Ideas for other people: The Kill Fee
Ideas are an infinite resource -- we all have way more of them than we can possibly ever implement and even the really good ones are probably destined to stay un-executed.
The best thing to do with those ideas is to share them with the world -- in rough form at least -- in the hope that someone else might have the time and inclination to give them a try.
It’s in that spirit that I offer the latest installment in my semi-regular series: Ideas for other people.
Today’s idea: The Kill Fee -- a magazine filled with spiked stories.
The genesis of the idea came while I was editing Alex Halperin’s brilliant profile of ebbu, which we published on Pando early last week. The story was originally commissioned by Rolling Stone but, for a variety of logistical and legal reasons, they ended up not publishing it. Alex offered the story to us, and after a couple of weeks of editing and legal-ing, we were proud to present it to Pando readers.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been able to pick up a great story, either for Pando or NSFWCORP, which another magazine has decided for whatever reason to kill. Oftentimes the reason is cowardice: the story ends up being too hot, or otherwise legally risky for the originally commissioner and they decide instead that it’s cheaper and easier to pay the writer a kill fee than to face a possible legal challenge over the piece. The author is then left holding a great story, and check for a fraction of what the story is worth.
Enter “The Kill Fee.” In print and online, the Kill Fee would be a monthly (or perhaps quarterly) news and arts magazine filled with stories that other magazines have chickened out of publishing. Like NSFWCORP or Pando, the publication would be available to paying subscribers only (but probably with the same sharing functionality pioneered at NSFWCORP and Pando). Those subscribers could feel proud of knowing they were supporting the very riskiest, most endangered, and likely most important journalism being published in America.
The benefit to writers should be obvious: Whereas they might otherwise be forced to dump the story on their blog or -- ugh -- Medium, now there would be a place to pitch spiked stories, knowing they’d be paid a fair price. More importantly, the Kill Fee would offer them the same level of editing and legal protection that they would get at the original publication. They’d also have access to a dedicated art department and distribution in print as well as online. Ideally, the magazine would have a first-look deal with either Amazon or Netflix, plus a literary agent to help secure book deals for the biggest stories. The author would retain all the rights so they’d be free to pursue those adaptation deals -- or not.
The business model is great for the publisher too. The magazine becomes the Nordstrom Rack of media: The same quality you’d expect to pay top dollar for, but available at a fraction of the normal cost. An article worth tens of thousands of dollars might be available for a couple of thousand. Even with the cost of legal and editing and art, I know from experience at NSFWCORP that, done right, subscriptions can provide a healthy editorial budget. (At NSFWCORP the “problem” was we commissioned stories from scratch, and had most of our writers on staff. Of course that “problem” was also the whole point of NSFWCORP, but it wouldn’t be at the Kill Fee.)
Unlike NSFWCORP, which raised a million dollars in venture capital by the end, the Kill Fee could probably produce a pilot for a tenth of that. Media is a hard business to raise money for but a hundred grand is certainly angel-able, or failing that Kickstarter-able.
That’s as far as I’ve got with the idea. It might be a terrible idea, or it might (very slim-ly possibly) be brilliant. If you’re looking for a startup idea, it’s all yours.