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Allow me to reintroduce myself
Shout-out to audience capture
As of today, Year 1 for House of Strauss is in the books. I don’t want to get too self-indulgently nostalgic about August 23rd, 2021, but some reflection is probably in order. A year ago, I launched this experimental site, not quite knowing what it would be but sensing it had a place in the media ecosystem. I quit my job at The Athletic, despite the years left on my contract, and leapt.
This was, on its face, an idiotic decision. The media industry is unstable, we are in financially turbulent times and The Athletic had treated me well. Maybe I was about to financially ruin myself. Maybe I was about to humiliate myself. Maybe, maybe, maybe, but I didn’t want to wait.
My belief is that the big changes you opt for under your own volition tend to work out better than the reactive ones. If you, unprompted, upended your life with a considered choice, it was probably for a good reason. So was quitting my job a difficult decision? It should have been, but it wasn’t. Forces were pulling me towards this, forces I couldn’t quite articulate even if it’s my job to articulate. It was to the point where that pull felt almost visceral. There was a fear of failure involved, but that aspect was invigorating. I didn’t want to fail, obviously, but I craved a pressure that would propel.
A year later, we are the Number 1 Sports Newsletter. I say “we” because no man is an island, and this operation greatly benefits from my editor Royce Webb, podcast producer Anthony Mayes and the good people at Substack. The site is generating more revenue than I earned at my past jobs, and it’s growing.
That’s quite an outcome considering that I still don’t know what House of Strauss is. Article topics include Nike’s terrible advertising, Adrian Wojnarowski’s influence on ESPN, sad Zoomer athletes, the Work From Home revolution, and downsides of the sports gambling boom. By the way, it’s okay that I don’t have a throughline, I think. It’s okay because I’m captured by you, the audience.
Wait, what? Isn’t “audience capture” bad? Haven’t I read that in a variety of media trend pieces? Isn’t it this scary phenomenon where creators flame out by catering to the whims of their fans rather than by remaining authentic?
Yes, audience capture can be bad. In a case detailed here, a man turned himself into a morbidly obese mess just to amuse his followers. There are less visually grotesque examples of this, instances where a performer loses their mind chasing whatever the audience responds to strongest. Perverse incentives can lead to perverse performances. It is a real phenomenon and a real problem.
But what about when the fans are correct? What about when they want something good? There are many audiences out there. Not all of them demand that a guy gorge himself. I sense that such stories are deemphasized in an ossified legacy media that wishes to mystify the connection between quality and results.
Here’s my personal tale of audience capture: The more effort I put into a post, the better it tends to do. That doesn’t mean every post needs to be high effort. This one won’t be, as it’s a brief, commemorative announcement. But yes, overall, working hard tends to yield more subscriptions earned.
This aspect gets missed in a lot of media analysis of why things succeed or fail. We’re always trying to explain it with a formula, as though resonance can be so easily reduced. Whether something is actually “good” can get lost in discussions about why it works. That’s one of the reasons people outside the prestige press get hit with the “grifter” label. The implication is that they’re merely tapping the market inefficiency of bad people wanting bad things, things the accuser would never deign to lower themselves in offering.
Okay, maybe some bad people want bad things, but I’m more of the opinion that a paying audience keeps a good kind of pressure on the performer. People might enjoy shock value or shallow affirmation, but they can find that on social media for free. Paywall is a different game. Whatever’s back there had better be something that can’t quite be found elsewhere.
You’ve made me better than I would have been, were I just yelling into a void, and that’s before we even get into the tips and thought-provoking feedback subscribers have offered. Not only do I thank you for hiring me to do what is, in my opinion, the best job in America, but I thank you for making me better at it.
And it’s with that discharge of sentimentality that I announce I’m raising prices. Just kidding, though I thought about it, what with a new baby coming, inflation, how I’m paying my editor out of pocket and blah blah blah, everyone has their expenses so nobody cares. I want to keep prices the same in Year 2 because, to quote Charles Oakley when confronting the New York Knicks capologist Frank Murphy: “Hey money man! If it ain’t broke, don’t break it!” As in, so long as I produce, things should keep going well here.
And what does production mean in Year 2? Well, other than the same sort of content, content I’ve yet to really define into an elevator pitch, I plan on traveling more for stories. It’s been a great year of working from home, but it’s time to get out a bit and draw off of observed physical reality. I also plan on continuing to build the podcast. We’ve really hit a stride there, and, yes, captured an audience, an audience we intend to grow going forward.
So, whether you’re listening or reading, we appreciate the support and seek to validate it. Good tidings to you in Year 2 for House of Strauss. May we both be captured for the best of reasons.
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