The Persistent Failure of Steven Brill

Steven Brill has a reputation for being a media wise man—a deep-thinking mogul who's always spotting the opportunities of The Future. Which is kind of strange, since the majority of his projects have been ostentatious failures.

Brill's latest company, "Clear," which was supposed to save rich people a half hour standing in security lines at airports in exchange for $128 a year, is shutting down. Let's do a quick and dirty balance sheet of Brill's successes and failures—keeping in mind that to do your best is all your mom really asks.

Successes

The American Lawyer: Brill launched what would become the nation's leading legal magazine in 1979. This is not an unqualified success, though, since American Lawyer Media (now Incisive Media) is having problems right now.

Court TV: Brill created the network (now truTV) in 1991. After receiving a huge popularity boost from the OJ Simpson trial, it was sold it to Time Warner in 1997. For which Brill got a tidy sum.

Emily Brill: Steven's daughter, the ultimate narrator.

Failures

Brill's Content: Launched in 1998, this mediacentric mag was supposed to capitalize on America's insatiable thirst for news about the news! Turned out not that many people really care about the news about the news. Not enough to pay money, at least. Stopped publishing in 2001.

Contentville.com
: A website selling "a variety of content ranging from thesis papers to ebooks." Closed in 2001.

Inside.com: The legendary media site that launched the careers of many top media reporters and also failed to make any money. The magazine version of Inside was merged with Brill's Content, and the website was part of a convoluted plan with Primedia to corner the market on media trade publications, but the whole thing was shuttered in 2001.

Clear: In the post-9/11 world, Brill noticed, airport security sure was a hassle. People would pay to be "verified" beforehand so they could breeze right through! Right? 165,000 people did, reportedly, and Clear raised more than $100 million from investors, but now it's dead, unable to afford to keep going.

Brill also wrote a couple books which didn't sell all that well and a column for Newsweek, but you can judge those on their own merits. He's not out of the game, though—his other ongoing venture is Journalism Online, a company that plans to help various magazines and newspapers charge readers for online access. Bet on it!
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