By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007
The magazines stack up, unread, on your coffee table: the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair. You subscribe to them but don't have time to read them. So there they sit, a glossy pile of guilt.
Where you see wasted money, Jeremy Brosowsky saw a business opportunity.
The Washington publishing entrepreneur recently rolled out Brijit, a Web site that creates 100-word abstracts of articles from dozens of magazines and rates them. Brijit, Brosowsky said, aims to be "everyone's best-read friend."
Now on Brijit are summations of articles in current issues of GQ, Wired, Mother Jones, ESPN the Magazine, the Economist, Smithsonian and more than 50 other magazines. Even if you never read the entire article, just scanning Brijit could make you the smartest person at your next cocktail party.
But the Internet is littered with good ideas that turn out to be bad businesses, and online publishing can be especially tricky: Do you go mass-market or niche? Subscription-based, or free and ad-supported? Original content or aggregation of other content?
Further, at just 34, Brosowsky already has one failed publishing venture under his belt.
But Brosowsky's latest idea is attracting interest and nearly $1 million in venture capital from about 10 investors, including Norman Pearlstine, former editor of Time magazine and now with Carlyle Group.
Brosowsky's inspiration came in part from being a father of two children with twins on the way. He said he tries to be an avid reader, but the many demands on his time have led to the creation of his own pile of unread, paid-for magazines.
"I wished there was someone who would tell me the five stories in that pile I have to read," Brosowsky said.
There are precedents for the idea. Reader's Digest became America's most popular magazine for decades by condensing content to short, easily readable articles. And magazine analyst Mark Edmiston notes that "The Week," the National Review's weekly magazine summary of news, written with attitude and wit, has made a solid business.
"I think [Brijit] makes a lot of sense," Edmiston said. "I think that's where the Web is going."
The Web is moving toward the combination of human reviewers with Internet search. WebMD founder Jeff Arnold has said that if the latest evolution of the Internet, Web 2.0, was about the consumer -- meaning user-generated sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube -- then Web 3.0 will be about the editor.
Search engines are proficient at quickly returning a big pile of results to a query. But what's the best stuff in the pile?
Increasingly, sites such as Brijit, Mahalo (which calls itself "human-powered search") and ConsumerSearch, a product-review site, are adding the man to the machine to create comprehensive search results that are edited for quality.
In addition to Brosowsky, Brijit has three full-time editorial staffers. Brosowsky depends on freelancers for reviews of most articles. His editors assign magazine articles that they want reviewed by posting them on the site, and seek three reviews for each article. Users can claim an assignment and write the synopsis. If Brijit accepts a freelance review, the writer is paid $5. If the editors don't like any of the three reviews, the article will be reassigned.
Web site Associated Content has a similar formula for soliciting user-generated content.
Like Associated Content, Brijit will aim to make money by selling advertising, Brosowsky said.
So far, Brijit is reviewing magazine articles and some television shows, such as PBS news programs. Brosowsky said Brijit is adding 60 to 75 abstracts per day.
Many of the 100-word abstracts allow readers to click directly to the article on its publisher's Web site. But some do not, because some magazine Web sites require users to pay to read their articles online. But that's less of an issue now than when Brosowsky dreamed up Brijit months ago. For instance, the Economist recently took all of its online content dating back one year out from "behind the wall" -- an Internet publishing term for making paid content free.
Brosowsky, a former research analyst for Goldman Sachs, is no stranger to local publishing startups.
In 1999, he launched Business Forward, a monthly glossy based in Dupont Circle that covered local business. Brosowsky had hoped it would be a Forbes or Money for Washington, and it enjoyed some critical success during its short life. But the bursting of the first tech bubble and the local real estate plunge killed Business Forward in 2002. Brijit is Brosowsky's first start-up since then.
His partner in the effort is Benjamin Dorr, who worked with one of the venture's investors, Carlyle's Edward Mathias, and who was one of Brosowsky's partners at Business Forward.
Brosowsky said the site's name was influenced by a couple of desires.
Brijit rates magazine stories with a series of three red circles -- three empty circles means the article is worth passing up, three full circles means it's a must-read. Brosowsky wanted a name for his site that had three letters topped by red dots (which limited him to "i" and "j") in a row, to echo the three-circle rating system. Also, he wanted it to be a woman's name or sound like one.
On the site, Brijit is described as "smart, sexy, fun, helpful, well-read."
A button allows users to send the Brijit URL to others. "Yes, Brijit's engaging . . . but she's not engaged," the site cheekily reads. "So introduce Brijit to friends."