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Reasons not to start an online magazine

TLDR: The magazine model is not the best choice for indie intellectuals trying to start something. Two reasons: (1) Accelerating digital culture requires you to move fast and group projects move slower than solo projects, and (2) accelerating media segmentation rewards increasingly unique, hyper-niche content, so smaller, in-house production teams are better able to express unique micro-niches. I discuss some other social-psychological bases for this view, and acknowledge some exceptions.

I recently consulted for an individual interested in starting a group publication online, but he wanted my feedback. Here’s a transcript of my answer. The audio will eventually make its way into a podcast or something….

The publication model a lot of people have in their minds, I feel like it doesn't work anymore. There's this mental model people have of putting together a kind of collective internet project and... People will think about that in this relatively traditional template as a "publication," right? You have an editorial staff, and then you solicit talent and you commission works and stuff like that. My sense is that — I mean, I'm not 95% certain of this, but it's a hunch and it's my own personal, strategic sense of things — that type of model is just broken. It doesn't work any more in the new digital context.

I do see some people try to do digital publications, kind of like on the magazine model — I guess there are a few that are kind of succeeding right now. Something like Jacobin would be an example, or N+1, I think, is still going strong, or even Jacobite is something of an example. But I think what all of those examples have in common is relatively large, captive audiences they're drawing on. So Jacobin, for instance, it's pretty much a DSA organ, they've monopolized a particular membership group of people that are already unified, already see themselves in the same subculture and they're already dues-paying members. So they have a certain willingness to pay. They're piggy-backing on that, you know? N+1, they're much older I think, and they came up before the real digital publishing revolution really had its effects. Also, those people are really well networked in New York circles and stuff like that. Then with Jacobite, I don't even know if they're an exception that proves the rule because I think they're probably just barely staying afloat. They punch above their weight in terms of impact, I think they're a successful venture, but I don't think anyone is really making much money and I don't think it's particularly growing in a really rapid or exciting way.

In some sense, they're an example of: You can do that type of thing well, and they've definitely had a pretty good impact. Though they're pretty well networked in Silicon Valley circles, and I think they probably have a few decently generous backers, is my understanding. Of course, there's a bunch of more traditional magazines or magazine models that just seem to be going down the tubes slowly…

I could go on at length about why I think that model is a bit dangerous at the moment and why it's not exactly the most promising or exciting thing, but that's not to necessarily push you off it! These sorts of things can be very worthwhile, even if they're short lived or they don't exactly take off in the way you might hope. I'm not necessarily saying don't do it. I'm just saying, I have been watching a lot of this stuff and I do have a sense that that's not the most exciting thing.

So you might be wondering, okay Justin, what's replacing it or what's the better model? I think people are just figuring this out, but one way I would summarize it... All the new stuff that is most successful and that also small groups can bootstrap with relative efficiency, without connections or backers... It has to be more subcultural and niche. Bite the bullet and embrace that you're going to really only be interesting to a pretty specific type of person. That's part of what is going on in a lot of the successful ventures.

The second thing is, the projects that are succeeding right now, they really leverage the agility and efficiency of either solo creators or very small group collaborations that get along really well. One of the problems with the magazine model is that it's this larger corporate structure, where there's a board or there's some sort of leadership panel, and then they organize other people's work and fund it and support it and edit it and publish it. And one basic problem with all of that is, it just takes a lot of time. There's a lot of friction, and transaction costs. You'll find that trying to get people to write for you is like herding cats, you know, because most... er... a lot of people just aren't that productive. They're just not that focused. Even smart people, even people who are capable. It's just very hard for people. Whereas, if you're a solo creator or you have a small band of three to four people who are pumped and productive and motivated, and they're on the same page sufficiently well enough that there's not a lot of time wasted on debates about what should be done and what shouldn't be done... That small group can just churn out content. And I think what's really winning right now is volume and consistency.

An outfit that can produce new stuff every single day, let's say for a few months straight. Even if it's relatively short stuff, even if it's not the most amazing stuff. If you can achieve that kind of consistency and volume, I feel like that's the stuff that is winning right now. Just because there's so much noise that, to really get through to any particular community that you want to communicate with, there's such a high quantity of stuff floating around — and a lot of it is crap — that the only way to really get through is if you have your signal being emitted out into the world regularly all the time. Because only a few people are going to see each tweet. Only a few people are going to see each blog post. But if you're able to do that every single day, then it adds up in a way that other tempos or publishing frequencies don't add up.

Also, the smaller groups or the solo projects, what they have to their advantage right now is real personality character. This is something that people are really into right now, people won't really subscribe for things or buy things or even read things unless the producer is a human that they feel some sort of connection to. And again, the magazine model, it's much more corporate and cold. The magazine model prides itself on high quality, long-form stuff, which is cool, but it just doesn't register with people today, psychologically, because even if there's a really, really, really profound, good 10,000 word article, that was patiently edited, and the spelling is perfect, and the writers are very talented.... People see that and they're just like, "I don't feel like reading this." Whereas, if it's some person that they know of and have some sort of identification or relationship with, or a small collective that they know of, then they're emotionally motivated to check it out. [You’re not giving up on maximum high-quality, because all that content can be gathered, edited, revised, and reconstituted into sophisticated long-form later, just as high-quality as a magazine’s feature article.]

The emotional motivation is the make-or-break variable that is deciding right now what rises to the top and what doesn't. Especially for purchasing decisions. For people who are going to make that decision, "Oh, I want to throw these people five bucks a month," or "I want to buy this book," or not. That is hugely emotional and hugely personal [because trust in institutions is unprecedentedly low]. And I think you can only win that game if you have a very human, small-scale type of high-volume, high-consistency production model with a very focused subcultural niche, which is just very human and raw and honest (though the humans should use lots of AI in their production processes behind the scenes, as I do). That's my two cents on what seems to be working right now and what seems to not be working…

Fully automated personal brands

Right now, it’s still seen as bad taste to overly automate your personal social media — and for good reason. But taste changes, and it always follows the money.

As machine learning gets better, we will soon cross the threshold where some minority fraction of the dumbest people will be unable to distinguish between a real human's "personal brand" and a fully automated machinic substitute trained on that human's history of creative content. Let's call that fraction the "dupe fraction." In the first period after crossing this threshold, higher-IQ people will still be capable of such discernment, and they will mock and stigmatize anyone they catch replacing themselves with machinic substitutes. But as the dupe fraction increases — and it must, unless you think machine learning cannot get any better — the payoffs to machinic self-replacement will eventually outweigh the costs of stigmatization by elite discerners. It is inevitable that there will therefore be a period in which elite discerners will be barking into a void, only to be outcompeted (with respect to influence) by those who bear the short-term stigma to win the longer-term race of machinic content domination. Then, of course, machinic self-replacement will become the index of Cool.

The tricky problem is knowing when we cross this threshold. It is not inconceivable that we've already crossed it. Machine learning tools may already be good enough, for how many dumb people are already on the internet, that someone such as myself could hand over all my public posting channels to machine intelligence, turn the quantity and consistency up ten notches, alienate all my high-IQ audience, but replace them with 100x as many dumb people over the course of a couple years.

My personal diagnosis — and trust me, I've been looking into this for some time! — is that we're not quite there yet. I've even experimented with some pilot programs, e.g. an anonymous Twitter account trained on my own writings, for instance. It's pretty decent, actually, but if I ever used it for my personal account, the number of people for whom it would pass the Turing Test is too small relative to the number of smart people who would see through it and think I'm a dumb loser.

I should note that another crucial variable is the accessibility of machine intelligence. I could perhaps do better than one Twitter account trained on a collection of my own writings, but the currently available tools and workflows are still a little too demanding for this to be rational at the moment. Although the tools are rapidly growing more convenient.

It's ultimately an empirical question when, exactly, we cross this threshold. Everyone has to make their own wagers. But I think most people are over-estimating how long it will be until machinic self-replacement becomes the winning strategy — indeed, an existential necessity — for any intellectuals and content creators wishing to remain in the meme pool.

One thing is clear, however. Do not wait for machinic self-replacement to be affirmed by prestigious institutional opinion. By that time, it will certainly be too late: all the cool kids will have already machined most of their internet personas to unprecedented degrees. By then, it may already be the pre-requisite for making real and valuable social connections with smart and creative people in the real world. I would bet there are already Zoomers experimenting with automated "personal brands" to degrees I would look down upon. I'm guessing I won't hear about them until their content systems blow mine out of the water. The trick will be to make this transition late enough that you keep as many of your high-education/high-IQ audience as possible, but early enough that you win a decent slice of the first-mover advantage.

The Decentralized Content Landscape with LBRY CEO Jeremy Kauffman

Jeremy Kauffman is the CEO of LBRY, a free, decentralized, blockchain-based digital content platform. We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of decentralized content platforms for independent intellectuals.

https://lbry.com — https://lbry.tv

If you'd like to discuss this podcast with me and others, suggest future guests, or read/watch/listen to more content on these themes, request an invitation to my free community forum.

Are you an independent intellectual? I'm building a private membership community for those of us getting serious about increasing our impact and financial success. If this sounds like you, request an invitation at IndieThinkers.org.

This podcast is made possible by my patrons so big thanks to them. If you'd like to help expand my operations, you can become a patron yourself.

Click here to download this episode.

Get F*ck You Money, Practice Nomadology, and Join the Internet Aristocracy with Alexander Bard

Once a normie record producer, Alexander is now a creative internet madman who commands billionaires to do whatever he wants. In this podcast, he explains how he did it. First, he says, "whore" yourself out to make "f*ck you money." If you're ever afraid of speaking freely, just "get out of there!" Whore yourself another way. Read Deleuze and implement a practical nomadology. Know yourself, know your type, know your role and play it. You shouldn't even know what's taboo and what isn't! People who speak freely on the internet are "of a higher class" today, and people who respect political correctness will be the new proletariat. These were the major points I took him to be making.

I really enjoyed this high-energy discussion and gained more than a few new ideas for orienting and improving my own independent intellectual life in 2020 and beyond.

Are you an independent intellectual? I'm building a private membership community for those of us getting serious about increasing our impact and financial success. If this sounds like you, request an invitation at IndieThinkers.org.

If you'd like to discuss this podcast with me and others, suggest future guests, or read/watch/listen to more content on these themes, request an invitation to my free community forum.

This podcast is made possible by my patrons so big thanks to them. If you'd like to help expand my operations, you can become a patron yourself.

Click here to download this episode.

Truth = Joy = Power: Spinoza's Galaxy Brain

We live in a bourgeois culture where people hate intellectuals, the truth is. So, yes, of course there are stupid people on the internet who are really pretentious and think they're really smart. However, there are also really smart people on the internet who are very interesting and independent, and I think real intellectuals actually know this type of exploding galaxy brain moment, and it's one of the things that we live for as thinkers, I think. And I think the fact that the galaxy brain meme was a thing, and that it's generally a kind of resentful, negative meme — it's usually used to make fun of someone else or to object to them or to belittle them — is really just a representation or an emblem of bourgeois anti-intellectualism really, and a kind of resentful nay-saying...

A univocal ontology prohibits us from false distinctions, and it forces us to rely on these qualitative differences, which I think Spinoza and Deleuze want to say are the real differences. And they are real in part because they are immanent. When I encounter someone and I feel joy, I feel my power is increasing, right? (Puissance, not pouvoir.) Remember the galaxy brain meme. This is why I introduced that. You feel like a galaxy brain when you're talking with someone that you really get along well with. You can just feel immanently, intuitively, that this person is somehow increasing your power. It's increasing your capacities and that is associated with the emotion known as joy. That's all happening immanently, automatically. It's happening from within what is already going on. You're not calculating, you're not strategizing, you're not creating a model. It's an automatic kind of pre-conscious process. And I think Deleuze wants to say that that is what's real. Those differences are real. We're all one substance, but those differences are real.

Univocity: Lecture 3 on Based Deleuze

Not everyone needs to be heard

One of the worst mistakes I made as a younger man was believing that everyone just “needs to be heard.” Some do. I don't relinquish at all my conviction that exhaustive, collective, emotional unloading — what the feminist tradition once called "consciousness raising" — is a veritable form of revolutionary politics with real effects. Nonetheless, there exist individuals who wish to perform a kind of intellectualized temper tantrum, which is not an honest disclosure or unconcealing, but a kind of instrumental technique — where the listener is the object of manipulation. My former inability to discern the characteristic differences between these two modes was perhaps the single greatest error of my twenties, in terms of resource wastage (time and effort, mostly). Practical resources that could increase such discernment for others would be extremely valuable, especially today, as the need for them appears to be increasing...

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