The cursor on the screen is blinking. Where do we go from here? Quo vadis? No better moment to ask that question than after a long trip. That’s why I want to take you down into my engine room (=my brain) for a moment, into the thought process that’s going on.
Because, obviously, there are so many interesting options nowadays. The most interesting for me personally is the fast rise of paid newsletters on services such as Substack or Medium.
These platforms have massive audiences on them already, which in theory increases the serendipity of discovering your newsletter as well. You don’t need to worry about technology, hosting, payments, and all the other stuff a content creator like me doesn’t want to devote his time to.
The success stories of reporters and journalists building their own brand and making money is inspiring. In my view though it can’t hide the fact these are the exceptions and not the rule. It is still freaking hard to find a couple of thousand people to subscribe to your newsletters, let alone pay for it. Not to mention the psychological pressure of having to keep producing content over an extended period of time.
In short: I like the idea, but it doesn’t seem to be a viable option for me. Another line of thought is presented by people like Craig Mod (writer, photographer & walker) and futurologist / innovation expert Peter Bihr. Both are experimenting with so-called Special Projects, basically subscription plans for paying members. That money in return enables these great creative people to make whatever they deem to be useful and fun. Blogposts, podcasts, books, Peter Bihr even experimented with producing a sustainable jeans line.
This is of course a much more familiar area for me, as I have stepped up my content production considerably in the last couple of years. There is the travel blog Into The Arms of America I started in July 2019, about my trips through Latin America. I published a book about the first trip, a second one is almost ready (if you know a publisher of English-languaged books who would be interested to market a book about travel during a pandemic, let me know!).
There was also the German-Dutch Football Dictionary, a freaky hobby project that ended up being published by Dutch magazine Staantribune. A book that brought massive amounts of publicity in newspapers and radio. It might not have made me massive amounts of money, but loads of creative joy and satisfaction.
In recent months my travel experiences also inspired me to experiment a bit and gain experience with different formats. On Instagram I did some more videos (Stories and Instagram TV). On YouTube I made some #Shorts videos. The new travel book made me start a podcast, where I will read a chapter one episode at a time.
And then, of course, my unrelenting curiosity also makes me read books and blogs about innovation, technology and society. These again inspire me to sometimes write longer essays / deep dives, which I sometimes publish on LinkedIn.
All in all, those are massive amounts of content. In my five weeks in Medellin I already wrote approximately 100-120k words, around 300 A4-sized pages.
The question of course now is: Can and do you want to make money with that, just like for example Craig Mod and Peter Bihr? Sounds great, of course. But a quick reality check: Both have been building their audiences for at least a decade, whereas my production pace and the topics vary greatly. It thus would be a massive and loooong effort to get a couple of hundred subscribers willing to pay 25-50-100€ a year to enjoy my content.
There is another element to this idea. My experiments like YouTube Shorts or podcasts give me a tremendous amount of freedom, as there are no expectations from anyone. I can just play around and make what I like when I want it and how I want it. I obviously have my own hopefully high quality standards. But nobody will complain when I fuck up.
This would change with paid memberships / Special Projects, though the financial support would of course also enable further experimentation. It would as well create the one thing you can’t ever buy back: time. More money means more time to read and write, travel and take pictures, and all the other things I love to do.
The step seems too big to me at the moment. It’s interesting to play around with the ideas though. To see whether there are alternative models, where a mix of paid memberships and freelance work or part-time employment might be feasible.
Because when I wrote down my personal mission last year, it said: ‘I never want to repeat myself. Keep on looking for new knowledge, experiences, people, countries.’ This quest is ongoing, my friends. Probably forever. It means a lot of activity in the engine room, as you could just see in the sneak peek. It also means I am super-flexible and always looking for new options, eternally curious.
Qou vadis? I don’t know yet. But if you have any ideas, examples or experiences to share, don’t hesitate to contact me!
p.s. when in Medellin I was asked by my good friend and urbanist Donald Hyslop (of the Tate Modern museum in London) to talk about my background, inspiration, and travel experiences. The one-hour interview for London radio station Resonance FM can be found here