a16z robert cottrell chris best

Writers Writing, Readers Reading, Creators Creating – Robert Cottrell (Founder of “The Browser”) and Chris Best (Founder & CEO of Substack) on the a16z Podcast, Hosted By Sonal Chokshi & Andrew Chen

Check out the a16z Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “Publishing advances one bankruptcy at a time” Robert Cottrell
    • We’ve been financing good writing with bad advertising for far too long—it’s just not doable
  • The best predictor of a piece of writing’s quality is the writer
  • The world has shifted from the mindset of, “Never meet people from the internet,” to, “Only meet people from the internet
    • Now that there are billions of people online, it’s easier than ever to connect with those who share your same interests
  • Instead of spending the time and money attending conferences and networking events, share your valuable insights by writing online. This way, the network comes to you.
  • How to find good online content:
    • Rule #1: “If it doesn’t start well, the chances are vanishingly small that it will improve later”Robert Cottrell
    • Rule #2: Ask yourself, “Is this still going to be a good piece to read in 6, 12, 24 months time?”
      • (The answer should be “yes”)
    • Rule 3: New isn’t always better; read more of what’s stood the test of time

Intro

Books Mentioned

  • The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly explores the idea that, in the future, audiences will be able to sell their attention to advertising companies 

The State of Publishing

  • “Publishing advances one bankruptcy at a time” Robert Cottrell
    • We’ve been financing good writing with bad advertising for far too long—it’s just not doable
    • Publications have become “attention monsters”
  • Robert, who looks at ~1,000 pieces of writing a day, has discovered that the best predictor for the quality of a writing piece is the writer
  • Technology is shifting market power away from publications and towards writers
    • Some individual writers have been able to build personal brands, such as Ben Thompson of Stratechery
  • If you’re going to build an intimate relationship with readers, an email newsletter, an RSS feed, and a social media presence are all essential tools
    • “I think RSS is the most undervalued thing in the entire universe” Robert Cottrell
  • Any decent traditional publication writer can easily make their way to 10k followers on Twitter
    • And, if they stay consistent, they can reach 100k followers fairly quickly

Less Noise, More Signal

  • The web has become quite noisy—there’s a ton of content, but not much value
    • Services such as The Browser help people find more signal
  • When viewing a publication, it’s important to examine their business model (be careful of websites that make money by keeping you addicted to their site)

Translation Tech Will Allow Global Publications to Gain More Readers

  • Robert believes the best news magazine in the world, right now, is the German publisher, Spiegel
    • Global publications will gain more readers as translation technology advances. Eventually, translation technology will reach a point where people will be able to read an article and not tell which language it was originally written in.

We’re Living in an Audio-Driven World

  • Robert enjoys listening to books/articles just as much as reading them
  • AirPods are dramatically evolving the audio world—just as people are constantly on their phones, everyone will soon walk around with AirPods all day long

Monetizing an Online Audience

  • When you have a strong relationship with an audience that loves your work, you’re able to explore your current focus on a deeper level or more easily tackle new subjects areas
    • Think: If you love a writer’s current work, you’d probably enjoy them covering a new subject
  • Changes in the content distribution model have been favorable for creators
    • A top journalist at a publication creates more value than she can capture, but that changes if he/she has their own audience communication channel (through a website, newsletter, etc.)
  • There are multiple ways to monetize an online audience: subscription plans, conferences, consulting sessions, selling premium content, etc.

Create Your Online Community

  • Every online community needs a benevolent dictator—someone who sets the tone and culture (this is often the website’s creator)
  • The world has shifted from the mindset of, “Never meet people from the internet,” to, “Only meet people from the internet
    • Now that there are billions of people online, it’s much easier to connect with individuals who share your same interests
      • In effect, it’s as if “You’re putting out the bat signal for the people who are the same type of weird as you” – Chris Best 
  • “Starting a blog was the single most important decision that I made in my twenties. It’s the thing that unlocked a lot of other opportunities.” – Andrew Chen
    • Advice: Instead of spending the time and money attending conferences and networking events, share your valuable insights by writing online. This way, the network comes to you.
  • Ideally, you want to have control over your audience communication platform (so start an email newsletter!)
    • Here’s why: if your entire audience is on Twitter and Twitter gets shut down, you’re in big trouble

On Creating The Browser

  • Robert used to run the editorial side of The Economist
    • Finding it difficult to start something new in a large company, Robert decided to venture out on his own with the goal of creating an Economist-type publication that was daily instead of weekly
  • When the U.S. economy crashed in 2008, Robert asked himself, “What can I do with no money sitting in my pajamas?”
    • The answer to that? He could read. This insight led Robert to create The Browser, a daily email newsletter that recommends and summarizes five high-value articles.

How to Find Good Online Content

  • Rule #1: “If it doesn’t start well, the chances are vanishingly small that it will improve later”Robert Cottrell
  • Rule #2: Ask yourself, “Is this still going to be a good piece to read in 6, 12, 24 months time?”
    • (The answer should be “yes”)
  • Rule 3: New isn’t always better; read more of what’s stood the test of time

Additional Notes

  • The best writers are honest and have experienced what they’re writing about
  • It’s possible that, in the future, there’ll be a one-person media company worth $1 billion+
    • It could be a video game streamer, a podcaster, or even a newsletter writer
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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