By now, hopefully our readers have heard a little about The Speakeasy, the social media platform we’re in the process of launching. It’s available now, in part, as we’re in testing. With the widespread disgust of Facebook and Twitter and people conducting a sizable exodus from those platforms, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen some pretty rapid growth even before we’re fully up and running with it.
So what’s The Speakeasy, and why should you get involved?
I’ll start with the history: this app is the product of something that I’ve been wanting to do for readers of The Hayride, for some time. When COVID descended on us back in March, it wiped out a big chunk of our business model, which was event marketing. I needed to replace that with something, and some 80 percent of the site’s readership access our content on mobile devices – a user experience which, frankly, isn’t great due to the ads which run on the site.
I’d love to get rid of those ads, but without having the ability to do event marketing there’s no way to monetize The Hayride, particularly outside of election season. So there really isn’t a choice to eliminate those ads. Even though the yield for digital ad network placements has absolutely fallen through the floor over the past couple of years. It’s off 80 percent of what it was in 2017. That creates a monetization crisis which has to be addressed or else we’re history.
The answer was to create a mobile app with premium features that would justify a small subscription. We asked our readers about this, and they told us three things they wanted: ad-free content from the site, an insider forum of some kind that would contain a steady stream of information to supplement the longer news stories and columns that appear at The Hayride, and also they told me they want me to do a podcast.
And after a bit of flailing around in an effort to deliver those goods, that’s what’s coming in just a few days as we prepare the launch of this app. The Speakeasy is currently a web app you can access through a browser. But when it goes fully live, it will be downloadable from the Google and Apple stores. With the full app, you’ll be able to see all of the Hayride’s content with no ads as a subscriber to The Speakeasy, and I’ll be doing a livestream podcast regularly – and so will other Hayride contributors. Plus the social stream which is currently available and is getting a crazy amount of engagement just from the 800 people currently on it (a number which has doubled in the past five days and which we expect to double again in the next five).
A little while after the full app goes live, as we’re going to make sure we test it out properly, the app will become a subscription-based product. It’ll cost $2.99 per month, or $29.99 per year, meaning you’ll get two months free with an annual subscription.
Why is this a better model than the other social media platforms you’re considering jumping to? Let me point out the two fundamental problems with social media as it’s currently constituted by the dominant players in it.
The first problem is that if you’re a user, specifically of Facebook and Twitter, you are not the customer. They aren’t taking your money, so how can you be?
Instead of the customer, you’re the PRODUCT.
You’re a hen in a hatchery. You’re a cow in a dairy. They harvest your information and sell it to advertisers, who then pay Facebook and Twitter for the right to show you ads aimed at completely manipulating your behavior as a consumer. It’s obnoxious and it’s creepy, and it blows away any sense of privacy you might have thought you had before these platforms came along.
And that’s why they have no compunction whatsoever about lecturing you, fact-checking you, censoring and shadowbanning you and putting you in jail. Because they don’t have a relationship with you; they think you’re just some idiot who shows up to get pitched by Facebook’s advertisers in exchange for a little dopamine rush when somebody “likes” a post or comment you make.
That is a fundamentally wrong, immoral process. It’s the kind of thing that you would expect to read in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I know you’re all creeped out by it.
Which is why one of the fundamentals here is we aren’t going to harvest the information of our members for the purposes of selling it. We don’t need to. This is what that $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year covers – it establishes a covenant and a relationship with you protecting your privacy from the kind of abuse the Big Tech people subject you to.
But the second problem with social media is what brought me to this in the first place. I publish a website and I write novels, along with some other things. That makes me, fundamentally, a content creator.
As a content creator, I was induced to build a substantial social media presence as a means of promoting my work and hopefully monetizing it. But as Billy Joel sang, “something happened on the way to that place.”
You can’t monetize a presence on Facebook or Twitter. Not really. Now that the digital ad networks have collapsed, it does you no good to drive a bunch of traffic to your site; you can’t get paid for that traffic. Yes, you can try to put content behind a paywall, but the public is conditioned to get content for free. It’s not that they won’t subscribe to your site because they can’t afford it, it’s that nobody wants to have to keep a dozen subscriptions going.
So how do content creators monetize what they do? Increasingly, they’re doing things like subscription-based newsletters, paywalled podcasts and writer platforms like Patreon and Substack. The Federalist had a long article, well worth reading, talking about how lots of journalists and pundits are breaking out of corporate media and doing their own thing, and what a challenge it is to build an effective content-based business model, especially in the face of “subscriber fatigue.”
Well, with Phase Two of The Speakeasy, we’re creating something that might solve that problem.
After we’ve proven out the concept for a couple of months with The Speakeasy flowing out of The Hayride, you’re going to see groups – right now my plan is to call them “channels” – presented by other content creators who will be bringing their audiences into the app, in return for part of the revenue from that $2.99 subscription.
As a publisher or content creator, what that will mean is this will be a social media platform where it actually pays to build a presence, and so putting the best possible content you can on your channel is something you’re incentivized to do. None of the other platforms are currently doing this. The content creators I’ve already talked to about it have been more than enthusiastic about jumping in when Phase Two is ready.
And as a user, it means you will have some of the best web publishers, YouTubers, podcasters and others around knocking themselves out to get your attention and thus the revenue associated with your joining their channel.
It also means you’ll have access to lots and lots of content for only one subscription, rather than having to pay umpteen different prices each month and cluttering up your bank statements.
We anticipate once Phase Two of The Speakeasy launches, which will be early next year, it’ll grow very fast. That’s why we’re working so hard right now to insure we’re prepared for that growth before we launch Phase One.
So consider this an invitation to join in with us at The Speakeasy, and to help us grow it in a way that works better than those other platforms. Please feel free to hit me up with whatever feedback you might have about our plans and what we can do to be more responsive to you as a customer.
Because you don’t have to stick with Facebook and Twitter. We already know they’re not worthy of our time.