Kurt Andersen could be writing the follow-up to his '90s epic, Turn of the Century. He could be using his cred as cofounder of the seminal '80s magazine Spy as an E-ZPass into moguldom. Instead, he's sitting in a cubicle-size office in a converted Manhattan warehouse working on a website. Geared to media insiders and freshly launched May 10, it's aptly called Inside.com, and, says Andersen, it represents ''a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It's as if it was 1969 and someone said, 'Hey, come join this rock & roll band.''' Of course, not even Jefferson Airplane looked this geeky.
In case you've missed the copious prepress coverage, Andersen and his cofounders former Spin editor in chief Michael Hirschorn and former Brill's Content bigwig Deanna Brown have raided trades like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, papers like The Wall Street Journal, and mainstream magazines like Business Week to build a top-shelf staff of reporters and editors. They raised $23 million from blue-chip investment houses in the fumes of April's market crash. Their basic pitch: Success in today's convergent world requires that industry-ites understand the entire media spectrum, not just what they cover in a specific area. Now comes the mission impossible: charging $19.95 a month (or $199 a year) for much of the Inside.com's content while attracting 100,000 subscribers over the next three years.
Whether the media elite will shell out the expense-account dough largely depends on how awed they are by Inside.com's data lode. It sure looks impressive: There are next-day Nielsen TV ratings, daily box office updates, and details on every script sale in Hollywood, including a list of hot Weekend Reads. Network news shows will be broken down by segment, reporter, and time; and a Book Tracker will parse new releases by publisher, agent, and even fees paid. The site will also supply breaking news throughout the day, bolstered by such all-star columnists as The Simpsons' Harry Shearer, Oz creator Tom Fontana, Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein, former Nirvana manager and Artemis Records founder Danny Goldberg, and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment founder Bernie Brillstein (who will be writing an advice column don't expect Garry Shandling to e-mail any questions in).
For those not willing to pay the freight, Inside.com will offer mainstream entertainment news for free, while in-house scribes will churn out summaries of the late shows, radio talk shows, and gossip tabs. A Power Index of moguls ranked by readers will chart, say, Oprah Winfrey's rise or fall in heavy popularity trading, and there will be daily party photos and ''media mogul astrology.'' The goal is to attract roughly 10 million page views per month.
Since Inside.com is boldly attempting to cover everything, it's sure to get some things right. But it will be interesting to see which ideas disappear in the first three months, when the founders only one of whom has any Web-building experience realize that imagining the perfect digital publication is much easier than producing one on a daily basis. The site is also relying on the untested notion that statistical fetishism can be applied to the media in the same way it is to sports or finance and that the desire for such data is strong enough to get insiders to cancel all their other $200 subscriptions. Ironically, Inside.com's best chance of beating the likes of The Hollywood Reporter may lie in offering so much...variety.