You are what makes the Blind Spot work. We value you immensely. With that in mind, I want to keep you abreast of recent developments and update you on our operational status.
Back in February 2022, when I started the Blind Spot, I knew the biggest challenge for an independent operator would be losing access to the economies of scale of a mainstream editorial system. This is precisely why I was sceptical about going down the independent author route at Substack. I knew if I was going to make an independent venture work without compromising on quality, I would have to invest to add resources and staff quickly. There is simply no way a single author can compete with scaled-up competitors unless they are in the Glen Greenwald or Matt Taibbi superstar camp.
Substack argues its business model is focused on easing payment friction for independent authors, which is true. But it comes at a cost. The platform takes 10 per cent of your revenue. On top of that authors still have to pay transaction costs.
As Substack has grown it has tried to professionalise its service to help authors thrive on the platform. For the past two years, it was offering professional writers special deals guaranteeing their income or deals that allowed them to tap support services at discounted rates (access to news archives, graphics artists, copyright-approved imagery, and a minimal amount of legal services.)
But this wasn’t quite right for what I wanted to create. My intent was to scale myself up and operate a lean but profitable model sustainably on my own platform, with my own look and template.
Where are we today?
After nine months of full-time operation, I have a much better idea of the Blind Spot’s capabilities, growth potential and my own capacity to sustain everything.
Suffice it to say, I have never worked harder in my career or been more thinly spread. I’ve learned a lot.
Subscribers deserve quality though, so I have to be honest about our capabilities. It’s clear I was too rash about what I could reasonably pull off on a weekly basis, without burning myself out. The new mantra will have to be focused on under-promising and over-delivering, and the adage that less is more.
The Blind Spot was set up with the following consistent offers in mind:
- 1 free weekly newsletter sent out on a Sunday.
- Basic premium news-driven content and analysis for £20 per month or £200 per year.
- Additional access to our super-premium spotlight “deep dives” as and when they come about for £50 per month, or £500 per year (I tried to do this once a week, but that proved unsustainable for the quality I was aiming for.)
For reach purposes I was also providing the following free content:
- Two editions of the Blind Spot Wrap (with commentary) per week.
- “A long time in finance” transcripts.
- Ocassional contributor content.
Finally, I was also providing the following content with a view to it being sponsored:
- The Leaked Lunch podcast – (the original intent was to make this weekly, but it soon became clear that was an overstretch, and it has since adjusted to a once a month pace).
- Spot Markets Live – (A one-hour text-based live news commentary service at 11am every Monday, with a view to expanding to more days if sponsorship was achieved. Staying subscriber only if it didn’t).
- The Blind Spot podcast with Junseth – (Sporadic but aiming to be weekly as soon as it became monetisable on YouTube.)
- Leaked Lunch show notes – (available to subscribers.)
- The Blind Spot Discord community – overseen by me with moderation and active participation. (I have to say this is really working beyond my expectations. It’s a fantastic resource that more than substitutes for detachment from the Alphaville slack.)
How we’re restructuring
Where’s my free newsletter? – If you’re a free subscriber, you may have noticed the disappearance of this email in recent weeks. The reality is, while I had hoped I could sustain it, I couldn’t. The Sunday mail-out time slot was also impeding my responsibilities as a mum. I didn’t want to make formal apologies until I knew my capabilities. I do now.
From this week onwards our free “reach” product will become the Blind Spot Wrap and will be published Friday afternoon on the Blind Spot website. This will be mailed out first thing Saturday morning. The wrap will collate the important stories from the week that we think didn’t get enough traction, and/or present angles on the big stories that weren’t necessarily floated enough. It will also provide links to all the stories published on The Blind Spot that week.
Advertising opportunities are available for this product, providing they are value-aligned and come with no strings attached.
Our other offerings continue as follows:
Basic premium offering – This remains unchanged. Access to all core Blind Spot content comes at £20 per week or £200 per year.
Spotlight premium offering – The premium spotlights will continue but on an “as produced” basis. Access to all tiers comes at £50 per month or £500 per year.
Blind Spot 24hr access – We have introduced 24hr access for £5 as an alternative way to access Blind Spot content if you’re not ready to commit to a subscription. The access is no strings attached and we will not try to entrap you at the end of the period.
Blind Spot Outlook
In the near term, the biggest constraint on Blind Spot output will be insufficient bandwidth on my part.
As it stands, I have more stories, leads and insights than time to write and edit them, meaning most of the Blind Spot’s information advantage is firmly unstructured. My writing time is definitely being consumed by management and commercial responsibilities; more than I appreciated.
The lure of doing speaking engagements, panels and freelancing gigs has also imposed on my time. These engagements have proven an important source of personal revenue following what, I have to be honest, was a choppy summer for subs.
Doing conferences and public speaking events can be a great way to meet people and get access to stories and newsworthy people. But there’s no doubt they come at a cost. Being constantly on the road reduces focused and thoughtful output (at least it does for me). Access sometimes also comes with its own impositions and conditions. Striking the right balance is essential, especially when you’re independent and don’t have the management filters to protect you from corporate influence.
Negotiating fees can certainly be awkward. This is why I’m interested in what subscribers think my policy on this should be – especially since all these events distract me from creating Blind Spot content.
There’s no doubt I’m over-subscribed, so it’s simply not possible for me to do these events gratis or for expenses only. As it stands, I tend only to agree if I think an event is truly going to be news-generating for me, good for contacts or a marketing opportunity for the Blind Spot. The upside for subscribers (as I see it) is that if I can supplement my income from such events and use them to promote the Blind Spot, which extends my capacity to self-fund development of the Blind Spot while growing subs. Of course, if I do too many of these, there’s also no product to sell. So it can all become a bit self-defeating.
Last, I’m often invited to do freelancing jobs. In the last year, I’ve written for Bloomberg, Unherd, and Boat International – among others. I’ve agreed to these jobs mainly to supplement my income but also to help promote the Blind Spot. I’m not entirely sure this has always been worthwhile and again I’m curious to know what subscribers (both free and paid) think in terms of balance.
The objective is to get to a point where Blind Spot revenue alone can sustain me.
Blind Spot Opportunities
I’m going to be honest the next few months or so are going to determine sustainability. For this to work, and I still think it can, the Blind Spot needs to find the capital (sub revenue, or a backer) to recruit and fund the following:
- One commercial manager in charge of subscriber relations, marketing, advertising relations, sponsorship and events. I’m happy to consider some sort of performance-related remuneration structure or commission.
- Two experienced financial journalists who are self-starters and thrive in an autonomous environment, and who naturally orientate towards going after stories that others are not following.
- A short development contract to professionalise and redevelop the website.
- Part-time or freelance podcast and video editor.
In an ideal world, the funding for this would come from subscriber revenue so as to keep the Blind Spot independent. We are, however, also considering an approach that would ensure the continuity of the Blind Spot offering, albeit with a loss of direct control.
Special Investigations Fund
I have at least four big stories (with good sources) that merit significant investigation that I don’t think the mainstream media will ever likely cover. I know freelancers who could do this work very well under my guidance. The problem with such work for small outlets is that it can be cost-prohibitive. First, there’s the expense associated with legal and insurance cover — if you were to get sued it could destroy you. Then there’s the risk that the investigation goes nowhere in the end. Too often in media the fear of generating an outright sunk cost prevents active investigation. It also orientates publications towards publishing poor-quality findings if and when the investigation does turn out to be a dud, in a bid to show something for it.
That’s why I’m wondering if there might be a middle ground that unbundles investigations in such a way that they can be crowd-funded by interested parties organically. In contrast to private investigations, the findings of such investigations would always be made public. The whole thing could be organised very transparently and also include safeguards against infiltration by vested interests or parties.
To give you an idea of costs, an active investigation into say Amazon (just because I’m currently focused on the sustainability of that company, and quite intrigued by its exposure to crypto), might take between two to six months of work. To be done well it would need at least one full-time reporter, with access to legal advice, libel insurance, editor supervision, and graphics support. Legal costs and investigation length would vary greatly depending on the target. But, overall, a top-quality investigation can probably be done for between £25k-50k. A break clause around the £5-10k spending mark could be included if the investigation shows early on it’s going nowhere. The remaining funds would then be returned or transferred to a new target.
I am interested in feedback about this idea.
I’m seeking professional journalists to join me in starting an ethics and standards-led professional writing community. This will allow independents who share the same values to pool resources together. If you are interested in joining forces with The Blind Spot and helping me draft a code of conduct declaration that others can bolt into (or a competing one of your own) please get in touch or join the Innscribers Discord through this link. We are looking for around 100 journalists founders of the system. The idea is to reward these early founders with some equity and keep the system as journalistically owned as possible.
The training service I floated here, will ideally be set up within the construct of Innscribers.
I welcome feedback on all the above points and am available on [email protected]