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Funny you can trust: An interview with Paul Carr

<p>Paul Carr</p>

Paul Carr

IT’S THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH PARTY for NSFW Corp., and founder Paul Carr is furiously pasting promotional stickers onto a table at The Beat. Carr isn’t just a guy with a roll of adhesive logos. He’s a former editor at TechCrunch and a published author with an entrepreneurial streak. He describes NSFW Corp. as “hopefully my first successful business after a series of terrible failures.” We asked him about the new site and why he’s launching it here.

You left [the tech blog] TechCrunch almost a year ago. What did you learn from that experience that you’ll bring to this project?

There’s a lot that I learned good and bad at TechCrunch about building a team of really good writers. Everyone’s talking about the future of journalism, all this sort of online bullshit which is basically just people finding excuses to just post cat videos and pretend they’re doing something futuristic. What we discovered is that people can tell when real journalists are at work. It’s interesting for what we’re doing because we’re doing jokes, and yet we’re fact-checking them. We do jokes in AP style.

We had a situation the other week where somebody wrote a Mitt Romney joke. It was a throwaway joke, but we talked about it because one of the problems was that it wasn’t true. It was the outsourcing thing. And the problem is that it’s very funny to make jokes about Romney outsourcing jobs, except has shown that it isn’t true. If we’re going to make jokes, we’re going to make them accurate.

What’s the best thing about doing this in Las Vegas?

The best thing about doing this business here is that you’re not supposed to launch a magazine in Las Vegas. You’re not supposed to launch a tech company in Las Vegas. You’re really not supposed to launch anything that isn’t porn or gambling in Las Vegas, or maybe shoes now, I guess.

But I really love the idea that publishing people expect you to start a publishing company on the East Coast and tech people expect you to do a tech company on the West Coast. And we say, no, we’re in Las Vegas. And no one has any idea what that means. So we can do whatever we want.

What is the hardest part about being here?

The hardest part about being here is that the people that you want to hire probably don’t already live here. And that’s not a judgment on the people of Vegas, that’s just a reality. People who write comedy don’t tend to live in Vegas. If you, at the age of 19, decide that your dream is to write topical comedy, you get on a plane as fast as you can because until now, there was nothing here to write for.

We’re big believers in having people in the same room. So the challenge is, not everyone is in the same room. That having been said, if we were in New York, we have two writers in New York. We have one in Colorado. We have two in Berkeley. I mean, where would we set up? We’d set up in Berkeley, because that’s where we have two writers. It doesn’t make sense. The fact is they wouldn’t all be in the same place.

Either we are going to have to accept that the majority are remote, in which case, we’re fine. Vegas has direct flights from basically everywhere. Or we are going to have to convince people to move. And it’s no easier to convince people to move from Berkeley to New York than from Berkeley to Las Vegas. The nice thing about here, if you’re a writer, are the stories. Getting people to move generally is hard, but if you’re going to make that risk and take the leap of “Fuck it, I’m going to move my entire life to someplace new,” how about a place where somebody’s trying to rebuild an entire town, and we’re essentially going to build a writer commune and sits around making jokes, and it’s Vegas, for chrissakes? I mean give it a chance for a year. I like challenges like that. At least I’ll have a good story about how we tried to convince 20 writers to move to Las Vegas and failed. But we’re doing okay so far. We got them here. So now we just have to keep them here somehow.

But getting people to pay for writing on the Internet is tricky …

When I was 19, I started a publication in London called the Friday Thing, an e-mail newsletter, a little bit like Spy magazine. It was a weekly e-mail, plain text, containing jokes about the week. It got a lot of readers in the media and politics in London. We did it as a paid subscription thing, and it was 10 pounds, so about 15 dollars a year, a very small amount of money. And we got 10,000 subscribers. The first publication online that wasn’t a trade publication to become profitable doing paid subscriptions. The way we did that is that people will pay for things they can’t get elsewhere.

Our approach is, you get nothing for free. You go to the site and you literally see a log-in page and that’s it. If you want to read everything, you pay $3 a month, and there’s a cachet to it. People want to show off the fact that they’re willing to spend $3 to see this stuff, and that they get to read the jokes and you don’t, or they get to read the journalism and you don’t. You make it something that is really worth reading and really good, and make it so the only way you get it is if you pay. And you accept that 99.9 percent of the world won’t buy it. But that’s OK, too.

One hundred-thousand subscribers for us at $3 a month is $300,000 of revenue a month. If you can’t make a good publication for $300,000 a month, on the Internet, when you’ve got no distribution costs. … We’ve taken the approach of, we make it as easy as possible to get. The only wall is, do you find this funny and interesting and do you have $3 a month? Well, frankly, if you don’t have $3 a month kicking around, then you probably shouldn’t be wasting time on the Internet anyway. You probably should get a job. Or you already have a job that you work ridiculous hours and you don’t need our stupid middle-class jokes.