Since starting to write about basketball on the internet a few years ago, I’ve been very fortunate to have some great opportunities to write for a number of websites with a very wide reach. As a result of those opportunities, I was able to intern for the Dallas Mavericks last year in their analytics department and I’ve been able to launch the official podcast for the website on the bleeding edge of NBA analytics and information in the public domain, Nylon Calculus.
Over and over again, however, one thing has left me frustrated about the sports media landscape: It is very difficult for great writers to be compensated adequately for the amount of time they put into producing amazing sports content. Many of the websites that provide great platforms to learn and build a voice don’t provide much in the way of monetary incentive for the amount of time required to produce top-notch content. The reason for this is that there is simply a massive amount of writing labor supply. Simply put, if you decide to drop out of a content-farm because it’s not making sense for you in terms of ROI on your time, there will be someone glad to fill your place for no pay or close to no pay. Everyone is looking to make their big break. On the individual level, this makes total sense, but collectively it is a big problem. I don’t think this is sustainable in the long term.
There are really two models for making money on content. There are ad-supported models and there are consumer-supported models. I am biased in favor of consumer-supported models, because I find being tracked by advertisers wherever I go online (and in the real world, actually) to be kind of gross. In addition, ad-supported websites seem, to me, to be in danger of being eaten by the Facebooks and Googles of the world. When an advertiser can go to Facebook and get every detail about a reader’s preferences, what would be the point of general purpose branded advertising? It’s no coincidence that Facebook has begun partnering with news organizations to host articles directly on Facebook. I suspect Facebook is going to take a greater and greater share of the profits from the advertising dollars spent backing the production of content. As a result, the number of websites actually producing content and the amount of writers who can be paid through the ad-supported model will dwindle.
So, if that’s the case, where does it leave an independent writer on the internet who wants to make money writing about, well, anything? Increasingly, I think it’s going to mean that consumers are going to need to support the people who make the things they like directly, or if they are unwilling, the things they like to consume will go away.
A quick digression: Recently, I became a big fan of Ben Thompson of Stratechery and the Exponent podcast. My Twitter pal, Kostya Medvedovsky (follow him, by the way), recommended the podcast to me and I have listened to over 50 episodes now. Ben makes his living writing a daily paid newsletter on tech business strategy. This has become a big inspiration to me.
So, taking the inspiration from Ben and reading the tea leaves about what I think is the future of content creation, I have come up with a vision for a new business model for NBA content. This may not work. That’s fine. But I feel I have to try.
Here’s the pitch: I want to create a network of paid newsletters centered around individual NBA teams. The idea would be to produce 8-10 articles a month (potentially more if the subscriber numbers get to a point to allow writers to do the writing full-time), for a subscription fee of somewhere between $8-10 (so a buck an article, basically). Because readers will be paying for these articles, the goal would for them to be analytical and provide value above and beyond what you can find for free on the internet. I am going to be putting together the sign-ups for the first of these in the coming days. Please let me know on Twitter or via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) if this is something you’d be interested in. The first team is going to be the Bulls, because that’s who I know how to write about best. I want to provide a proof of concept of this idea before I bring on anyone else to start another team newsletter up.
Thanks for reading.