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Kyle Chayka
Kyle Chayka
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April 15th, 2021

The Brand

The publication is voice-driven digital content that inspires loyalty in readers: arriving every day, reaching them where they are, communicating about things they need to know about or identify with closely. The publication serves a self-selecting demographic of cultural consumers who are obsessive, and either need or want to know about the content.

The brand needs to be specific and identifiable, standing out in the media landscape of heritage brands, somewhat interchangeable newsletters, and voices on Twitter. It has to be distinct, recognizable from only a few elements wherever it is found. The editorial voice is part of that brand, but it also must be (audio)visual. ("Content" is not solely writing, or even information.)

The Format

Newsletters deliver longform content and close relationships with writers. The real-time delivery is also useful, but closer to real-time can be found on Twitter. More intimacy can be found in podcasts or tight communities online, the interactive fandoms of organizations like Chapo Trap House or $FWB. The publication must prioritize its community of consumers by giving them intimacy with the creators and with the brand, less a newspaper or information service than a space in which to participate, feeling nonhierarchical. It needs a sense of digital belonging.

Unlike many newsletters, the publication cannot be tied to a singular voice because that voice is not its only value proposition. Many contributors should participate in the brand and want to be a part of it, as creators and consumers. The identity of both writing for and reading the publication should be aspirational. For that quality, the publication also has to be relatively visual, able to function as a marker for itself, like the provenance label on a bottle of wine — Denominazione di Origine Controllata of content.

The Structure

The staff of the publication can be low-weight at first, with one editor, one or several staff writers, an array of freelance contributors, and contributing artists and designers for visual content, which is given equal priority to textual content, creating a framework. Content is delivered in whichever formats the audience grows to prefer, from text to audio to graphics.

What matters more than the platform the content is delivered on is its ability to stay consistent, always calling back to the voice and community of the publication. Like a cryptocurrency, it should be able to stay itself wherever it goes or whoever is consuming it. This is not the decentralization of mainstream publications posting links on Facebook; it's the decentralization of file piracy or crypto mining.

The publication is not a magazine but an architectural structure, an art gallery, a fashion brand, a sports team, a video game, a flower that blooms at a specific time — something you inhabit and watch evolve.

The Business Model

The publication is funded by NFTs and social tokens. NFTs require specific relationships and consumers to function: A small number of NFTs need to attract high-value buyers or a large number of NFTs (expensive to mint) need to attract mid-value buyers in order to sustain an entire publication, paying for staff and freelancers.

What makes NFTs valuable is provenance: in the case of visual art, the artist is credible and the art is compelling, or, in the case of a novel, the author's previous work and novel proposal is compelling. What would make publication NFTs compelling is strong art, a connection to the brand (provenance), and context, building a coherent body of NFT production that functions alongside and through the publication. It's important that the NFTs have a logic just as the editorial has a logic.

Social tokens ($PUBLICATION) can raise money for a publication or fund new efforts, giving holders a proxy for equity in the overall project that exists more on the back-end. NFTs can monetize social tokens for the holders and give readers / consumers a way to interact with the brand, as well as to participate in its economics. The NFTs have to be desirable in a variety of ways, both as high-end patronage and as casual affiliation, like New Yorker tote bags.

The NFTs are not iterations of the text content, or symbolic of the content (a la the New York Times column), but are a form of content in themselves. Think of a publication that is inextricable from and funded by a marketplace of NFTs like Cryptopunks, where the publication is the only authority that can create more. The action of the marketplace would generate enough returns to run the publication, which would in turn produce more, and attract more demand for, the marketplace's NFTs.

NFTs are a form of streetwear drop amenable to any content format or producer. They create fresh visual interest, scarcity, and ephemerality, functioning as rewards for those who are most engaged and invested in the brand, who can also profit in turn from their participation.

Using NFTs

— Authoritative NFTs of branding assets can be released at the outset of the publication, in the context of crowdfunding. An initial release of NFTs could be seen as the "original" creations backing the project, which would become more valuable as the publication grows in stature.

— More casual NFTs could take the form of annual subscriber / backer rewards and function as a kind of identification that is public-facing: If you have one, then you are seen as an early adopter of this publication (editions work well for this approach).

— A set of NFTs could be produced in the form of stylized avatars only for subscribers, a la Cryptopunks or Cryptokitties. These could be abstract and sold / traded in a marketplace.

— NFTs could be produced on a per-article basis, minted when the article is published and then given to the writer to sell. But that requires demand on a per-article level, which requires a lot of compelling imagery and higher levels of consumption: do they have enough symbolic value?

— Ultimately, the publication itself should function as a showcase for the NFTs from that publication: Imagine profile pages or showcases, or spotlights on each article page or newsletter edition, that highlight a particular NFT and owner, or offer the NFT for sale. Like wearing streetwear, NFTs need better distribution mechanisms to drive demand and create aspiration.

— Writers can be paid in ETH, NFTs, or $PUBLICATION tokens, which are cheap to produce for the publication. (Writers or any publication contributors in media are rarely given a meaningful stake in the business of the publication.)

— The NFTs should be desirable on their own as an aesthetic system, like streetwear, action figures, or art toys. The NFT aesthetic system evolves as the publication expands, like watching a houseplant grow.

Comparisons

Apartamento: An influential interiors magazine that emerged from a small community and created an aspirational image of a bohemian lifestyle, through well-designed, highly aesthetic print magazines and a unique photography style.

Axios: A newsletter company that thrives on providing very impactful content for its readers in very comprehensible units; the style of content itself is a signature for the publication.

Monocle: A business, culture, and lifestyle magazine and 24/7 radio station that became identified with a global archetype of person, who reads and shows off the magazine. There are Monocle tote bags, clothing lines, cafes, and accessories that readers buy into as much as the magazine.

Kinfolk: A magazine that gave readers an image of not just what to consume but how to behave ethically and morally, creating an image of an aestheticized simple life. The magazine's aesthetic spread over Instagram and other platforms to become diffuse and participatory, disconnected from the magazine itself but still branded by it.

LeanLuxe: A daily-ish newsletter about D2C brands but also about the lifestyle of wealthy millennials and businesses targeting that demographic. Also takes the form of a Slack community and advertising within and to the readership, creating a collective identity.

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