On building a wolf-proof media at The Brick House
Hi there and happy Friday — what a horrendous year! But enough about that.
I’ve been quiet on here for awhile. That’s because back in October, I started working on a new project that I’m really excited (and also pretty damn terrified) about. It’s called The Brick House News Cooperative, and we are pioneering a new vision for fully independent digital media.
OK Emma, I’m listening. What is this “Brick House” anyway?
We’re totally, 1000% AD-FREE. We think it’s unfortunate and beyond annoying that in order to read good stuff on the internet today, you first have to wade through a mire of pop-up video ads. I read The Brick House and update our homepage every day. While we’re still working out some kinks, it honestly feels like a dream to be able to read stuff online without being bombarded by advertisements.
We aren’t just one website. We’re currently a home for nine sister websites, which you can read more about here. We all use the same publishing platform (WordPress) and bring in revenue with the same CRM software (Pico). We work together to publish the best of what we’ve got: writing, comics, muckraking, podcasts, fiction, nonfiction, personal essays, cultural criticism, poetry, recipes, weather reviews and pranks.
We’re decentralized. Whatever subscription money comes into The Brick House gets split evenly among our nine site publishers. Our ultimate goal is that, as we grow and get more money, we’ll be able to bring on more publications.
We’re a whole lot more democratic than traditional news outlets. We’re structured like Ohio's electric cooperatives, which means that each publisher gets an equal share in the organization and an equal vote in how it’s run. Under our operating agreement, no publisher can own more than one share in The Brick House, so no one member has more of a say than any other member.
We pool our resources. This sets us apart from, say, a tech-savvy newsletter platform where a few self-employed writers stand to make a lot of money while the majority of writers who use the platform don’t. At The Brick House, none of our members get left out or left behind.
I hope this project sounds as exciting to you as it is to me. As someone who’s been put through the Media Industrial Meat Grinder over the last decade, getting to work on something new and different and not funded by evil people has felt both thrilling and terrifying. In a lot of ways, it feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, which, again, means that I’m more invested in this than maybe any other project of my professional career, and thus more terrified of it failing than anything else.
I’m not gonna lie: it’s tough to raise the money we need to get this project off the ground and become self-sustaining. The project was launched because of a Kickstarter last summer that raised an initial $90,000. Since then, we’ve been relying on new subscribers and donations to keep the lights on. That’s because we’ve intentionally limited our revenue streams by not selling ads or offering equity to outside financiers.
And so begets the challenge of raising 100% of our operating funds from individual subscribers and donors. I see two main challenges for us here. The first, put simply, is that people — especially people who don’t work in media — don’t really understand what our whole deal is. That’s because we’re doing something that in a lot of ways is completely new in the digital media realm. And I think we as human beings often reject things that we don’t implicitly understand or have any prior experience or relationship with.
So we’ve first gotta persuade people that what we’re doing is real, and that it’s worth investing in. But I can’t tell you how to live your life or what you should spend your hard-earned money on. The best way for YOU to judge that for yourself is by reading our stuff and deciding if this is the kind of work you want to support.
The second biggest challenge to The Brick House becoming sustainable in the long term, as I see it, is that we’re actively promoting and publishing people who DON’T already have big media profiles or fit the traditional profile of Successful Media People, which I will now abbreviate as SMP.
By and large, The Brick House’s editors and contributors don’t fit into the SMP cookie cutter: cis, straight, white, wealthy, able-bodied, conventionally attractive men and women who graduated from one of ~25 private colleges in the United States and get paid tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to tell us why young people need to shut up and stop complaining so much about the very real existential crises facing them. We’ve already heard so much from people like them. Isn’t it time for a change?
Things CAN be different.
I think if we can get over a hump and hit our goal of roughly 20,000 Brick House subscribers (or $1.5 million annually) we’ll be in a really good place. I think it’s well past time to try something new. I believe a free press should benefit everyone — not just the Kochs and Murdochs of the world.
You can help by subscribing to The Brick House for just $75 a year. Together, we can build a future for independent, sustainable media. All that’s missing is you!
Thank you for reading to the end of this email, and for continuing to read and support my work all these years. It really does mean the world to me.