Saturday, April 25, 2015

Advice from a Spanish satirist: "Don't open a bullfighting school in London"

Eduardo Galan, "Emperor" of Revista Mongolia

BURGOS, Spain -- Eduardo Galan is a bundle of contradictions. He has a Ph.D. in psychology, specifically the psychology of marketing.

(Versión en español)

He has a background in online business marketing. And he speaks very seriously about business models for marketing a media product.

Yet he has the playful air of an adolescent who delights in mocking the pretensions and hypocrisies of Spain's political, business, and religious leaders, which he does in the satirical monthly Revista Mongolia.

Onstage at the iRedes Iberoamerican Conference on Social Networks, he delighted the audience of several hundred with off-color jokes and humorous asides. In an interview with me afterwards, though, he sounded like any other media executive struggling to make a buck amid fierce competition.

Profitable, debt-free

Galan said the publication gets 70% of its revenue from the magazine and 30% from other ventures, including a comedy show, "Mongolia, The Musical", as well as sales of books and other items in its store. In Girón Gijón, the musical drew 700 paying customers, and the following week, in Barcelona, the show sold out all 500 seats.

Publisher Gonzalo Boye, Galan, and several journalists from the daily El Público, which had just closed its doors, launched the publication in March of 2012 with seed capital of 50,000 euros. The six founders worked free for six months to earn their sweat equity. They own the majority of the company but have several other investors.

The company has no debt, which is important for maintaining independence, said Galan, who is listed in the staff box of the magazine as "Emperor". Mongolia generated revenues in 2014 of between 300,000 and 400,000 euros -- "I'm going from memory, forgive me," he said -- and turned a small profit. The 3,500 subscribers who pay 60€ 32 euros a year are the key to keeping the enterprise afloat.

Although it is a monthly, it has daily news updates on its website. It has 230,000 Twitter followers183,000 likes on its Facebook page, and 1,190 subscribers to its YouTube channel.

Other numbers:
  • 40 pages a month, tabloid on newsprint, 40,000 press run, national distribution
  • 15,000-20,000 newstand sales a month at 3€ each (minus the distributor's share)
  • Advertising, negligible. Content too controversial
  • 2 full-time subscription staff
  • 6 founders, four of whom on full-time salary
  • 30 collaborating writers and cartoonists, paid per submission
Mongolia has a reputation for nasty satire. The publisher, Boye, is a human rights lawyer who dedicates a fourth of his time to giving the writers and cartoonists advice that will keep them out of jail, Galan says, only half joking.

The publication has fans...

  • In a profile of the magazine, The New York Times reported, "Mongolia eviscerates the pat myths, postures, and privileges cemented during Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy, during the 1970s and '80s."
  • Britain's Guardian compared it to one of its own: "Spain's version of Private Eye pokes fun at the corrupt, the powerful, and the press."
  • In 2013, the International Press Club of Spain honored Mongolia co-founder Pere Rusiñol for "his defense of human values and freedom of expression."
And critics...

In May of 2013, when Princess Cristina, daughter of then-King Juan Carlos, was charged in a 6 million euro fraud involving her husband, Mongolia's cover had a visual and verbal pun that appeared to be calling her an SOB.

Only when the publication was folded flat to show both the cover and back cover did the headline read "Daughter of the king and queen charged" (HIJA DE los reyes de españa imPUTAda)

The publication 20minutos characterized the reaction in social networks as intensely divided. Many were calling the publication trash; the royal family receives kid-glove treatment from much of the press.  Others were calling the cover an example of freedom of expression. Many commentators were predicting that that edition of Mongolia would be its last. Two years later it is still here.  

In an informal survey of journalists, professors, and journalism students, I found many who think the publication is sometimes amusing but often in bad taste.

A dedicated audience

From a business perspective, Galan knows that Mongolia is not for everyone. "I believe we can have enough of an audience to sustain ourselves economically. For us the objective is to give work to as many journalists and comics, who are now suffering, as possible." Spain's journalists are suffering from a double crisis: 25% unemployment generally and thousands of layoffs in traditional media.

With the economic crisis and a steady drumbeat of news articles about high-level corruption involving politicans and businesspeople, Spain is ready for satire, Galan said. It was not ready pre-2007 when the real estate market was booming.

 "After all, with satire you are doing harm. And when things are going well in a society, no one wants to hear that it is all about to come crashing down. Spain is reaching a maturity where it is beginning to be open to freedom of expression, which consists of allowing people to offend you."

Playful but demanding

Galan sounds more like a conservative when he talks about the profession of comedy and satire ("oficio" is the word he used, which is somewhere between "trade" and "profession").

"You have to respect the profession," he says, and that means reading the classic masters like Quevedo, studying Mark Twain, and reading satirical publications from other countries. He cited as models Canard Enchaîné and Charlie Hebdo from France, The Clinic from Chile, Barcelona from Argentina, Mad from the U.S. and Private Eye from Great Britain.

He is also a fan of American standup and the television shows "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart and "Real Time with Bill Maher".

Room for more media

In the iRedes roundtable about entrepreneurial journalism projects, we talked about all the challenges and problems that entrepreneurs face. But Galan said later in our interview that he wanted to leave aspiring entrepreneurs with a different message:

"Whoever has a good idea, go for it, and don't be afraid of failure. But be clear about what you are going to do. Be responsible. Be clear about your business model. Be clear about who your audience is. Don't open a bullfighting school in London. You may have a lot of passion for it, but in London, it doesn't make any sense."

Video interview with Eduardo Galan (in Spanish)


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