In March I tried to persuade my father to stop taking the subway to Manhattan and to accompany me in the back country. So I paid $ 75 to Leonard Marshall, a retired New York Giants defender we both loved in the 1980s to send the message.
“I took a few people to the hospital, Bob,” he said told my father solemnly. “You have to play defense in these crazy times.”
It worked and my father hasn’t been to Times Square since.
I had reached Mr. Marshall through cameo. A service that allows you to buy short videos of small celebrities. I also used cameo to buy my daughter an encouraging lecture from an Olympic triathlete ($ 15), a flattering monologue for my new boss from a former Boston Red Sox manager ($ 100), and a failed one Twitter hoax supplied by action star Chuck Norris ($ 229.99).
Cameo explodes this strange season because “every celebrity is really a gig economy worker,” said Steven Galanis, the company’s general manager. They are stuck at home, bored and sometimes difficult to earn when performances, productions and sporting events run dry. The company’s weekly bookings rose from around 9,000 in early January to 70,000, and Galanis said he expects to bring in more than $ 100 million in bookings this year, of which the company will retain 25 percent. The company expects to sell its millionth video this week.
At first glance, cameo is a service that allows home-made idiots to blow up money for silly calls. In other words, it is a new model media company that is at the interface of a number of strong trends that are accelerating in the current crisis. There is the rise of simple digital direct payments that replace advertising as the main source of media revenue. There is the growing force of talent that flows from superstars to half-forgotten ex-athletes and even working journalists. And there is the old one The promise of the previous internet that you could make a living if you only had “1,000 real fans” – a promise that advertising-based companies from blogs to YouTube channels could not fulfill.
In this new economy, some people may be able to live from only 100 real fans, like Li Jin, a former partner of venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz, recently argued. Ms. Jin calls this new landscape the “passion economy”. She argues that apps like Uber and DoorDash were developed to eliminate the differences between individual drivers or people delivering groceries. But similar tools, she says, can be used to “monetize individuality.”
Many of these trends are well developed in China, but here in the U.S., the passion economy covers everything from the small retailers who use Shopify to the drawing teachers on the Udemy education platform.
In the mainstream heart of the media business, both artists and writers are quickly looking for new business models as large parts of the media business have been wounded or closed by the corona virus pandemic. At Patreon, the first and broadest of the great services that connect writers and performers with the audience, co-founder Jack Conte said he was recently delighted to see one of his favorite bands, Of Montreal. Publish music on the platform.
“Traditional music coming to Patreon is a turning point,” he said.
In the news business, journalists are breaking new ground with Substack, a newsletter service. The most successful individual votes – like China expert Bill Bishop and liberal political writer Judd Legum – earn six-figure sums annually when they regularly send newsletters to subscribers even though no one has passed the million dollar mark, the company said.
For some authors, Substack is a way to get their work out of the shadow of an institution. Emily Atkin felt this need when a climate forum she organized for presidential candidates last year while working as a writer for The New Republic collapsed amid a scandal surrounding an unrelated column about Mayor Pete Buttigieg that appeared in this publication.
Well, said Ms. Atkin, who writes a confrontational climate newsletter entitled When heated, it is “shockingly hopeful”.
“I don’t have any layoffs in my newsletter, so I’m better off than most other news industries,” she said.
Ms. Atkin, ranked 11th in Substack’s paid newsletter ranking and more willing than Mr. Bishop or Mr. Legum to talk extensively about the business, said she was on the right track, with more than 2,500 subscribers this year Earn $ 175,000. Among other things, she pays for health care, a research assistant and a 10 percent fee to Substack.
For others, Substack is a way to continue the work they are passionate about when a job goes missing, as Lindsay Gibbs found out when the liberal news site ThinkProgress was closed last year and got a grip on sexism in sports.
It now has more than 1,000 subscribers Power Plays pay up to $ 72 a year.
Both started with an advance of $ 20,000 from the platform.
“The audience that connects directly with you and pays directly is a revolutionary change in the business model,” said Chris Best, Managing Director of Substack.
It is hard to imagine that even the most successful writers like Mr. Bishop and Ms. Atkin will soon be a major threat to the titans of the media, especially since some large institutions – whether in news or streaming videos – dominate every market. However, the two authors’ path to success points to the fact that the greatest threat to these institutions can come from their talented staff.
This dynamic was evident in a confrontation between Barstool Sports and the moderators of his hit podcast “Call Her Daddy” as my colleague Taylor Lorenz reported last week. Media company stars with big social media followers and more and more opportunities to make money are less and less willing to behave like employees. (“The Call Her Daddy girls would earn over half a million dollars a year with me,” said Cameo’s Galanis, “The Howard Stern Show’s high pitch Erik makes low six-digit numbers.”)
Substack is a radically different alternative, where the “media company” is a service and the journalists are responsible. This is one of the pioneers of the modern newsletter business, tech analyst Ben Thompson. describes as “faceless” publisher. And you can imagine that it or its competitors offer more services, from insurance to marketing to editing, reverse the dynamism of the old top-down media company and produce something like a talent agency where the individual journalist is the star and the boss is. and the editor is only on call.
The new media companies of the passion economy are converging in a way. Those like Patreon and Substack, who mainly operate in the background, are currently looking for careful ways to bundle their offerings, their executives said. Medium, with which you can subscribe to the entire bundle of authors, is looking for ways to promote closer ties between individuals and their followers, said founder Ev Williams. Cameo, which has a homepage in its app and website but mostly sells one-off shout-outs, switches to a model more like subscribing to a celebrity: for a price, you can send direct messages that appear in a priority inbox .
“We think news is back and forth where the puck with cameo is going,” said Mr. Galanis.
Is that good news? The rise of these new companies could further shake our stalled institutions, shatter our fragmented media, and consolidate celebrity culture. Or they could pay for a new wave of powerful independent voices and offer constant work to people who do valuable work – like journalists covering tight, important parts of the world – who have no other source of income. Like the entire Internet and media collision, it will undoubtedly be both.
In Silicon Valley, where the east coast journalism institutions are often seen as another group of enemy gatekeepers to be disturbed, leading figures cheer for a possible challenger. Mr. Best, the Substack boss, told me that venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, whose company has invested in the company, hoped that “it would do to large media companies what venture capital did to large technology companies” – that is, Peel strive for the promise of money and freedom from their biggest stars and start new types of news companies.
One of the things I find most encouraging in these uneven times is creating a new space for a middle class of journalists and entertainers – the idea that you can make a living, if not kill yourself, by working hard for yourself limited audience. Even people who play a humble role in a cultural phenomenon can get part of the recording of what happened to the Netflix documentary “Tiger King”.
When the documentary came out big in March, cameo has contracted 10 of his Ragtag line-ups from mainly amateur zookeepers. That came just in time for Kelci Saffery, who was best known in the series for returning to work shortly after losing a hand to a tiger. Mr. Saffery now lives in California and lost his job in a furniture warehouse when the pandemic broke out. To his shock, he has earned around $ 17,000 and some level of recognition, even as requests slow down.
“I get at least one every day, and for me it still means that every day one person thinks,” Hey, that would be cool, “and it’s important to me,” he said. As for money, “one of my kids could send that to college.”