Henry Lane Fox, brother of Martha (the UK’s official Digital Champion), is a digital expert and the chief executive of the Browser website. He began his career at lastminute.com before founding manufacturing network Maxipos.com and Amuse Bouche champagne bars.
The Browser was founded by Economist journalist Robert Cottrell, and investor Al Breach, and curates a “manageable list of daily reading for the intellectually curious”. Each post comprises a link to the original source, and a short summary written by the Browser’s editors explaining why the article is worth reading. The site also interviews experts on the best books to read in their field in its FiveBooks section. Recent interviews have included Woody Allen on inspiration. It has also recently launched an iPhone app.
Q. Why did you get involved in the Browser?
A. I loved this curation model – a place where people you trust are putting out hard-to-find, interesting articles from expert sources. The Browser solves a problem – how to find the articles we should be reading that are genuinely worthwhile? Although founding member Robert Cottrell had already done a brilliant job, I was brought in to see how we could make the Browser into a larger business. There was a steady readership of 25-30,000 loyal regulars a month, but it was uncertain how it would grow bigger. After we re-launched (in 2010), readership has grown dramatically to 300,000 individual readers on the site last month.
Q. What’s your challenge for the UK?
A. To increase readership in the UK. At the moment 60-65 per cent of our readership is still in the States. The Browser gives good detailed background to political and economic events, and provides a great transatlantic bridge. Quite frankly, the media is more constricted here than it is in the US – the blogosphere is better in the States. There’s an enormous amount of great writing over there of international value.
Q. How will you monetise this? You currently charge 69p for your iPhone app.
A. This is the great question. What fascinates me about this industry is we’re at a changing point where the publishing and media industries are faced with enormous challenges online. Nobody has managed to solve this yet. We’re starting to develop different technologies and ways to get people to interact with the website.
Q. Who’s your competition?
A. The Huffington Post. We see ourselves as the background to the news with longer-term analysis and opinion pieces. There’s an immediate distinction between the content we carry and the content that gets trawled through something like Google reader. We have technology that pre-filters sources for us, but the difference is that we do physically read the articles. What sets us aside is that we write individual short summaries of what you’re going to get.
Q. Monocle magazine charges more for its iPad version than for the physical magazine. Are you thinking of emulating that model?
A. From the readers’ point of view, it will be preferable to have one price for the product, whether it’s through the iPad, Kindle or a web experience on your laptop. The key is to have one low cost that will give you access to everything in one go.
Q. What have you learned from lastminute.com?
A. That sense of experimentation and the understanding that this market is a constantly evolving beast. Also, how to build tech and the flex and speed of change that comes with startups – that’s the hardest thing to stay on top of. I know it won’t be clear what we’ll end up with in two years time. We saw that in the early days of lastminute. You wouldn’t make a plan; you’d try something quickly, fail quickly, then try something else.
Q. Are you an entrepreneur?
A. I don’t know. I like creating jobs and creating a great product. That’s what I get a kick out of. I make sure I’m creating a service I myself would want to use.
Q. Was there a surge of subscribers when Stephen Fry tweeted about you?
A. He tends to break websites when he tweets. Unfortunately he didn’t tell me he was going to tweet about us, and he sent a desperately apologetic email afterwards saying he felt terrible. He does tend to crash websites, but we’re terribly lucky to have great people like Stephen Fry who appreciate the service.
STEVE DINEEN REPLY
I tried out The Browser, one of the more high profile of the recent slew of curation websites, on my phone. Its first recommendation for me, in its “Best of the Moment” section, was an article entitled All the Single Ladies, which started with the line “When I was 28 I broke up with my boyfriend...” Not a great start. But if you dig around there are some gems to be found (a great piece on HG Wells, for instance). Its biggest selling point is the ability to save stories so you can read them later on the tube. Definitely one to watch out for.