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February 15, 2024

‘Miraculous’ Substack-based Ankler Media eyes $10m annual revenue next year

A month into the year, Min said Ankler has already booked more than $1m revenue.

By Bron Maher

Substack-based Hollywood news outlet Ankler Media is expecting to hit annual revenue of $10m next year.

Launched in January 2022, the publisher has expanded from one entertainment industry newsletter written by editorial director Richard Rushfield into five newsletters and two podcasts.

Ankler Media’s chief executive, Janice Min, wrote last month that the publication now counts 74,000 subscribers across its newsletters.

Speaking with Press Gazette this week Min wouldn’t say what proportion of Ankler Media’s subscribers pay, but claimed it is “well above the industry average”. (Substack tells its writers that it is typical for between five and ten per cent of a newsletter’s total subscribers to pay.)

Min said that revenue for 2024, as of 12 February, was “well into the seven figures” and up 75% on the same period last year.

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“I would like to think by next year we are well over $10m a year in revenue.”

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Ankler Media’s revenues currently break down as approximately 60% sponsorship and 40% subscriptions, she said. The title employs four editorial and two commercial staff, up from the four staffers it had when Press Gazette last interviewed Min in October 2022.

[Read more: Janice Min – The Hollywood media executive betting big on newsletters]

The company has been profitable since launch. Min said it is still yet to tap into the $1.3m seed investment it received from start-up accelerator Y Combinator. 

“We started out with the bare-bones model and have slowly built up from that,” she said. “We haven’t had to unwind anything, which has been a huge benefit to us.

“But it’s been miraculous what we’ve been able to do with a staff of six people, and I have to believe that model is at least one of the models that will make it into the next phase of successful media.”

The Ankler – the newsletter written since 2017 by Rushfield and around which Ankler Media has grown – has been on Substack since 2019. Ankler received an investment from Substack to remain on the platform when it launched at the start of 2022.

Min wouldn’t disclose the size of the incentive, which the publication has now paid back to Substack, but said it was “meaningful”. Even without the money, Min said the tools that come already embedded in the platform helped Ankler to get off the ground.

“I know nothing about building a tech stack,” she said. “I would have had to interview developers and take a chance on one of them and that would have involved months. This allowed us to have revenue on day one.”

Ankler Media vs the trades

Asked why Ankler Media had thrived amid a period of intense turmoil for much of the news business, Min said that the entertainment industry had similarly undergone “at least five years of unprecedented transition.

“People are confused, they’re upset, there have been many, many, many thousands of layoffs. And I think from the CEO level down to the assistant level, people aren’t really sure where this is all headed. So information has taken on a premium.”

Rival publications in the entertainment industry space include Variety, Deadline Hollywood and The Hollywood Reporter (which Min led as editorial director between 2010 and 2017).

Part of the way Ankler Media distinguishes itself from its competitors, Min said, was through its “pure relationship with the audience”.

“We’re not a scale operation. We’re not trying to create stories to answer the Google search of ‘what time does the Superbowl start tonight’. We’re not sending you these hollow email blasts telling you that Taylor Swift has arrived.”

Min said that anyone giving their email address to “the trades” – entertainment industry shorthand for the publications that cover showbusiness – would “immediately regret it”.

“You will be inundated with thousands of emails a day for them to fill their traffic requirements for sponsors. We are very careful about not polluting your inbox.”

She added: “We really excel in talking about the issues and stories that are not being discussed by the trades…

“We don’t have outside interests that we need to cater to, we’re not trying to book an award show, we’re not members of the AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers]… We are wholly independent, and that gives us a lot of freedom to speak much more forthrightly about what’s happening in the business.”

She said one reader who is “very senior in the world of entertainment” described Ankler Media as “unvarnished information”.

“The trappings of entertainment become really powerful for media [outlets],” Min said. “You want to have covers, you want to have access to talent – and when you strip all of that away, it creates a different relationship with the audience.”

Claims that the trades are too close to the Hollywood studios took on greater visibility last year amid the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, with one article at Defector accusing the magazines of “effectively taking the side of management in a labour dispute”.

Asked whether she thought there was anything to the allegations, Min said: “100%”.

“When I took over The Hollywood Reporter in 2010 you could see this historic culture of the trades where you’re basically an inbox for the studios,” she said. “They give you their press releases – literally, there are people assigned to re-writing the press releases and regurgitating them back out as these so called ‘news breaks’. 

“There’s been an implicit understanding in the trade world that you don’t really rock the boat, or you don’t bite the hand that feeds you or whatever cliché you want to use there. That relationship has been the business model for almost 100 years now.”

Hollywood strikes were ‘a really powerful narrative’ for Ankler Media

When the strikes first brought Hollywood to a standstill, Min said “for a moment we were sort of terrified. If there’s not an industry, what do we report on? What are we talking to our audience about”?

Advertising deals did indeed slow down, she said, “because things were tense out here”. But in the end she said the strikes “ended up being a really powerful narrative” for Ankler Media.

“We have had this reputation of being a CEO’s newsletter [or] a C-suite product. And what we did was we really brought on thousands of writers and thousands of actors into our universe.”

A dedicated, free Ankler newsletter about the strike, Strikegeist, notched up approximately 13,000 subscribers, she said.

Min said she sees Ankler’s target readership as “anyone who is part of this ecosystem whose decisions are based on information.

“I think everybody starts the day in this current environment a little bit in hunger of direction. And so anyone whose job [involves] the market of entertainment we feel is in our wheelhouse.”

‘We want to fish where the fish are’

It has been a busy few months for The Ankler. Last quarter it began throwing its first events, which were free to attend and generated revenue through sponsorships.

At the end of January, Ankler announced a partnership with public radio station LAist which will bring Ankler staff on-air to provide entertainment news and analysis.

“I think you either totally love The Ankler or you’ve never heard of The Ankler,” Min said. “One of the things with a subscription business is you need to continually build the funnel of people coming into your world. So we thought [LAist] would be an amazing partner for us.”

Also in January the title brought on its first international contributor with the hiring of freelance London correspondent Manori Ravindran

“The world of entertainment is far vaster than how Hollywood has traditionally defined it,” Min said. “We want to fish where the fish are – we know where the growth areas are in entertainment, and we would like to be in those spaces.”

Min said she wanted to expand beyond trade advertising, such as “For Your Consideration” ads aimed at influencing entertainment industry award voters.

“I don’t take for granted a single ad dollar we bring in, because I know how hard it is out there,” Min said. “I am both grateful and cautious about the fact that this is a very specific advertising community here.”

But she added that Ankler was “becoming large enough, and our audience important enough, to feel like we can succeed in reaching premium consumer dollars also”.

On the prospect of raising further investment to fuel Ankler, Min said the team was “50/50”.

“Things are going well”, she said, and “we have more ideas than we have humans who can do them at the moment.

“We’re contemplating if we believe it would be accretive to the business to take on some more financing to build this out much more quickly. It’s hard to not want to take advantage of the momentum – but also we’d like having full control over our business.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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