In this week’s episode we hear from Sophie Cross, the founder and editor of Freelancer magazine. She tells Peter about her penchant for writing business plans, the freelance community that inspired the Freelancer magazine launch, and how she kept the spark going after the initial rush of the first issue.

In the news roundup the team discusses the remarkable eCommerce based turnaround of Future PLC, Twitter’s revenue results, and ask if Facebook is launching its independent publishing platform Bulletin in a smart way. See you later in summer!

The full transcript is live here, or see below for some highlights:

On writing business plans

I tried to come up with lots of ideas, constantly writing business plans. I still do… it’s like a hobby. I suppose if you’d actually looked at how many business plans I’ve written or started to write, then you’d probably been in triple figures by now, how many URLs I’ve bought!

The pandemic

We decided to move back to London, that was last February, and I was raring to go. I was like, ‘I’m going to take the travel and hospitality marketing industry by storm.’

By March, I lost most of my client work. And then was like, ‘Oh, I’m not really sure what I’m doing with my life’.

I really leaned on the freelance communities at this point. I was on social media a lot and Slack groups, just fantastic the people that I met online. Then off the back of that I came up with the idea for the magazine.

On starting a magazine from a community

I felt that it wasn’t intentional, but it was almost sort of textbook actually. Looking back, it seems like, well, of course, you would do it that way, of course you would already be part of the community that you wanted to serve.

Coming up with an idea, and then trying to become part of the community, that doesn’t make as much sense really.

In terms of being able to come up with ideas, you know people that are buying it so much better. You know their behaviour. You know what they want. You know what interests them. You have that direct relationship where you can ask people to be involved and what they want.

The power of shared stories

If you’re struggling to price something, or you’re feeling like a bit nervous about turning up to a webinar or a networking event, you forget that everyone else feels like that. There’s a kind of power from just reminding yourself that, or being reminded of that.

It’s totally about sharing people’s stories… sharing stories from people who are really like you. They’re not necessarily people at the top of their game. Some of these people are but I guess it’s also how you define being at the top of your game.

That doesn’t always necessarily mean working for the best clients or being famous. It’s also people at the top of their game because they’ve got amazing work life balance, or because they’re doing something a bit differently.

On the diversity of freelance roles

There’s a balance between talking to and about the freelancers that have the most common roles, like web designers, web developers, journalists, copywriters, graphic designers, marketers and representing other people and bringing them in.

But I think, even when we’re talking to a photographer, for instance, I’m thinking this article is going to be more interesting to non-photographers; finding out how a freelance photographer might work and how they would find new clients or how they would work for an agent. It might be things that you haven’t thought of, but actually might work for you, outside your own kind of industry.

Key story:

  • Future PLC drove nearly $1 billion in e-commerce sales in 2020. It cited evergreen content and shopping holidays like Amazon’s Prime Day as key drivers.
  • It also benefitted from a huge rush of people turning to online shopping during lockdown, although Chief Audience & Ecommerce Officer Aaron Asadi told us last week that they didn’t need to do anything differently in response.
  • In the first half of 2021, Future saw its affiliate revenue grow by 56% year over year, to around £85 million.
  • There are big winners in terms of ecommerce growth sectors, which Future is taking advantage of: electrical/technology purchases have seen the biggest swing compared to previous years, up +91% in 2020, and is a category that is continuing to hold strong, up 78% in Q1 2021.
  • Even right at the start Future was counting on this ecommerce growth to help weather the corona storm, so is this partly a case of right place right time for the publisher?

News in brief:

  • The defunct video platform Vidme was bought by a porn network, causing all the videos embedded into the sites to serve hardcore porn instead of the original video file. Among the sites stung by this were the Washington Post, New York Magazine, and the Huffington Post.
  • Twitter has reported a 74% increase in revenue, with ad sales crossing the $1 billion mark for the first time. It saw user growth of 11% as well, bringing its (monetisable) daily active users to 206 million.
  • Substack is funding the launch of a new podcast network called Booksmart Studios. It’s provided cash for a number of people to go full-time on the project, including hosts and producers. Like newsletters, Substack will take a 10% cut of podcast revenues, and subscribers can add podcast feeds to their app of choice, meaning they can have free and subscriber-only episodes in a unified feed.  
  • A craze for pickleball (a cross between badminton, table tennis and tennis) has inspired the launch of a new magazine aimed at fans of the game. In Pickleball is aiming to be ‘the Vogue of Pickleball’, and is designed to appeal to the mostly older and well-off Americans who play it.
  • Facebook has lined up a number of big names to launch its independent publishing platform Bulletin, including Malala Yousafzai and Ian Bremmer. All writers in the initial test phase are receiving multi-year licensing deals to start their newsletters and build a relationship with readers, according to Axios.
  • More than 180 editors, investigative reporters and journalists have been selected as possible candidates for surveillance by government clients of the NSO Group, according to a Guardian investigation. NSO’s main product Pegasus is apparently capable of compromising a phone, extracting all the data on the device, and activating its microphone.
  • The Independent’s video platform Independent TV is succeeding where others have failed, with a cautious commissioning process and journalist-led series. The service is set to grow its revenue 150% this year, and the newspaper plans to launch it as an OTT service with its own app very soon.
  • CNN is launching a streaming service early next year, called CNN+. It’s planning to hire around 450 people for the service, and will do deep dives into things like climate change, space and science, and race and identity.

We’re taking a break from the podcast until September, but our daily newsletter The Media Roundup will continue to run. It brings you the four most important industry stories for media and publishing professionals. Subscribe here:

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