Dotcom mogul Halsey Minor, the CNET founder, has spent freely on real estate, artwork, and startups. He's having trouble keeping them all. The latest bauble to run aground: San Francisco magazine publisher 8020 Media.
I know what you're thinking: Who starts a magazine company in this day and age? Ah, but 8020's founders had a twist on the old ink-on-paper formula: Readers would create most of the content for 8020's magazines on the Web, and a skeleton staff of old-school editors would pull it together into a glossy format. Advertising Age dubbed it 2008's "idea of the year."
Good idea, bad execution. 8020 shut down its second magazine, Everywhere, a travel title, in August. A plan to launch a fashion title came to nothing. And Mitch Fox, the Condé Nast ad-sales veteran hired last year as CEO, announced that 8020 had failed to find a buyer and was shutting down.
Now comes news of a last-minute reprieve: After the magazine world, wracked by advertising losses and shuttered titles, passed on a chance to buy 8020, some Web ventures expressed interest. 8020's one remaining title, JPG, a photography magazine, will likely never see print again. Instead, 8020's potential buyers see it as another Flickr, an online community of photo enthusiasts whose work can be cheaply and efficiently exploited.
Which is rather how Minor views his fellow entrepreneurs, from what we hear. His modus operandi: dribble out cash and keep startups coming back as supplicants, tin cup in hand. 8020 raised a grand total of $6 million in funding, and Minor's VC firm, Minor Ventures, owned more than half the company. That's a lordly sum for a Web startup, but a pittance for launching one new magazine, let alone three. (It didn't help that 8020 lost two of its founders — first, designer Derek Powazek, and then techie Paul Cloutier, the man who drove Powazek out.)
It's one thing to desire beautiful objects — paintings, historic racetracks, hotels, magazines. It's another to desire them but then change your mind about paying what they cost. It's beginning to look like a pattern with Minor, who is feuding with art auction houses and banks over his various holdings. The demise of 8020 seems peaceable in comparison. But it all points to a wealthy man whose greed is nevertheless larger than his wallet.