This week, we chatted with Narratively CEO and Editor-in-Chief Noah Rosenberg about making money as a narrative storyteller.
You worked as a freelancer before starting Narratively. How did you manage to make ends meet?
I definitely ate into my savings. And I was fortunate that my then-girlfriend (now-wife) had a stable job. I was working part time as a Product Manager for Univision Interactive Media, and I was on contract as a stringer for the New York Times. But in a space like New York, getting paid $20 an hour for 20 to 30 hours a week isn’t enough to grow your bank account at all. Freelancing has its pluses and minuses – the minuses being a sporadic schedule, and meager and unpredictable pay. The blessing is flexibility. You can work for different outlets, cultivate different voices and make lots of contacts.
Did you launch Narratively while you were freelancing?
I envisioned and began planning Narratively while working as the Digital Director at the Queens Courier newspaper group. But I seriously began building a team in late 2010, shortly after I began freelancing for the Times. At that point, the news business was imploding. Newspapers and legacy outlets were shrinking. Places I’d previously dreamed of working at were suddenly no longer there. I started thinking about the people who had been working in the industry forever. Where were they going to go? Breaking news wasn’t going to die, but when times are tough, the first thing outlets will cut is human interest and feature reporting. That type of reporting, which I’ve always loved, informs your sense of being a person. So I thought, ‘What if I were to create a platform exclusively dedicated to that kind of reporting?’
Where do you get the money to pay Narratively’s writers?
We’ve been paying writers since day one. Our rates won’t make you rich, but they’re commendable compared to many sites. And we pay our editors and employees. We make money through advertising, but our biggest source of revenue right now is the Narratively content agency. Our 700 plus freelancers produce content and content strategy for brands and nonprofits. “Storytelling” is a buzzword right now. Every brand wants content that tells a story. We provide it. We’ve done video for GE, blog posts for Chevy, and we’re at work on a yearlong project for a nonprofit called ReadWorks. We’re also newly represented by William Morris Endeavor, a talent agency. Companies see Narratively as a company that finds interesting, influential stories. They want to turn those stories into HBO shows, films and books.
Last question: What’s next at Narratively?
Eventually, we’d love to have our own production company. Then we can make movies, publish books. At the end of the day, we are about human storytelling. But that translates into work for clients, workshops, and all sorts of other things in addition to long form narratives. We’re also very interested in creating a paid membership program for Narratively. Our content is free – we want it to be able to go viral and have an impact. We don’t want a pay wall. But we want to create a special club for our members, we want to give them extra value. That’s what’s next.
To learn more about Noah Rosenberg and Narratively, register for this year’s conference and sit in on his sessions. He’ll discuss building a successful start up business in a solo session. He’ll join a panel on freelancing. He’ll also sit in on a “Pitch These Editors” session, during which he’ll dissect audience-submitted story pitches with several other editors.