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The Future of Scouted Football
One last try.
This is a long one. I’ve included a TLDR at the bottom for those who want to skip straight to the good bit.
Scouted Football has been a part of my life since I was 18, when I founded it alongside my friends Llew and Stephen. Over the past decade we’ve done lots of cool stuff: we’ve published free e-books and then a print magazine, we’ve conducted interviews with industry professionals, been invited to Premier League clubs, had many arguments on Twitter and built a website from scratch that does pretty well. It’s been great.
Well, mostly great. When we entered the industry in 2014, we were teenagers and students and naive little idiots. We were told by our professors and the professionals we spoke to that journalism was changing, in print maybe dying. No matter, we thought: we’d focus on getting really good at it and everything else would fall into place. For years we forged ahead, and in 2019 thought we were finally good enough to earn some money from our work. So we launched The Handbook. We pulled together enough cash to pay our friend Fede to design a cover, and attracted enough pre-orders to afford a single print run. Then we sold it out of my university bedroom, then my parent’s garage, and then a metal shed I rented in town.
After twelve Volumes, The Handbook ended in 2021. It ended because we were naive little idiots trying to navigate circumstances too challenging for our level of experience. Thousands of people loved what we made but our margins were too small and Brexit and the pandemic were too fucking annoying. Our editors were working full-time for free and we didn’t scale effectively enough to pay them properly. So the Handbook ended.
In the 18 months since we’ve done lots of thinking and tried lots of things. Scouted is so important to us - it’s been an ever-present our entire adult lives - and we couldn’t leave it behind without scouring every option to keep it alive. To be blunt, we needed money. So we went looking for it.
We looked at the big publications we once aspired to be like and found many of them in trouble. Outlets that make good journalism and would be otherwise sustainable are cutting jobs or going out of business entirely because they can’t deliver the holy grail: The Line That Goes Eternally Up (And To The Right). This is because they get their money from people who aren’t satisfied with good, sustainable journalism alone.
For a while, we chased opportunities like that. The further we got along that road, the more confident we became that it was the wrong option. After a lot of thinking and a lot of planning, we’ve landed on something else.
Although we need funding to keep Scouted Football alive, it’s important we don’t put ourselves in a position where that eternal line is all that matters. We don’t want to raise money in a way that will compromise what we’ve loved about Scouted for almost a decade. We don’t want to take lots of cash from Big Scary Bank Corp. We don’t want to have our editorial independence decided by the whims of Joe Executive, or be forced into creating only what advertisers value that month.
We want to write for the people who created entire shelf displays for their Handbook collections. I want my boss to be the nice lady in Austria who ordered every edition for her husband and sent me emails about how much he enjoyed them. We want to be accountable to the hundreds of people who were genuinely gutted when we announced the books could not continue.
Put simply, we want to make great journalism, and exchange that journalism for money with the people who value it. Like the good old days.
So here’s our plan.
We’ll start with the big news: The Handbook is going to return. Or at least, it will if you’d like it to.
We’re going to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a new version of The Handbook magazine we’re calling SCOUTED. In the eternal words of Justin Timberlake, ‘it’s cleaner’.
Crowdfunding allows us to figure out exactly what we need to make a print magazine sustainable and directly ask our audience if they think we’re worth it. We’ve spent months running the numbers, improving our business model and grappling with skyrocketing costs and believe this is the best way to deliver a truly great magazine to our readers.
Becoming sustainable means raising our prices from their position between 2019 and 2021. Because we’ll be asking for more from our readers, we’re hell-bent on producing a magazine that blows our previous efforts out of the water. We hope you’ll agree the improvements are worth the price.
For those Handbook aficionados with extra cash to throw our way, we’ll express our gratitude with exclusive perks that, in my opinion, are very cool: including an absurdly beautiful Limited Edition hardcover designed by Dan Leydon. He recently tweeted it was his best work and errr, yeah, we agree.
Every edition of SCOUTED will be loosely themed around the player, club, academy or story of the moment. For 001, we’ve chosen Champion of the World, Enzo Fernández. 001 will explore his rapid ascension to the throne of world football, the romance of Argentina’s triumph in Qatar and the club that spotted him before anyone else.
Every edition will include 25 revamped player profiles from the Scouted team and a cast of our favourite experts, now supported by visualisation from our partners at SofaScore.
Print runs will be tightly controlled: supporting the campaign is the only way to guarantee a copy.
To ensure everyone involved in the project is paid fairly, it won’t move ahead unless we reach our funding goal.
Crowdfunding allows us to plan well in advance, steer around the mistakes we made the first time and run the numbers to ensure the absolute best possible experience for our backers. For example, the extra funding will allow us to partner with a bespoke fulfilment company, who will package and ship your books much more effectively than this idiot in his metal shed ever could.
The covers are done. The writers are attached, the artists ready to go. The list of player profiles is locked and the features are in the bag. We’ve got a couple kinks to iron out before we present the project to you, but it won’t be long now.
If you loved The Handbook, you can pick a tier that suits you and help bring it back to life.
If you want it, we’ll make it. If you don’t, we won’t. No harm.
That’s just part one of our master plan. Many tiers of the campaign include a subscription to a mysterious publication called Notebook. Which brings us to…
The problem with being dependent on advertising revenue to keep our journalism kicking is it clashes with our core product: youth football analysis and stories that are fun to read. In my opinion, being pelted with more ads than would fit in a single frame from Blade Runner while you’re trying to learn about rising talents from Ligue 1 isn’t ideal. And let’s be honest, SEO-optimised writing often reads like shit.
Instead, we want to build a premium publication that is an essential reading companion for any football fan eager to stay ahead of the game. We want to build somewhere we can host world-class reporting on youth football that other outlets can’t provide. Somewhere packed with great writing, analysis and insight that’s a joy to read, priced fairly and supported solely by its readers.
So here’s the plan:
We’re launching an online sister publication to SCOUTED called SCOUTED Notebook.
Notebook will be a subscription-based publication hosted here, on Substack.
Notebook will be home to our best work not in print. We’ll publish consistent, high-quality journalism from the Scouted team plus a recurring cast of our favourite authors and talented new voices, who will be paid for their work.
We’ll be transparent about how much we can pay writers for Notebook work, and this amount will scale with our subscriber base. When we reach a new milestone and can improve our compensation, we’ll let you - our readers - know.
A subscription to Notebook will also grant you access to our digital archive, which contains every past edition of The Handbook.
Supporting the magazine campaign will bag you a free timed subscription to Notebook, which can be used to extend an existing subscription if you’re already a reader.
If you were subscribed to our Patreon when we went dark over there, we’ll give you a free subscription to Notebook equal to the outstanding months. Please bear with us as we figure this out, and get in touch if you haven’t received your subscription within a week or two.
Notebook will exist even if our crowdfunding campaign fails.
You’re reading on Notebook right now. Spooky.
Between the magazine, Notebook and the existing free website, we’ll have outlets in print and online to bring you our classic Scouted analysis and insight at price points we hope everyone can be comfortable with.
Already sold? You can subscribe right here.
SCOUTED: An Editorial Future
You might’ve noticed this blog post is becoming extremely long and detailed and you’re probably quite annoyed about it. I’m happy to say this is intentional.
I believe that if we’re building this new future for Scouted Football - in which we’re supported entirely by our readers - then our relationship with you is our most important asset. So I’m committing to more transparency moving forward.
American publication Defector has laid out the blueprint for building an employee-owned, reader-funded outlet that defies the financial models of current journalism. It’s a blueprint we’d like to follow, albeit it on a much smaller scale, if we can.
I’ll start by sharing information that’s publicly available anyway. If I’ve massively overestimated how much people care about this stuff then that’s okay, we don’t have to talk about it much more; but if you feel as I do that this kind of transparency builds trust, and that trust is the foundation upon which we build something like this, then we’ll commit to talking about it more often.
Scouted Football is owned six ways, equally, by the six people who have poured the most into making it a reality. They include Tom Curren (me), Stephen Ganavas, Llew Davies, Phil Costa, and Joe Donnohue. We feel strongly about maintaining this co-operatively owned and controlled structure and we think it brings the best experience to our readers, too.
Future communication of this kind will be exclusive to Notebook subscribers, who will get lots of similar perks that offer a look behind the curtain and the agency to direct what kind of journalism we deliver. If you’d like to hear more stuff in this vein, you can let us know there.
So, that’s the vision: a cooperatively-owned publication that is sustained purely by its readers - among them, I hope, you.
I know this post largely boils down to: we need money, here’s how to give us money, please and thank you. I’ve done that clever thing where I’ve tried to get you invested in our sob story before hitting you with the ‘donate now’ button.
Hopefully, you’ll agree we’re trying to deliver something really great as a fair exchange for that money. I believe Scouted is too unique and special to leave behind, but we simply can’t continue to support it without making a living.
When The Handbook ended, we went looking for funding to keep Scouted alive. We’ve decided we’d like to be supported entirely by our readers, rather than selling out to someone larger.
The Handbook will return, crowdfund-style, as a brand-new publication called SCOUTED.
We’ve launched an online sister publication, SCOUTED Notebook, which will be the regular lynchpin of our output and the best source for youth football journalism anywhere on the internet. Notebook lives right here, on Substack.
We’re committing to more transparency as we move forward with better writing and analysis than ever before, directed by you, the reader, and owned equally by the people who make it.
If you’d like to help us build our independent future, please consider a paid subscription to Notebook. We’ll give you plenty of notice here when the Handbook campaign is ready to be revealed.
Thank you so much for reading our stuff for almost a decade.
Did you read all that? I’ll be honest, it’d be pretty funny if you didn’t subscribe now. Haha. Please do though.