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Imagine! Asking for $10 Million-Plus to Start a Dweebsite!

How Ezra Klein learned he isn’t a star after all.

January 21, 2014 By Denny Hatch
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Ezra Klein, an analyst, columnist and television commentator who runs The Washington Post's Wonkblog, is making plans to leave the newspaper after failing to win support for a new website he wanted to create within the company, according to four people with knowledge of the negotiations. —Ravi Somaiya, The New York Times

Insiders reported Klein asked The Washington Post's new owner—Amazon's Jeff Bezos—and publisher Katharine Weymouth for an investment "in eight figures." (That's $10 million or more!) They
turned him down.

Golly gee. Why would Jeff and Katherine do that?

Quite simply, they looked at Klein's track record.

A 2-Letter Word in the Times Lede Says It All
Ezra Klein, an analyst, columnist and television commentator ...

Were Ezra Klein a nationally recognized star journalist—like Bob Woodward, Andrew Ross Sorkin or Tom Friedman—Ravi Somaiya's lede might have been:

Ezra Klein, the analyst, columnist and television commentator ...

Alas, Ezra Klein is a minor media figure—a columnist and blogger for a sick newspaper (The Washington Post) and occasional guest-host on teensy-weensy MSNBC (average prime time viewership 640,000).

When Klein revamped his blog in 2011, he got coverage in New York Magazine. The title of Joe Coscarelli's story: Ezra Klein's New Wonkblog Is Standing Proud for 'Boring Nerds Who Like Charts'

Now Ezra Klein wants $10 million-plus to create a brand new website "dedicated to explanatory journalism on a wide range of topics beyond political policy."

In other words an audience of policy wonks, political junkies and dweebs.

My opinion:
  • These are not folks who would likely pay cash money for a subscription. Their mantra: All information should be free.
  • Nor are they juicy free-spending consumers that advertisers are salivating to reach.
  • Explanatory journalism on a wide range of topics beyond political policy is—to be charitable—an anemic Unique Selling Proposition (USP) with nothing unique about it.
What's more, in terms of competition on the Web, Ezra Klein's current Wonkblog sucks hind tit.
Website                        Unique Visitors Per Month

Ezra Klein's Wonkblog     4.0 MM
Salon                            5.7 MM
Politico                          6.7 MM
Drudge Report               14.4 MM
Daily Beast                    15.0 MM
Slate                             17.0 MM      18.8 MM
Gawker                         22.0 MM
E! Online                       24.0 MM
Huffington Post              72.0 MM
Buzzfeed                       85.0 MM

How long would it take for investors to start making a decent return on their $10 million-plus from this crowd? Five years? 10? My opinion: never.

Launching a Website? Follow the Tried and True Model.
If Ezra Klein had a marketing consultant who was schooled and mentored in 20th century testing, he might have come up with a viable business plan.

A website could be launched on a modest scale. Ezra Klein could persuade his chums to provide sweat equity content in return for a pittance and a percentage of the company. Hopefully it would fog the mirror and maybe start to grow legs.

If it makes news, roils markets, creates controversy and virally generates more and more readers, Klein might have a business. With a large enough list of "unique visitors," advertisers would follow.

In turn, this would be attractive to venture capitalists.

A yummy IPO would follow.

Giving Ezra Klein $10 million-plus to create a new dweebsite when his current one runs last in the pack is akin to Newt Gingrich's scheme build a moon colony.

"I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired.'" —Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich, Republican Presidential Debate, Jan. 26, 2012

Takeaways to Consider

  • All the old rules of marketing apply to the Internet.
  • In direct marketing, two rules and two rules only exist: Rule No. 1: Test everything. Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1. —Malcolm Decker
  • Start with a powerhouse of a USP. Anything less and you don't have a business.
  • Know thy potential universe.
  • Know thy competition.
  • The three-word mantra for success: "PROFITS, PROFITS, PROFITS!"
  • Advice from a geezer to Ezra: Ask for $300,000 and then proceed to work your ass off.
  • "Imitation is the sincerest form of collective stupidity." —W. Carroll (Bill) Munro




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