Laurel Touby's Prozac for Publishers
“It is easier to get funding for a start-up than it is a job right now.”
An interview with Laurel Touby, journalist, digital publisher, change maker, entrepreneur, cyber hostess and founder of mediabistro.com
Ten years ago I sat in a NYC coffee shop with Laurel and her COO discussing how to generate more advertising for mediabistro.com. Laurel gets “it”—meaning, the best of ideas have to fuel the revenue engine. With discussion about monetizing content online commanding a lot of attention, I thought a brief conversation with her could prove to be insightful. I was not disappointed.
Q. What have you been doing since you sold mediabistro.com?
A. I continue to work for mediabistro.com as a consultant two days a week on a month-to-month basis. The arrangement is open-ended and I do whatever they want me to do which can include bringing in contacts, interacting with the press, etc.
Internet start-ups fascinate me. I spend a fair amount of time consulting to companies such as Food52.com. Most of the arrangements are informal right now, but I expect them to lead to something bigger in the future.
And we are renovating our apartment which is in a 100-year-old building. The apartment hasn’t been updated in over 25 years so we have gutted it.
Q. I follow you on Twitter and you attend some really interesting industry events. How do you decide where to go and who to listen to?
A. That’s an interesting question. I will say it is easier to organize events today, but not easier to make them successful, meaningful or profitable. The barrier to entry is too low for events. You have to organize in a new way or you are just not competing. You can’t compete with content alone. You need something different, a hook.
To answer your question, I really like things surrounded by people involved in technology and doing similar things. The DLD conference I attended recently in Munich was great. I admire the attitude of the organizers, an aggressive group of people. Attendance is by non-transferable invitation only, yet they are so welcoming; they call it a family.
[DLD (Digital – Life – Design) is a global conference network on innovation, digital media, science and culture which connects business, creative and social leaders, opinion-formers and investors for crossover conversation and inspiration.]
The TED conference is another one. Once you are in, you are part of the family. Both of these are similar to how I organized my first party. It was extremely exclusive, but once you were in you felt part of a warm, welcoming community.
I spend alot of time in the start-up world because it is more positive. Start-up CEOs are excited about the future.
Q. Who is not excited about the future?
A. The media world is depressed. I am referring to journalists. They are going to have to rethink their future and realign their expectations with what reality has become for them. They must think of new ways to package their skills and content. I admire a lot of the entrepreneurial bloggers. The good news is that eventually internet companies will begin focusing more on content and start paying real salaries.
Q. Until that time what can journalists do?
A. It’s easier to get funding than it is to get a job right now. If you can turn on your passion for something, there is opportunity.
Q. You spoke about journalists, what about media companies in today’s climate?
A. We are in a destructive phase of media right now. Big media companies are going to have to buy little companies and let the culture of the little company dominate. Or they will destroy the little companies and do it over and over again until they get it right. It’s a process of destruction and recreation. We will get back to the growth.
Q. Let’s talk about social media.
A. Interesting things are happening with social media. It’s like our entire lives chopped up into tiny pieces. Every decision in your day is being chopped into a website, from Question/Answer sites like Quora to restaurant listing sites like Dinevore. The question is where it does all lead? If you wrap them up into one, you have somebody’s lifecycle. Someone will buy these sites and consolidate them under a brand umbrella—or maybe not. How to monetize is still a big question. As people rely more and more on these websites, I believe they will pay with micropayments.
Q. Your thoughts on the iPad?
A. Media people should be bowing to the god of iPad. It is a revolutionary medium. I think it’s the future. No question. When there are as many apps for Android as there are the iPhone and iPad, other platforms will compete with iPad.
Q. What apps do you use most and how do you find them other than cruising the App store?
A. I use Twitter, Hootsuite, Yelp, Hashable, Foursquare and Starbucks. And the Weight Watchers app is amazing.
I read the New York Times about best new apps then I email a list to myself, upload and try them. I cull through them and keep the ones that are useful. I click on them occasionally to remind myself what they are supposed to do. A couple of ones that are great are Broadcaster which allows you to stream live video and FastSociety. It allows instant group message and phone conferencing. You enable it for a number of hours, not as a permanent group.
Q. Are you writing a book?
A. I have been writing a highly awaited book for years. I kid. Seriously, it’s hard to get into that frame of mind … calm thinking.
I wrote the nine things I learned starting mediabistro on my blog, culturetripping.com. The book would expand upon that. There is so much I learned. Every activity—from hiring to finding office space and funding—is different for a woman than a man. I would interview dozens of women who have started their own business.
Q. What is it like being married to Jon Fine, another journalist who focuses on media?
A. Jon gets excited about big media companies and what they do and I get excited about international relations (my minor in college) and what’s going on in other countries or the start-up world. There is not as much overlap on what we do as you might think. We are both high energy and feed off each other.
Q. When you both took time off and traveled for several months you wrote a blog chronicling your adventures. But you stopped writing before the trip was over. Why?
A. We are writers so to sit down and write something is work; it’s our craft. When we traveled around the world, we gave up on the blog posts so we could enjoy traveling more.
Q. Next week in San Francisco you will be awarded the Exceptional Women in Publishing annual award. http://bit.ly/hdAa0m
A. My entire career has been helping women. They have been 70% of the mediabistro.com audience and site traffic.
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A. I worry most about the environment. I fear that one day nature will be gone. The only thing that will have mattered is this planet – and we will have destroyed it.
Vision and creativity coupled with smart content is not enough to create a successful media or media related business. Laurel also relied on a business plan, hard work and capital when she launched mediabistro.com.
To learn more about Laurel Touby and how she started mediabistro.com go to
Lou Ann Sabatier has 35 years of experience in the publishing industry. Ms. Sabatier has been deeply involved in all aspects of publishing; including strategic planning,business development, business and financial management, audience development, advertising sales, digital media and operations management. Currently Ms. Sabatier is Principal at Sabatier Consulting and Communications Director of 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.