Jim VandeHei has finally unveiled the details of his new media venture, Axios, which will launch fully in January and cover the “collision between tech and areas such as bureaucracy, health care, energy, and the transportation infrastructure.”
But the big question about Axios isn’t whether the topic area is relevant — it is! — but whether VandeHei will be able to carve out a business model at a time when layoffs are rocking both new and old media.
Axios’ mission statement, according to Vanity Fair, certainly suggests it is going to be different: “Media is broken — and too often a scam.” Particularly, VandeHei thinks he can thread the needle between the legacy behemoths getting slammed by declines in print advertising, and the nimble upstarts who are seeing some forms of internet advertising race to zero.
In doing this, it seems like VandeHei will employ some of the tricks that worked well at Politico, while adding a few new wrinkles.
Here are a few big points Axios is going to hit:
- Axios is going to write short. What VandeHei doesn’t want is for Axios staffers to write for other journalists, which he sees as producing pieces that are simply too long and boring for regular readers. He characterised this as the biggest problem in the media right now. “People don’t want the pieces we’re writing,” he told Recode. “They’re too damn long.”
- Axios is going to live on a bunch of different platforms. VandeHei is on the “distributed” media train, meaning that he wants Axios, in some capacity, to live wherever you are — Snapchat, Facebook, and so on. VandeHei is especially bullish on Snapchat’s Discover section.
- VandeHei wants to sell $10,000-plus premium Axios subscriptions. At Recode’s Code Media conference, VandeHei said he couldn’t see being “super intrigued with a subscription less than $10,000.” He sees subscriptions coming two to three years into the venture, however.
- Axios has to be freemium. While VandeHei thinks subscriptions will be a necessary part of the business, some work has to be free to build up, and continue to promote, the brand name. His goal is to have 50% of revenue come from subscriptions, and 50% from advertising.
- People have to want to read Axios. Axios means “worthy” in Greek, and VandeHei has already snagged some well-respected journalists people listen to, like Fortune’s Dan Primack and Politco’s Mike Allen. But everyone has to be on board with the “smart brevity” mandate.