Nov 25, 2020

On projects, newsletters, products, and formats

Last summer I wrote a proposal which included some of the structuring and medium-term thinking and plans for Sentiers. That included the idea of doing four publications a year, on top of the weekly and member Dispatches. The idea would be to produce something zine-ish twice and something report-ish twice. One every quarter, basically. Zines would be purely eclectic Sentiers and reports would be more akin to Thought Partnership, boosting organisations’ knowledge and thinking.

In September, Peter and I started talking about what a collaboration on something (likely written) might look like. At the same time, I was getting started on the work involved in my Spark Grant For The Web. It was also a few weeks before that (months? pandemic time fluctuates) that Craig Mod started referring to his membership plan as Special Projects.

Instead of structuring something solid out of thin air and based on reckons, Peter and I settled on the idea of working on quarterly projects in parallel, which would occasionally be collaborations between us. So basically a more open form than my four publications but with a more “official” rhythm than Craig’s. Peter jumped right in and announced his own special projects while I decided to consider the Grant as my first project, with a second to come at the beginning of 2021.

I’m writing about all of that for a few reasons. 1) Put it out there and things happen, even if only my own expectations now that it’s public. 2) There will be room for other collaborations so keep that in mind and don’t hesitate to book a chat. 3) I ran a poll with readers and so far 74.6% of respondents say they’d be up for something about “curation, newslettering, blogging, writing, reading, creativity, attention, personal knowledge management,” so that might very well be the next project. (Btw, a cumulative 62% are independent, in a “small studio / agency / coop/ tight group of collaborators” or in a non-profit, which I find super interesting and related to some other ideas.)

And finally 4), I believe this kind of thing is part of the next stage of paid membership, or at the very least part of a wave of experiments we’ll see over the next year or two. Some are already suffering of subscription fatigue and I believe part of that is the feeling that you might be jumping in to something for years as opposed to a one-off purchase. In other words, it feels more like Netflix than going to a movie. Season ticket vs one game. In my case, these “projects” will be included or deeply discounted for paid members but also available stand alone (or financed by a grant in this case). Hunter Walk, while using an acronym I dislike (feels too optimized and growth-hacked for my taste), was saying roughly the same thing a couple of days ago:

[T]he newsletter is just one SKU. Maybe the SKU he cares most about. Maybe even the SKU that makes him the most money. But it doesn’t have to be the only SKU. There could be a podcast SKU. A speaking fee SKU. A book deal SKU. A consulting SKU. A guest columnist SKU. And so on.

I think “season” or “series” will also be a big thing. My hunch is that seasons or series on a topic have a different feel for buyers and sellers, a finite length of things to read / listen to / view / pay for but also a finite amount of work / creation to consider / price as well as a more defined thing to sell ads (see podcasts) / sponsors / find a financial partner for. Courses have been a popular way of creating “passive revenue” for years, I think the space between the stock of courses or books and the flow of paid newsletter will be filling up with many different kinds of experiments. My grant, for one, is about “irrigating” the archives, bringing some flow in the stock [1] there are bound to be other hybrids.

We’ll be seeing more varied and content appropriate formats, kind of like this comment by Lee Harris on sci-fi books:

Another thing we’re seeing is a lot of stories being written at the length they were meant to be written. It used to be that if you had a novella, the temptation was either to cut it down and sell it as a short story, or pad it unnecessarily, to sell it as a novel. Whereas these days, there is a large push for “stories at their right length.” So if you write something that’s 35,000 words that is perfect and complete and doesn’t need any more or any less, there are now markets for that.

We’ve had books and speaking; courses; advertising-supported ongoing media; and now paid newsletters. We’ll have more distinct projects / publications coming, and hopefully more ways of financing them. Beyond the simple "selling a product" idea, I’m thinking for example of a ten or twenty “thing” series (emails, podcasts, articles, weeks of shared research, etc.) presented by a sponsor or financed by a research partner (team deep dives in a topic for one quarter, shares partly publicly and partly in a report to the partner).

So stay tuned for the launch of this first library project (I’ll detail in another post), announcement of the next, keep an eye out for these new micro-media forms, and tell me when you find some new ones!

[1] Btw, Robin who wrote that stock and flow piece ten years ago, has been experimenting in pretty much exactly that way for years now. I haven't read the article in a while, hope I'm not twisting what he write too much!