When I read about Gigaom’s abrupt closure, my heart skipped a beat. There but for the grace of Wearable World, I thought, went ReadWrite. Our former publisher, Say Media, was prepared to shut us down if we hadn’t found a new owner.
Wearable World is a good home for ReadWrite, and I’m energized by the conversations I have with our CEO, Redg Snodgrass, about our shared mission to democratize technology.
Gigaom’s closure is a stark reminder, though, that the conventional advertising model, even when complemented by businesses like events and research, isn’t always enough to allow independent reporting about technology to thrive. ReadWrite will turn 12 on April 20, 2015. I’d like to see it keep growing through its teenage years—and realize its fullest potential.
There’s been a lot of buzz about saving Gigaom through a crowdfunding campaign. Om Malik is a beloved former colleague from our days at Business 2.0, and I’m friends with many current and former members of the Gigaom team. I’d love to see the site survive.
But I worry that it’s too late: Gigaom’s course was set when the company raised venture capital. With the assets in the hand of a bank and investors with a legal claim on any new funds coming in, I’m not sure how a crowdfunded rescue would work.
The ReadWrite Crowd
A crowdfunding campaign for ReadWrite, though, is intriguing. If our mission is to democratize technology and allow everyone who might be interested in building a better world with hardware and software to participate, why not let them participate directly in building ReadWrite, too?
This is just a thought experiment for now, but there’s precedent. Matter raised $140,000 on Kickstarter. 99% Invisible raised $170,000. De Correspondent, a Dutch publication, raised $1.7 million.
What would we do with the money? I don’t think we’d put the site behind a paywall—that would mean turning away people who wanted to learn and grow. I don’t think we’d turn off ads on ReadWrite, but it would let us be far more choosy about the ones we run. If we were a member-driven publication, we’d only let in advertisers who delivered messages of real value.
We’d of course greatly expand our newsroom and deepen our coverage of every aspect of technology. (I’d love to bring on every member of the former Gigaom team—in fact, I’ve already signed one up as a freelancer to help with our coverage of South By Southwest Interactive.)
What if our readers could get together and create named reporting fellowships, like some universities have for professorships? Or back specific reporting projects—like investigating China’s production of rare earth elements on the scene?
A Community Of Purpose
Those are details, though. What matters to me most is the notion of reestablishing a direct connection with our readers by treating you as people who belong to a community that’s meaningful and specific. I hear from you through email, on Twitter, and in the comments—but there could be so much more to our relationship.
That includes a give and take. If ReadWrite pursued a crowdfunding campaign, what would you be interested in paying for, beyond just supporting the work we’re already doing today? What accountability would you ask for in terms of the results and value we delivered?
In thinking about these questions, I take inspiration from Eric Migicovsky, the founder of smartwatch maker Pebble. He didn’t need to go back to Kickstarter to sell his company’s latest product, the Pebble Time—but only crowdfunding provided that direct link with supporters who helped shape the product.
ReadWrite’s not a gadget. It’s something very different. But whether we do a crowdfunding campaign or fund ReadWrite in other novel ways, what it will become over the next dozen years must be driven by the people who read it. There’s no other way for us to grow and prosper.
If you have thoughts on how ReadWrite might run a crowdfunding campaign, send me a message on Twitter (@owenthomas) or leave a comment below.
Photo by glasgowbury