Matter’s vision for long-form journalism
Yesterday morning, a very exciting new journalism project was launched on Kickstarter. It’s called Matter, and it’s going to be home to long-form investigative narrative journalism about science and technology. “No cheap reviews, no snarky opinion pieces, no top ten lists,” they promise. “Just one unmissable story.”
They hit a nerve: as I write this, some 31 hours after the Kickstarter campaign was launched, it has already reached $44,395 of its $50,000 goal, with 569 backers. That’s an average of almost $80 each. “People are giving way more than I thought they would,” said co-founder Jim Giles when I talked to him today. “We have tapped into frustration with the way the internet has promoted quick and cheap journalism and bashed longer-quality stuff, or at least undermined the business model that used to support that sort of thing.”
Matter will surely exceed its $50,000 goal, which is great news, because the more money it raises the better. In the first instance, the $50,000 will be enough to get a nice website up and running, and should also pay for the first three stories on the site. With more money, Matter can get more ambitious: commission more stories, for one thing, but also start building an iPad app which would live in the iOS Newsstand. Or maybe something on Android, or both. There’s a lot of opportunity out there.
This is an old-school Kickstarter campaign, where people are raising the money they need to create something great. It’s not one of those campaigns where donors are essentially pre-buying the product in advance: this isn’t about buying stories before they’re published, or buying subscriptions before the publication even exists. “We’re asking people to make an investment in a sustainable platform for really good journalism,” says Giles, “not to buy a whole bunch of articles in advance.” (That said, anybody pledging $10 or more will get the first three stories, $50 gets you the first six, $100 gets you the first ten, $300 gets you the first 50, and $1,000 gets you a lifetime subscription.)
Once Matter has launched, readers will have the option of buying individual stories for 99 cents each — the Kindle Single model, basically — or buying a subscription. It’ll be monthly at first, and then weekly, assuming everything goes according to plan.
The stories themselves are going to be really good, I think. Matter’s founders, Jim Giles and Bobbie Johnson, are both first-rate journalists, and they’ve quietly amassed a list of really good writers and editors they want to work with. They have a smart model: rather than soliciting detailed pitches, they’re more interested in writers coming to them with vaguer ideas. The writer then gets matched to an editor very early on — before the piece is even formally commissioned — and the final article comes together as a collaboration between the writer, editor, and publishers.
I like this model, because one big weakness of long-form narrative journalism is that it has failed to embrace everything the web is capable of. Writers get commissioned to write X thousand words on Y; they then hand in a document written in Microsoft Word, which goes through a few rounds of editing before getting laid out to a greater or lesser degree. (Ben Hammersley is really good at diagnosing this problem and suggesting how to begin solving it.) I’m optimistic that Matter’s editing process will help its stories be much richer than most of what we’re seeing today.
Matter is coming into a world where companies like The Atavist and Byliner have already broken important ground, and where willingness to pay for content is clearly going up. It’s entirely natural, online, to disaggregate things like magazines, and have a blog over here be really good at what would in a magazine be the front-of-book stuff, while a subscription site over there specializes in features.
And while Matter is quite narrow in what it wants to publish — chiefly long-form, narrative, investigative news stories about science and technology — it’s quite broad in terms of how it intends to distribute that content, and what kind of models it might embrace along the way. For instance, Giles is very keen to work with newspapers, who might help underwrite some of the cost of reporting these stories, in return for being able to break the news in them. Matter would then give those stories the long-form narrative treatment. Or maybe the same story could just appear in both places, if the newspaper covered the costs of the reporting.
In any case, this is a great project, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of the readers of this blog would love to support it. Most long-form journalism these days is political, with much of the rest being in the art-and-literature field. There are thousands of amazing stories in science and technology; I can’t wait for Matter to start uncovering them.