Geezers like me talk about the next generation of media owner, but locally, there aren’t many younger than us. If the over-40 set doesn’t control the purse strings, some corporation does. Now, Taylor Carik — a newly minted 30-year-old — puts his money where his mouth is at Secrets of the City.
Last week, I noted Carik bought SOTC. Frankly, the talk/arts/deals site is small potatoes so I’m not heralding a Twin Cities journalism revolution, especially in the bite-sized nuggets Carik suggests. But the guy did pony up some dough — we agreed to call it “over four figures.” So what exactly will he do now?
Carik, as I noted in the previous post, is not without street cred. He’s been a big part of BringMeTheNews’ start-up (he’s leaving to do SOTC), and even if that aggregation site also isn’t one of the biggest, it recently attracted a million bucks in investment capital.
Part of Carik’s role was figuring out how to get advertisers to create content that wasn’t completely useless to readers, helpful information that wasn’t hard sell. The money folks seem intrigued enough to pony up.
Another badge of honor, though it’s more unconventional, is the Zombie Pub Crawl. Carik was involved in the start-up six years ago, when 100 costumed living dead crawled Minneapolis streets in search of alcohol, not brains. Carik says this year’s event, set for Oct. 9, will feature 6,000 people. (Note to city economic development officials: work with this guy!)
Mix the info-grazing and the event-wrangling and you have a pretty good template for what Carik has in mind for SOTC.
The Bartel family — which founded City Pages and The Rake magazine — yoked The Rake’s arts-and-events stuff to MnSpeak, a pre-Twitter comment site, creating SOTC. Carik muses about undoing the pairing. Even though he says SOTC has to get away from the home-page-centric model, two brands “might create more inventory,” he says.
He says the site’s future is in “short form, portable content” that streams on whatever platform you desire.
On the business side, he’s hired Kelsey Johnson, who helped him do a recent “human chess” event at the Walker Art Center. He wants to hire a digital salesperson. He says he bought SOTC for the business contacts — even if the site’s traffic was puny, advertisers got good responses on daily deals (known as “Secrets of the Day”) and arts tips.
He’s betting that he can add more value to the funky end of the market because he’s already part of the funky end of the market.
To be sure, sites like City Pages and Vita.mn and Metro Magazine and out-of-towners like Yelp and MetroMix (where Carik once worked) are in this space too. Carik hopes to be more nimble than the locals and have better “Twin-Cities-centric” relationships than the foreigners.
He notes that the Bartels spent a lot of time with the arts and writing communities, landing Minneapolis literary tent-pole Open Book as a partner.
“The hardest part is building relationships with the sales community, but I’ve already had several calls from existing and potential advertisers to buy in,” he says.
So SOTC might have some upside as an ultra-low-cost, local niche marketer. But what about editorial content?
Carik accepts the conventional wisdom that Twitter and Facebook have robbed MnSpeak of fresh blood and vitality. He’s not terribly concerned about alienating the hardcores who remain.
“I’m less interested in news than what people are actually doing,” he says. For example, “Someone is spray-painting robots around Minneapolis — we’re going to let people know about that.”
Carik says he’ll still “keep linking out” to interesting stories elsewhere. I hope so; he’s a sharp aggregator. Here’s a good example of him connecting the dots on an overlooked news story
He’s also interested in curating people, not just information. “We don’t want to compete with your existing Twitter stream, we want to show you interesting people you can add to your Twitter stream,” Carik says.
The result might not resemble the “here’s the news, now let’s talk” model. It might also be more original and less brain-dead than the zombie content on some of his page-view-hungry competitors.