Indy Publishing and the Discourse Blog

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

In October of 2019, a news website called Splinter, which was under the same management at Gizmodo and Jezebel, was shuttered and the staff was fired. So, a group of Splinter writers created a new news site that became a labor of love. It’s called the Discourse Blog.

This story probably sounds familiar, but I think its outcome is becoming a model for the future. The people at Discourse developed the new site and earned an audience, but the content remained free. The model wasn’t supporting their livelihoods. At the same time, they saw an opportunity to have unconventional aspirations that went against industry trends. As co-owner Aleksander Chan wrote:

But we’re also immensely motivated by what we hope will be a new frontier in digital media: Truly independent, worker-owned and operated publications. We have zero aspirations to grow into an enormous media conglomerate making hundreds of millions of dollars; arguably, one reason why so many publications are struggling and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs is because all the wrong people are getting into the business to become the next Murdochs, Redstones, Sulzbergers, etc. 

The team recently announced that the blog would soon be available with a paid subscription ($8 per month or $85 per year). Aleks goes on to say that the team has a different perspective when it comes to aspirations for the business.

Our ambitions, we think, are appropriately modest: a small, sustainable business that helps support our livelihoods doing work that is uncompromised by larger corporate interests. No chasing pageviews, no insane, hockey-stick growth goals. Just posts we believe in and actually want to publish.

How refreshing! This is a trend that I hope gains traction. It’s built on the basic idea of Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans essay from 2008, which has a big influence on me and Common Craft’s design.

To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.

His essay was one of the first to open my eyes to the potential to aspire to serve a small but dedicated audience. A big part of that idea is working directly with customers, which Discourse is doing with subscriptions. I wish them great success.

At Common Craft, we spent a decade experimenting with independent publishing. See how we did it in Big Enough.


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