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E-mail newsletter bets on geeks' cash value

October 16, 2009|Ben Fritz

Three media veterans looking to profit from Hollywood's obsession with everything "geek" have found inspiration in a newsletter for women who love shopping.

Producer and former Sony Pictures chief Peter Guber, digital media entrepreneur Peter Levin and Gareb Shamus, owner of comic book and pop culture magazine Wizard, will unveil an e-mail newsletter today called GeekChicDaily aimed at young guys interested in comics, video games, technology and genre films.

The business is being explicitly patterned after the hugely successful DailyCandy, an e-mail newsletter focused on fashion trends that was acquired by Comcast Corp. last year for $125 million.

"I have been studying the newsletter model closely because I have peers who have had a lot of success with it," said Levin, who previously worked for onetime Creative Artists Agency chief Michael Ovitz. "We're pop culture fanatics ourselves, and we realized it's a group that wasn't being served by this model."

Innumerable blogs and websites are devoted to self-professed geeks, but the Internet ad market is in decline, and generating significant revenue from such content is very difficult.

When successful, e-mail newsletters can demand significantly higher advertising rates than websites because they offer a precisely targeted audience that has actively requested the information, instead of coming upon it through a search engine.

"It's really the same model used for newspaper and magazine subscriptions, except when you take out the costs of printing, it becomes much more profitable," said Pete Sheinbaum, the former chief executive of DailyCandy.

They're also relatively inexpensive to launch. A group of investors led by Guber has thus far put about $1 million into GeekChic.

Numerous e-mail newsletters have become particularly popular with their audiences, including Thrillist, an entertainment newsletter for men, and foodie-targeted Tasting Table.

DailyCandy eventually reached 2.8 million subscribers, but people familiar with the business say e-mail newsletters can become profitable with as few as 35,000 readers if they fit a well-defined category.

Since launching in stealth mode less than two weeks ago, GeekChicDaily has focused on topics including "The only comic book ['Buffy the Vampire Slayer' creator] Joss Whedon reads," reading comic books on an iPhone, and the new video game Brutal Legend. Each missive is only about 150 words long, in line with other successful newsletters that have found that subscribers want a quick read waiting for them in their in boxes each morning.

The company has also lined up interviews with such well-known names as Marvel Comics writer and editor Stan Lee and Will Wright, creator of the Sims video game series. Many of the big names talking to GeekChic are doing so via their connections to Guber.

"I'm using my Rolodex, my wallet and my own experience in this," Guber said.

DailyCandy eventually grew beyond a newsletter, publishing two books. The GeekChic founders are already moving to expand their brand. The first such venture will be a conference called GeekChic University, designed for marketers and executives looking to reach the geek audience.

The event is taking place at the Anaheim Comic-Con, one of six run by Shamus' Wizard Entertainment. Wizard is providing resources to GeekChic, including promotion and some shared editorial staff.

The backers' primary goal, however, is to quickly draw as many subscribers as possible and leverage them into an attractive vehicle for marketers, including studios that have been accelerating investments in films and other content aimed at this exact audience.

"We set out on this exercise well before Disney bought Marvel or Warner Bros. restructured DC Comics," Levin said. "But we were very pleased when those deals happened, because the value of the geek has gone up significantly."

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

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