Bundle and unbundle, bundle and unbundle, bundle and unbundle – but then generate profits on both. These weren’t his exact words but that was the message. In one sentence, my father described his industry. At 12, I sat in a cubicle in a Houston industrial park, an unofficial intern of his Time Warner Communications division. I would go on to work the traditional work weeks, each summer, between that year and my graduating year of high school. I was paid in perspective, and I mean that sincerely.
At the time, my father was the senior executive in charge of a fledgling broadband internet project called “RoadRunner.” (It would later go on to power Texas’ residential internet needs, but that’s a different story.) His words were transcendent to me because they explained that the value of a product could be amplified by how it’s packaged.
By now, you’ve heard of the TikTok influencer craze. (You may have even felt a twinge of fatigue by the momentum of it all. There is new terminology, dance moves and global political implications to keep up with, along with the excessive screen time required to digest it all.) This creative platform has further popularized the concept of the “collaborative house” made popular by YouTube creators David Dobrik (Vlog Squad) and Jake Paul (Team 10). For the most marketable of these houses, the platform began to matter less. Dobrik, a videographer and philanthropist who began on YouTube, nearly duplicated the magnitude of his audience on TikTok in just a month’s time. New members join, old members leave as their profiles grow. Collaborative groups are reminiscent of the cable industry’s intrigue: bundle, unbundle, bundle, unbundle.
In the land of TikTok, the Hype House is a particular group of 20-something content creators who live in or around Los Angeles; many of whom cohabitate. The group includes a number of the best and brightest creators in the space, including former members Charli D’Amelio and her sister Dixie. Together, the sisters have amassed 10s of millions of subscribers across TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Some industry analysts argue that the D’Amelio family is the next Kardashian clan. Objectively speaking, that anointing is the golden calf of media and commerce opportunities.
D’Amelio family is the new Kardashian family.@charlidamelio + @dixiedamelio + @marcdamelio + @heididamelio
The TikTok house seems like it exists in an entirely different media universe than the email newsletter, but there are more similarities than it would appear. Critics of the newsletter industry say its missing the above frameworks: collaborative houses, bundling, unbundling, platform agnostic growth, and the power of media-driven commerce. There aren’t many venture-funded companies with as much raw potential as Charli D’Amelio or David Dobrik. In both cases, the young entrepreneurs mastered the physics of new media. In its own way, the newsletter industry is hoping to crown their own winners. Those winners will accomplish the same.
Consider the inevitability of “subscription fatigue.” It’s a common refrain made by critics of the burgeoning newsletter industry, one that Substack has helped to democratize and Ben Thompson’s Stratechery has helped to inspire. In 2019, Gartner’s Laurie Wurster wrote:
By 2020, all new entrants and 80% of historical vendors will offer subscription-based business models.
But the fear of paid subscription fatigue may be overstated. There are two categories of monthly subscriptions:
Category No. 1: entertainment, distraction, or light enrichment.
Category No. 2: helps to build a new world by enabling education, professional growth, or networking opportunities.
Each of our paid subscriptions can be placed, primarily, into one of the above categories. The first category has dwindling demand elasticity. This may explain Quibi’s current trouble: consumers can only tolerate so many distractions. There’s infinite substitutes for entertainment, sensationalism, dopamine hits. The subscription ecosystem becomes finite at a certain extent. This category includes streaming services, games, digital entertainment.
The second category has demand elasticity that may hold steady. This group of subscriptions may also compete with continued education, social clubs, or corporate networking. Certain newsletters may improve or outright replace certain social or professional functions. Some of the best newsletters are also building communities around ideas, possibility, and navigating the future of the industry.
A play on the TikTok craze, the newsletter industry has its own brand of collaborative house. In it: great ideas have been ideated, concepted, and executed.
Founded by Nathan Baschez, The Type House is a group of 40 newsletter publishers: former A16Z associate Li Jin, Turner Novak, David Perrell, Sriram Krishnan, Lenny Rachitsky, Brett Bivens, Blake Robbins, Ian Kar, Alex Kantrowitz, Cherie Hu, Packy McCormick, Adam Keesling, Dan Shipper, Polina Marinova, Sari Azout, Nikhil Trivedi, Nikhil Krishnan, Brad Wolverton, Josh Constine, Sid Jha, Laura Chau, Morning Brew CEO Alex Lieberman, Trapital‘s Dan Runcie, Byrne Hobart, Allen Gannett, Sarah Nockel, Brett G, Paul Smalera, Trends.vc’s Dru Riley, Justin Gage, Rui Ma, Cat Lee, Can Duruk, Alex Taussig, Seyi Taylor, and myself.
Bundle and unbundle, bundle and unbundle, bundle and unbundle – but then generate profits on both.
The group is diverse in every sense of the term. Within it, you can observe the mechanics of media-driven commerce at work. Of the highlights, consider David Perrell. The writer-turned-teacher has monetized with educational courses. His company is now generating seven-figures in annual revenue. Morning Brew is one of the most promising newsletter-driven companies in business today. Dan Runcie has pivoted from media to consulting those in the hip hop industry. In doing so, his existing Trapital product has become top-of-funnel for lucrative consulting projects. 2PM continues to successfully navigate high level consulting and the growth of its own paid community of senior executives, artists, scientist, and independent thinkers. Polymathic is nearing its first year in existence. But, perhaps, the greatest indication of what’s to come is a throwback to my time in the Houston cubicle. Bundle and unbundle, bundle and unbundle.
Of Substack’s brightest opportunities to solidify its place in the creator ecosystem, the Everything Bundle began as an experiment between Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper. It has since grown to include Adam Keesling, Li Jin, and Tiago Forte’s work. By bundling their individual efforts, they’ve developed a flywheel of business that has propelled them to Substack’s famed leaderboard. Though each of them are very capable of self-promotion, its their collective works that seem to drive new consumers to sign on for $20 per month or $200 per year. With each new property that is added to Everything, a new wave of subscriptions follow suit. I’ve likened the pivot to Basche and Shipper building The Athletic of business and intellectualism. And it just might work.
The value of prolific writing and creativity is that you’re always in a pattern of thought. You’re constantly assessing beliefs and designing paths to further your understanding of a topic. When entrepreneurial thinkers begin a newsletter on the platform of their choosing, they are doing so out of sheer passion. Their minds are always thinking of enrichment, improvement, development, and progress. Like the YouTube videographers of yesterday, or the TikTok minds of today, or any creator of tomorrow, the art is rarely contained by the platform. The great secret of creativity is that it can evolve. Many of today’s brightest businesses were yesterday’s projects-turned-ventures.
There is great potential for any subscription-driven media company to grow beyond its early intentions. If and when subscription fatigue begins to hinder the newsletter industry’s growth, the best and brightest will identify new mediums for their message and their engaged communities will follow. From YouTube to Vine to TikTok, this is what great digital creators have always done. They’ve outworked fatigue. It’s due time to place newsletter entrepreneurs in this coveted category.
By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes | Art: Andrew Haynes | About 2PM