Again, we see some pretty interesting patterns. The top revenue prices are $7 and $15, which is great, with $4 and $10 not far behind. The $5 is a bit of an outlier because it's actually sold out. So people who ended up paying $4 or $7 might have paid $5 instead if they could.

Finally, let me show you Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell, the famous channel for science type explanatory videos (a brilliant channel).

What we see here is a slightly different pattern. Here, the highest revenue rate is also the minimum value, followed by a much smaller group of super fans at $40.

This is happening because Kurzgesagt has long had the problem that it isn't very good at demonstrating the value it creates for others.

Don't get me wrong, Kurzgesagt is massively successful for a Patreon account and their videos are absolutely amazing. But because their focus is science and it's presented in a kind of disconnected way from the presenter, it has been difficult for them to convince people to pay a higher rate.

This links back to what I wrote earlier, in that people mostly pay because you support them. But, in this case, they are just creating good content, so they don't quite convert people at a higher level.

Size is... small

Another reason I wanted to point out Kurzgesagt was that they are actually the fifth largest Patreon account with about 10,000 supporters in total, generating an annual revenue of about $435,000 (the largest is Chapo Trap House with 20,000 supporters).

For single individuals, or even a small group of people, this is more than enough to give you a comfortable living. But most people won't reach this level. It's far more common that people earn a lot less.

We see exactly the same thing on YouTube. Sure, there are a few YouTubers who make a lot of money (mostly through brand partnerships), but most only make enough to have a normal life.

This is another reality of individual media companies. Just like there is a barrier to how high you can price things, there is also a barrier to how much you earn in total.

As a single person, that barrier is around half a million dollars at the most, but for many it's more like 30,000-90,000. That doesn't sound like much, and it isn't.

If you want to get past that, you either need to create a much more focused product where you are selling people more than just content, or you need to scale that up and create a multi-person company so that you can do the things I mentioned earlier that Skift has achieved.

But, for many people this isn't a problem. Most people who start a Patreon page don't do it because they hope to become the next Condé Nast. They do it because they just like doing it. So, the challenge is not to scale, but to grow it to a high enough level so that you earn a decent living.

Many of the people I know who are doing this value the freedom that this gives them, and how rewarding it makes their life feel. Even if you offered to invest in them to make it bigger, they would probably turn you down.

But this limit is an important thing to know. Make sure that you are doing this for the right reasons. If you want to create a media company, you need to take a different path (involving investments).


We have talked about the business models, the focus, the product, and how the money is coming in. Now let's talk about losing money.

One of the absolute scariest things for an individual creator is churn. Churn, of course, is the rate of people you lose each month.

Churn is a completely natural thing and it happens to everyone all the time. You can never not have churn, but there is an important difference as to why churn happens.

There are two types of churn that you need to be aware of.


The first type is the normal type of churn where people simply decide to cancel their accounts. This can happen for many different reasons, but deliberate cancellations (when people choose to click the cancel button) are a sign that you have failed to deliver.

The first thing you need to look for is how quickly this happens on average. For instance, if it happens very quickly (within a few months), it's a pretty clear sign that you are not delivering what you promised.

The only way to fix this is to step up your game. You want people to be surprised by how good you are after they subscribe, so that you confirm to them that they made the right decision to support you. You don't want to end up disappointing people with content that didn't really feel that special.

If, however, your churn happens later in the process, after people have been subscribing for a long time, this is a sign that you are not renewing yourself fast enough.

In other words, sameness will absolutely kill you.

This is a problem I often see when journalists start smaller local news channels. At first, it's fairly easy to convince people to support you, because you are doing something new. But then, after a few months when things settle down, people start to get bored with it and slowly move on to other things.

So, when you are designing your focus, make sure that it's a moving target so that you keep being new and fresh in your focus.

For instance, on this site, my focus is future media trends, which keep changing. So I'm not going to run out of new things to talk about. It's the same with Skift, where they are talking about the continual changes in the travel industry.

We also see this with channels such as Robert Llewellyn's Fully Charged, which focuses on the future of renewable energy. This is an ongoing change, so you are never going to run out of value to create.

So, a critical element of reducing long-term churn is to focus on a moving target, and define yourself as the guide that helps people move with you.

Failed payments

The second form of churn is failed payments.

For instance, every single month, I have a number of subscribers who lose their subscription because of this.

What is happening here is that, when PayPal tried to renew the subscription, the credit card didn't go through (often because people got a new card and forgot to update it).

And this can be a massive source of churn.

On this site, it's about 60-70% of the people I lose each month.

I have been lucky enough to have more new subscribers coming in than what is going out, so overall I still end up with more subscribers at the end, but that's a lot of churn due to a technical problem with a credit card.

So how big a problem is this really? Well, let me show you.

Here is a graph from one of the top Patreon accounts. The yellow line is the number of supporters they have, and the green line is their revenue.

Notice how each month they lose a big chunk of their audience, so much in fact that the growth in new supporters still resulted in negative growth for most of the year.

This is all because of failed payments.

You will also note that after more than six months of slow decline due to this type of churn, they finally got their act together and started pushing people to support them again, and now they have started growing again.

The same thing will happen to you, because this happens to everyone. On average (as I have seen), you will lose about 3% of your supporters/subscribers, each month, to failed payments.

Just to put this into perspective:

If you start out the year with 1,000 supporters, unless you do something to continually attract new ones, you will end up with only 715 supporters by the end of the year... just because people's credit cards didn't work.

So, churn is brutal, and it forces you to never stop selling yourself or the content that you offer. You have to constantly renew yourself. You have to constantly focus on making people like what you do, and you have to continually push people to convert.

Creating an individual media company isn't something you do if you just want to have a less stressful type of job.

It's absolutely brutal.

Don't get me wrong. It's also worth it. Part of the fun is the challenge of building up something that works. It will make you pull out your hair, but it's also the best thing ever!

It takes time!

Finally, let's talk about time. How long does it take to get something like this to work?

I'm going to tell you something scary.

If we are talking about organic growth, where your success is based almost entirely on you doing something amazing... this takes 5 years!

I'm not kidding.

If you look at most of the successful YouTubers, a few have had very quick success, like Peter McKinnon, who managed to get a million people following his channel and enough brand partnerships to make a living in just 9 months.

But this is an exception to the norm. Instead, most people you hear about have spent years building up their channels before they reach a point where they could make it work.

On this site, for instance, it took five years.

If you look at a channel like Robert Llewellyn's Fully Charged, he spent 6 years meticulously publishing amazing videos until he realized that his niche was too small for the scale needed to be monetized by YouTube alone, at which point he turned to Patreon (and now it's starting to work).

But that's 7 years in total.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of things you can do to speed this up, but all of them involve doing something more than just growing organically.

For instance, if you are trying to create a new local news channel, writing a personal letter from the editor to everyone in your local community would be a good start to let people know that you are doing this. I don't mean just something you put on your website - actually send it out to everyone.

In fact, advertising generally is a good way to boost this initial growth, but remember, you can't tell people you are just offering them more content. Your product has to be highly specific, where you tell people exactly what that one thing that people need is that you are creating.

Collaborations can also work. This is something that has very successfully boosted many YouTubers over the years.

I won't go into the details of this now, because I wrote a big article about this two years ago. You can read it here: "Tapping Into The Network Effect" (19 pages).

Other things that can help you grow faster are to continually refine your product and challenge your own thinking about how you make it.

There are lots of journalists who think the best way to create media is in an article, but for your focus, is that really the best way? Are you truly matching people's moment?

But no matter what you do, be prepared for the long haul. Make sure that when you start, you are able to sustain yourself financially during the initial growth face (which, again, usually takes years).

I will end this with a final note, which is this:

Just do it!

I believe starting your own media channel is the most stressful thing you can ever do, which GapingVoid illustrated better than anyone in "My life as an entrepreneur"... but it's also the most rewarding thing you can do.

And from a trend perspective, a larger and larger share of the future world of media will be done not by massive companies creating random packages of news, but by niche verticals and people with a passion.

Every day I see new examples of people doing amazing things in this space. It won't make you rich. It won't turn you into the next Condé Nast, because for that you need to bring in investors and build much larger teams, but it will make you love getting up in the morning.

Remember, though, that none of this is new. Bloggers have been doing this for 15 years and YouTubers for more than 5 years, and both of these groups have their own challenges and concerns.

But the trend for individually supported media is just getting started, and it will be a lot more common in the future.

So, be unique, be focused, solve something people need, make it worth paying for, and... have fun!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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