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kottke.org posts about Tavi Gevinson

Rookie and the Business of Independent Publishing

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

Tavi Gevinson started Rookie in 2011 when she was 15 years old and late last week announced that the online magazine was ceasing publication. The stories about the struggle of independent online media in the age of Google & Facebook are well-worn by now, but the first couple of pages of Gevinson’s letter really resonated with me and with what I’m doing (and not doing) here at kottke.org. This paragraph specifically:

It has sometimes felt like there are two Rookies: There’s the publication that you read, that I also love reading, writing for, and editing; and then there is the company that I own and am responsible for. The former is an art project; the latter is a business. Each one needs and feeds the other, but when I started Rookie at age 15, I saw the two as mutually exclusive. Rookie had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media; to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person. In my black-and-white view of the world, the idea of capitalizing on an audience seemed cynical, selfish, and something only evil adults do. It would be misleading to say I was a total purist, though, because I also thought Rookie was really good, and that it should reach people rather than be small and struggling. I wanted it to be able to hire more editors, pay contributors more, and grow so that not everything would need my oversight and other voices could be more prominent. I also wanted Rookie to eventually be a source of income for me, which I didn’t need it to be when I was a teenager and living at home. In those first few years, however, just the day-to-day running of the site was brain-consuming enough without also actively trying to make it as profitable as possible. And, that was the part I was most passionate about, and adept at: collaborating with writers and artists, curating and editing their work, and watching the conversations that would unfold around it.

Over the years, kottke.org could have gone in many different directions — possible acquisitions by Conde Nast publications, funding, partnerships — but I could never convince myself that any of those options would actually make the site any better or make me any happier. I thought then, and I still think now (more than ever actually), that growing the reach and operations of the site would be a terrific idea, but the business challenge is tougher than ever. Thanks to the support of my readers through the membership program (more on that in a second), the business side is stable-ish and I’ve been able to grow modestly here and there (e.g. the weekly Noticing newsletter written by Tim Carmody), but the scope of this enterprise from a financial standpoint is still just one person. Adding another full-time person to the mix sounds easy, but doubling the size of your business is rocket-ship growth, even when you’re tiny. So I continue to put almost 100% of my efforts into writing the site and almost 0% into things like audience growth, business development, promotion, or marketing…and hoping that the product will continue to speak for itself. This feels both like the right way forward for me and also idiotic, like the foundation of this house I’ve spent 20 years building is slowly rotting away out from under us. It’s a real catch-22 that keeps me up some nights.

But back to Rookie. I’m a little surprised that Gevinson didn’t pursue subscriptions or a membership program, but I can relate to what she writes here:

I also know that the idea of taking money from readers made me feel an immediate and intimidating sense of responsibility. (In retrospect, that may have been a more manageable kind of responsibility than money from investors, and could have been a hint to how I’d feel about investors, but you can’t know what you don’t know.)

The first time I tried funding kottke.org with reader support back in 2005, I ended up scrapping the scheme after a year because of that same “intimidating sense of responsibility”. Now with the membership program, it feels more like the site and the business part are in greater alignment…that this is something we’re all doing together for similar reasons. There should have been a way for a site with a strong sense of community like Rookie to come up with a membership plan that seemed collaborative and not extractive, that felt good for everyone. But maybe Gevinson was just ready to move onto other challenges in other arenas. God knows I can empathize with that myself.

Tavi interviews Lorde

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2014

We may not have our jetpacks and hover cars, but our future-now has given us Tavi Gevinson interviewing Lorde and that’s just as good.

Tavi: On that note, you have a very unique way of looking at the suburb where you live, which I think you’ve called “the Bubble.” When did you realize the suburbs could be a source of inspiration?

Lorde: Well…this sounds so lame, but I grew up reading your blog, man! [Laughs]

Tavi: Oh no! “Ugh, that’s so LAME, shut up!”

Lorde: [Laughs] But no, I think there is something really cool about that whole Virgin Suicides vibe of making even the bad parts bearable. I hate high school so much, but there’s something kind of cool about walking around on the coldest day listening to “Lindisfarne” by James Blake or something and feeling like something has happened, even though it’s the worst thing ever. The album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire was influential to me in that as way well. I just think that record is really beautiful and nostalgic and so well-written. It’s a super-direct way of talking about what it’s like to grow up [in the suburbs], and I think that’s quite lovely.

You’re asking about stuff I’m not used to talking about in interviews, so I don’t have a stock way of driving the question.

Tavi: OK, then: “Do you feel 17?”

Lorde: AGHHHH! What do you even say to that, honestly?

Tavi: It’s kind of a trap, because if you say yes you’re shitting on their question by making it seem obvious, but if you say no you seem like you think you’re older and better.

Lorde: I always get these weird people being like, “Oh, she’s growing up way too fast, she looks 30.” Oh, god.

Tavi: People always say that. I remember — not to be all Mother Hen —

Lorde: No, go for it!

Tavi: I remember when people started paying attention to what I was doing, and it was like, “She should be getting knocked up like all the other kids her age!” It’s like, you complain when you think teenagers are stupid, and then when they try to do something, you’re all, “Oh, they’re growing up too fast, they don’t know what’s good for them.”

Lorde: It seems like a double standard to me. And there’s another part of it which I find really strange, which is that so many interviewers, even ones that I consider really intelligent and good writers, will do the, like, “Oh, you’re not taking your clothes off like Miley Cyrus and all these girls” thing, which to me is just the weirdest thing to say to someone. But then people will say, “She’s always talking about being bored, that’s petulant,” which I feel like is kind of taking the piss out of teenage emotions-just, like, making light of how teenagers feel. When people react that way about things that every teenager experiences, how can you expect to make anything good?

Zuckerberg and Style Rookie and Dyson

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2010

The New Yorker has a trio of interesting articles in their most recent issue for the discerning web/technology lady or gentlemen. First is a lengthy profile of Mark Zuckerberg, the quite private CEO of Facebook who doesn’t believe in privacy.

Zuckerberg may seem like an over-sharer in the age of over-sharing. But that’s kind of the point. Zuckerberg’s business model depends on our shifting notions of privacy, revelation, and sheer self-display. The more that people are willing to put online, the more money his site can make from advertisers. Happily for him, and the prospects of his eventual fortune, his business interests align perfectly with his personal philosophy. In the bio section of his page, Zuckerberg writes simply, “I’m trying to make the world a more open place.”

The second is a profile of Tavi Gevinson (sub. required), who you may know as the youngster behind Style Rookie.

Tavi has an eye for frumpy, “Grey Gardens”-inspired clothes and for arch accessories, and her taste in designers runs toward the cerebral. From the beginning, her blog had an element of mystery: is it for real? And how did a thirteen-year-old suburban kid develop such a singular look? Her readership quickly grew to fifty thousand daily viewers and won the ear of major designers.

And C, John Seabrook has a profile of James Dyson (sub. required), he of the unusual vacuum cleaners, unusual hand dryers, and the unusual air-circulating fan.

In the fall of 2002, the British inventor James Dyson entered the U.S. market with an upright vacuum cleaner, the Dyson DC07. Dyson was the product’s designer, engineer, manufacturer, and pitchman. The price was three hundred and ninety-nine dollars. Not only did the Dyson cost much more than most machines sold at retail but it was made almost entirely out of plastic. In the most perverse design decision of all, Dyson let you see the dirt as you collected it, in a clear plastic bin in the machine’s midsection.