Preparing for when this is over.
ASTORIA, NYC- “After coronavirus, how are you going to make yourself more financially bulletproof?” Andy asked me in an interview that we did a week or so ago.
I didn’t have a real answer. Instead, I started talking about how financial security is derived from reducing the length of your chain of dependency. By chain of dependency I mean all the various entities that need to be aligned for you to make a living. In journalism, my chain of dependency looks like this:
Me <– Editors <– Audience <– Traffic sources (search / social media, etc.) <– Publication <– Advertising revenue <– People buying products <– Status of broader economy.
This all needs to be chugging along in order for me to make a living. If my editors don’t like when I’m doing or the publication wants to go in a different direction, I’m done. If there isn’t a large enough audience, I’m out of work. If advertisers stop investing in ad placements, then I don’t get paid. If people stop buying products then the advertisers don’t make money off their ads and they stop placing them. If the broader economy descends then less people are going to be buying products.
Many things can get screwed up in this chain that are beyond my control, and this recent environment has made the deficiencies in my model a little glaring. I needed a new model; I needed to cut down the steps, remove the middle men, in between myself and my sources of funding.
I partially started the On the New Silk Road newsletter because of this.
With this new model my chain of dependency looks a little like this:
Me <– Audience <– Status of broader economy.
In the past, this model wouldn’t have been possible. Nobody paid for blogs or newsletters then. There was just an overabundance of media that didn’t have a price tag — people didn’t even pay for reading top-level news sites. Online was synonymous with free.
Today, things are different. The Wild West of the internet has been tamed. Even large publications can’t survive off of ad revenue alone, not to mention independent blogs. We have entered into the era of user-generated funding. Now, sites that don’t charge have become somewhat of an anomaly.
We vote for the content that we like with our patronage rather than our readership. If we don’t pay the publication goes away. Economic fundamentals have returned to the world of media.
Time goes on, things change, adapt and survive.
Life in NYC isn’t extremely bad during the coronavirus lock down. When I talk with people on the phone they seem to thing that I’m in the middle of Wuhan-part-2. Besides none of the bars and restaurants and cafes being open, the streets look somewhat normal. People are walking around, hanging out in the parks — the mania of the pandemic has lulled itself into complacency. The hospitals are not going to be overrun. The doomsday scenarios seems as if they are not even going to come close to happening. We’re used to it.
Erik the Pilot tells me of all the things he’s doing in his backyard in Florida — I just had a barbecue, I just got out of the pool, I’m playing checkers on my patio — and I become a little envious. But then I read about places where people need a permit just to walk out of their front door or some places in Australia where people are being slapped with $1,000 fines for sitting alone on park benches or giving their teenage kids driving lessons or for posting photos on social media of a vacation they took last year, and I have to realize that I don’t have it too bad here.
I sort of needed this time to sit back and stay put. I had so many projects to finish and I wanted to start up that Silk Road site. But I am crouched down at the starting blocks ready to sprint as soon as the borders open again, which I’m estimating to be in June.
I’m probably going to do another run through Central Asia, with a focus on the oil-dependent states whose currencies recently crashed. Crashing currencies = discounted travel. But it’s also a way to inject dollars into economies that need them and support the small businesses that dominate the tourism sectors of these countries. It’s a win-win.
This is a photo of my kids pretending to travel during lockdown:
What’s your plans for when this is over?
Full interview with Andy: