When we meet for coffee at Hyde Park, north of Johannesburg, former Maverick editor and publisher Branko Brkic can’t wait to open up his IBM ThinkPad to give me a demo of his new website, the Daily Maverick.
In some respects, Brkic, a long-time print publisher who came to SA from Yugoslavia in 1991, wants to recreate Maverick, the now-defunct monthly business magazine, on the Web. But his plans go further: he’s on a mission to shake up the way people think about online media in SA.
He’s clearly excited about the Daily Maverick, which he hopes to launch within the next four to six weeks — a test site will go live in about a fortnight. Influenced by the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post, two popular American news websites, Brkic wants the Daily Maverick to be people’s one-stop online read. And he wants them to love reading it.
He thinks it’s the right time to venture online. “The print media in SA has been protected by [former communications minister] Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri,” he says.
The implication is that the print media here will eventually face the same difficulties as newspapers in the US and elsewhere: readers deserting them for the Web.
Brkic admits that the closure of Maverick last year affected him badly. When I broach the subject of what happened to the magazine, he turns his eyes back to his laptop, fidgeting with the keys, not wanting to answer.
“It’s not one of those things you recover from easily, you know,” he eventually offers. “We got hit by a combination of perfect storms. It was terrible. Our custom publishing division started underperforming. We needed more time to become profitable. If you’re a small publishing business trying to retain quality, you get hit. It’s a very expensive game, and we lost.”
Brkic has lost a lot of the hubris he had when he launched Maverick — he spoke at the time, only half jokingly, I suspect, of putting established players like Finweek and the Financial Mail out of business.
But he’s picked up the pieces and is set for another go.
And he thinks he’s got a model that’s going to work. Existing SA news sites, he says, are boring. “They’re just lists of stories. How are you supposed to enjoy that?” he asks. “When we launched Maverick, we had a cheeky teaser line: ‘Because there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your business read’. Well, now I’m asking, what’s wrong with enjoying your Web read?”
Brkic wants people to visit the Daily Maverick because they enjoy doing so, not because they feel it’s a chore. And he has a new idea for advertising that doesn’t involve those annoying rotating and flashing banner ads. These, he says, do nothing but distract readers from quality content.
Brkic has asked me not to reveal his advertising model in any detail, and I won’t do so, suffice it to say that if it works it could catch on quickly among Web publishers.
Editorially, the Daily Maverick will feature original content and links to content on other websites, both local and international. The idea is that his editorial team will identify the most important stories each day, and, if necessary, condense this information into a digestible format.
Like Maverick, the magazine, the Daily Maverick will also pay close attention to photography. Pictures will form an integral part of the website, Brkic says.
“The whole website design is very simple. There won’t be anything flashing at you, no bells, no whistles. It’s all about the relationship between the editorial team and the reader.”
Brkic says most of the people who worked with him at Maverick will form part of the new team, either full time or as part-time contributors. He’ll have nine writers in all.
That sounds like an expensive proposition. But Brkic says starting a website is a lot cheaper than starting a magazine. “We have some start-up capital and some shareholders,” he says. “We’ve got cheap offices and lots of coffee. What else do you need?” — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral