I started writing this blog, or its predecessor, in 2004. For nine years I made zero money off it. In fact, in 2008, after I moved to this website, I started paying money to run this blog, in terms of an annual domain name and hosting fee.
And then in 2013, I became part of a “big bundle”, as Mint offered me the opportunity to write for them. I had a contract to write at least three pieces a month around a particular topic, in return for which I would be paid a reasonable sum of money.
That sum of money was “reasonable” enough that it sort of provided me “tenure” until 2017, when I moved to London (I continued to write for Mint, and get paid, but the money wasn’t enough for “tenure” in London where expenses were higher). The Mint editor changed in early 2018, and the tenure ended in late 2018. I briefly got another tenure with the same editor at his new digs in 2019, but I decided to end that after a few months.
(By tenure, I mean steady stable income out of work that doesn’t take too much of my time. So I never had to struggle for basic expenses and every business deal was a bonus. Wonderful times)
In other words, I built my reputation as a writer by myself, writing this blog (and its predecessor), and then monetised it by joining a large bundle.
Recent trends in the media seem to be reversing the process. Recently, for example, Andrew Sullivan, a journalist with the New York magazine, quit his job and started his own newsletter. And this seems to be the part of a larger trend.
Columnist Matt Taibbi left Rolling Stone in April to write on Substack full time. Andrew Sullivan did the same last week, leaving New York Magazine to resurrect his blog the Dish. Joan Niesen, a Sports Illustrated staff writer who was laid off in October, shortly after the magazine’s sale, started a free Substack newsletter last week.
Essentially, journalists who made their names as being part of big bundles, are leaving these bundles and instead trying to monetise on their own platforms. This is exactly the opposite of the route that I, and many other bloggers of the 2000s wave, took – build reputation independently and monetise as part of a bundle.
At the outset, I’m sceptical about lifelong bundlers leaving their bundles. Essentially, once you’ve gotten used to working as part of a large professional setup, you would have started taking a large number of things for granted, and replicating those things are not going to be easy once you go indie.
As a writer, for example, who will edit your copy? Who will make and design your graphics? Who will write your headlines? Who will tell you lots to write about? While you might have experience as a journalist and be very good at your core job, being part of an institution means that you will find it very difficult to do everything by yourself (I THINK I’ve written something on these lines for non-journalism jobs as well, but I can’t be bothered to find that post now. I actually searched for it and found that like an idiot I’d written it on LinkedIn, and now I can
‘t find it).
Moreover, people will face “subscription fatigue”, and won’t want to subscribe to too many individual writers. A case can be made for bundling again (get a bunch of writers who write about sort of complementary stuff, and then bundle their newsletters for an integrated subscription). (after all, all disruption is about either bundling or unbundling).