March 12, 2019

Venture Capital and publishing are more similar than you'd think

Venture Capital overlaps publishing

Venture Capital and book publishing have a lot more in common than you might think. According to Ethan Hirsch, the two worlds share many similarities including a focus on lopsided returns and bet-taking. As a result of increased competition and limitless supply, publishers continue to fight to attract the best writers as well as bring to life exciting books.

How Does Venture Capital and Publishing Compare?

To understand the comparison, it helps to comprehend what venture capital is. A VC pools money together to invest in small, unproven but high-potential startups. Depending on the startup’s development (ideation stage vs near full maturity), investors will fund and assess their stake over time. Early funding rounds include “seed” and “series A,” with subsequent rounds going all the way down to IPOs and full acquisitions.

Likewise, publishing firms will take a chance on up-and-coming writers to get their foot in the door. In contrast major publishers give large advances to more prominent writers in exchange for the rights to their books and future earnings. This is typically where things like royalties come into play.

Both fields have incumbents that tend to attract the best in the industry. Just as you’d expect A16Z to invest in Facebook (and get first dibs), you expect Crown Publishing to publish John Grisham or Michelle Obama’s latest book. The smaller firms need to fight and take bets on moonshots to become established incumbents, making success rates statistically lower.

Taking Bets

Just like smaller venture capital shops, publishers will typically pursue “blockbuster” strategies. Blockbuster means taking many small bets, expecting the majority to fail but for outsized returns on a handful. The same applies to VC: for every 10 businesses, 6 will fail, 3 will barely survive and 1 will be a major hit. This technique justifies the losses and helps propel these platforms upwards. Perhaps it’s not just startups and authors trying to win the lottery: VC and publishers are doing the same.

March 4, 2019

It's Freezing in LA! is a new magazine dedicated to climate change

It's Freezing in LA! Climate Change Magazine

It’s Freezing in LA! is an independent magazine aimed at addressing the messy discussion around climate change. The topic around climate change is complex but the discussion is often oversimplified. IFLA!’s goal is to find an appropriate middle ground between science and the emotions surrounding climate change.

The inspiration behind the magazine

Donald Trump’s iconic quote inspired the magazine title, “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” Each magazine takes a clear visual theme ranging from heat maps in the debut issue to red smoke from November’s California fires in November.

The importance of a creative angle climate change

IFLA!’s goals are to round out perspective towards climate change in a time where people who wish to contribute to the conversation are often left with binary choices. But it goes without saying that this discussion requires a more empathetic approach that acknowledges the unique challenges and struggles faced by different people from various walks of life with socioeconomic as well as educational differences, for example. Above all else, the conversation should be introduced in a different light that can help participants understand more broadly how different groups are reacting to the global climate crisis.

See more and pick up their latest issues over at

It's Freezing in LA! Climate Change Magazine

It's Freezing in LA! Climate Change Magazine

It's Freezing in LA! Climate Change Magazine

February 20, 2019

Podcasts go prime time as Spotify buys Gimlet Media and Anchor

Podcasts Audio Gimlet Spotify

Podcasts are about to enter the big leagues. Spotify has officially completed a deal for Gimlet, by-and-large seen as the largest and most influential podcast media company. For those unfamiliar, Gimlet flew out of the gates with their debut podcast series, StartUp, which chronicled the efforts of Co-Founders Alex Blumberg and Matthew Lieber to kickstart Gimlet. Not to be forgotten, podcast platform Anchor, which handles the distribution and monetization of podcasts was also acquired. In total, Spotify spent approximately USD 340 million for both companies.

Why would Spotify buy Gimlet?
This move feels very Netflix-esque in hopes of acquiring the foundations of content. By acquiring Gimlet, Spotify gets access to both the company’s IP of shows and also a proven podcast studio. It’s clear that Spotify sees value in the future of podcasting and by owning the rights to hit shows, they can maintain higher margins and not hammer out licensing deals.

Is this really a gamechanger?
We’d say that this, it totally validates podcasts but it perhaps isn’t the most important thing that’s challenging podcasts currently. Discovery, monetization, metrics (ugh), and marketing are arguably all pillars within the podcast world that currently more attention.

A prediction from Marc Andreessen about audio and podcast content
“The really big one right now is audio. Audio is on the rise just generally and particularly with Apple and the AirPods, which has been an absolute home run [for Apple]. It’s one of the most deceptive things because it’s just like this little product, and how important could it be? And I think it’s tremendously important, because it’s basically a voice in your ear any time you want.

For example, there are these new YouTube type celebrities, and everybody’s kind of wondering where people are finding the spare time to watch these YouTube videos and listen to these YouTube people in the tens and tens of millions. And the answer is: they’re at work. They have this Bluetooth thing in their ear, and they’ve got a hat, and that’s 10 hours on the forklift and that’s 10 hours of Joe Rogan. That’s a big deal.

Of course, speech as a [user interface] is rapidly on the rise. So I think audio is going to be titanically important.”

February 20, 2019

AI's role in the future of content creation needs rethinking

Future of AI in media and content creation

AI’s role across multiple sectors is perhaps most pronounced in the realm of media and content creation. There’s a belief that as automation and AI becomes more prevalent, jobs within creative industries will generally be protected. To look even deeper, maybe the application of AI doesn’t need to be such a binary approach. Automation can serve as an important tool that can help accelerate the creation of work, leaving humans to focus on what they do best, creating meaningful, interesting, and culturally relevant content.

Examples of AI in action in content creation

Areas where AI could be useful to us at MAEKAN

  • Help us find very specific references for moodboards such as “photo of person dangling feet off a building in all-white Nike Air Force 1s”
  • Help edit out “ums” and “ahs” automatically in audio
  • Automatically do a base-level color grade on photos/video as a reference (available in Lightroom)
  • Auto-generate transcriptions (currently available)

Are we worried about AI?
Lisa Gibbs, the director of news partnerships for The A.P. suggests, “The work of journalism is creative, it’s about curiosity, it’s about storytelling, it’s about digging and holding governments accountable, it’s critical thinking, it’s judgment — and that is where we want our journalists spending their energy.”

We tend to agree as well. Culture as we know it is very difficult to predict and calculate. Virality and social movements can be monitored but their exact output is uncertain. Humans, for now, have an uncanny ability to track on numerous, disparate topics, that are seemingly created. If AI can help free us up to work on that, consider it a victory.

Despite all of this, we’re aware of the challenges of sustainable journalism
The start of 2019 couldn’t have been worse. In the first quarter alone (we’re not even done), upwards of 2,1000 were lost with big cuts happening at Vice, Buzzfeed, and Verizon. These cuts have been largely associated with a dangerous mix of VC-funding meets an unsustainable approach towards scale-based business models in media. Can AI help here?

February 12, 2019

Events and experiences are the happy melding of media and celebrity culture

Source: Nina Westervelt / The New York Times

Special Projects, a kind of do-everything agency founded by Nicole Vecchiarelli and Andrea Oliveri, has successfully tapped into the medium magazines, companies, and celebrities all want to be more involved in: live events and experiences. Vecchiarelli and Oliveri have spent over 20 years collectively in publishing and their experiences in creating exciting magazine covers have been converted into casting, booking, and consulting for all kinds of events (magazine award parties, conferences, panels, a Kanye West listening party, industry insider dinners). Their success has come in part due to their ability to predict who is going to be big and being able to forecast entertainment trends accurately.

The connectors in a sprawling industry
The duo’s experience in magazines and in booking big names lead to increasing amounts of project work coming in. People at brands and companies would say to them, “I don’t want to advertise with you, but I like your ideas and your connections to talent, and what if instead of buying an ad, we could bring you on as our partner and you could book the talent for this branded content or for an event?” On the other hand, young and rising celebrities see Special Projects as an important stop on their way to making their dreams come true.

What gets attention now
Print and digital media are one-directional—brands and companies create content that their audiences read and consume. Events and experiences are multi-directional and, when done well, make interesting connections and bring concepts to life in tangible ways. Print and digital media aren’t going away, but increasingly people are finding ways to expand on 2-D content in intriguing experiential ways.

January 31, 2019

Condé Nast is about to put all of its digital magazines behind paywalls

Media conglomerate Condé Nast announced plans to put its portfolio of publications behind paywalls. Some of the household names to be included in the change include the likes of Glamour, GQ, and Vogue.

Why the paywall?
It’s hard for digital media to rely solely on advertisements, something that worked for a good amount of time, until of course Google, Facebook and social media in general fundamentally shifted the industry forever. Oh, and the company also lost USD 120 million in 2017.

When will it go down?
The changes are slated to be implemented by the end of 2019. Prior to the company-wide announcement, other titles had already undergone paywalls such as The New Yorker and Wired Magazine.

The big question mark…
CondĂ© Nast believes its audience is among the most influential and engaged. Some would argue that on the fashion side, Vogue and GQ have been replaced by more dynamic and relevant titles such as digital-first media outlets as well as influential social media accounts. But beyond that, lifestyle media (such as fashion) is more of a “nice-to-have” rather than a necessity such as more journalistic offerings (newspapers) and trade magazines (such as the Business of Fashion or even Vogue Business). 

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