James ‘pay nowt’ Brown: saviour or saboteur?

Sabotage Times, James Brown’s latest venture aims to be an online showcase for new writing talent.  Aspiring journalists give their material to the site for nothing, and, so the plan goes, gain attention and lustre from being published by the founder of Loaded and former editor of GQ.  The 200 or so contributors only receive payment if their material is syndicated elsewhere.

The site’s content is the mens’ mags staples of television, film, music, football, celebrity, travel and lifestyle.  By virtue of being on the web, the content is generally more immediate, but slighter than much of its printed kin.

Brown, whose Jack magazine lasted just two years and who has since been undertaking media consultancy,  launched the venture with £30,000 of his own money.  He runs it with a deputy, Matt Weiner, formerly of FourFourTwo, and has no office.  There a couple of big name backers, but Brown has, to date, declined to name them.

The idea came to Brown when he realised that there was a wealth of writing talent pouring its efforts into blogs and Twitter feeds who risked going unnoticed.  By pulling them together, and publishing some of his old running mates like Irvine Welsh, as well as his own musings, Brown reasoned that he could create a destination website.  Today the site claims around 85,000 unique visitors a month.

Whether the deal works for contributors is harder to fathom.  Brown says that more than 140 articles have now been syndicated.  One or two Sabotage Times writers have been spotted and snapped up by established media – one for example is now working for Heat.

Lucy Sweet – one of Sabotage Times top-six contributors – is a respected journalist based in Glasgow.  After 15 years of successful freelancing, she was hit by the downturn in print, and care duties for a young child.  She found Sabotage Times via Twitter, liked their ‘fresh and anarchic attitude’, and sent them a link to her blog.

“I wrote them a piece for Sabotage Times about my secret grubby love of cheap celeb magazines,” she says. “I got tons of comments and tweets about it, from Sabotage Times readers to magazine editors and established journalists. Even Jonathan Ross read it and liked it.”

Sweet generally initiates ideas and is given free rein to write what she wants.   “If there’s something topical they want to run James or his deputy Matt will commission me – usually at the last minute. I’ve written reviews of the Apprentice and the X-Factor well into the night. But the response is always so immediate that I’ve become addicted to the attention! James and Matt are very supportive and I’ve (virtually) been introduced to a bunch of really funny, clever, up and coming writers like Russ Litten, Olivia Darling and Jo Fuertes-Knight. It’s been a very positive experience.”

Sweet has had nothing syndicated from the site, but has been approached by several editors as a result of her work on the site.  She wrote a column for the Guardian, covering for Ian Jack while he was on holiday, and has also had a commission from Glamour and one from a travel magazine about a five star hotel in Barbados. 

For Brown’s business to work, of course, he will need to syndicate a great deal more.  Only time will tell whether Sabotage Times is the next Loaded – or another Jack.

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