I’m asked every day why Hank and I haven’t tried to create a TV show.
We’ve been approached many times to do TV shows, but while we’re happy to listen and discuss ideas with people, we’ve so far turned down these opportunities, even the very tempting and lucrative ones. Here’s why:
1. When you work with a cable channel or production company, you don’t own the show you make or control the manner in which it is distributed.
2. It’s easy—and only getting easier—to watch shows like CrashCourse and SciShow on your TV.
3. We really believe that what is strong and beautiful about nerdfighteria is that we create it—every day—together. All of us. And if we were on TV, I worry we’d lose that sense of connection, which Hank and I have enjoyed so much the last five and a half years. Like, the Sherlock fandom and the Doctor Who fandom are great communities, but they are about Sherlock and Doctor Who. Nerdfighteria isn’t, and never has been, primarily about Hank or me. It’s about celebrating nerdiness and decreasing worldsuck. We really value that and don’t want it to change.
4. On YouTube, we can make exactly the stuff we want for exactly the people we want. Sometimes that means getting lower ratings (for instance, Thoughts from Places videos are consistently our least viewed videos, but we still really like making them and we know that nerdfighteria really enjoys them, too). Television is driven by viewership, and all viewers are treated equally. So you can’t say to a TV network, “I know we get fewer viewers when we make this stuff, but we get BETTER viewers.” They do not understand that idea. That idea, however, is at the very core of our relationship with our community. As Hank has told me, “I don’t care how many views we get. I care how many made-of-awesome views we get.”
If all we wanted to do was make stuff that lots of people watch, all our videos would be about animal sex. And on some level, if we had a TV show, the emphasis would be on maximizing the number of viewers, not the quality of the community, which is the exact opposite of what we want.
In one conversation with an anonymous cable network, an exec said to us, “Crash Course would be PERFECT if you were a little less nuanced and stuck to topics that interest people. Like, you know, Hitler and sex.” (Direct quote.)
I’ve read tens of thousands of Crash Course comments. No one—NO ONE—has ever asked us to be less nuanced, or to stick to Hitler and sex. That’s what I love about nerdfighteria. Our community is deeply intellectually engaged, even when that means grappling with complexity and ambiguity.
The great joy of my life is that I get to talk with you on a near-daily basis about a huge variety of things that matter to me, and listen to you discuss what matters to you. Right now, that’s not possible on TV, which is (for better and worse) still a medium where people talk toyou, not with you.
So Hank and I run or help run several businesses at the moment: Vidcon, DFTBA Records, the juggernaut that is 2-D Glasses, ecogeek, vlogbrothers, scishow, and crashcourse, as well as administering the nonprofit Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck. These are not huge businesses or anything (and in some cases are not even profitable), but many of them have employees and revenue and function like any other business, so recently Hank and I have developed some Rules for Running a Business That Doesn’t Suck, which we thought we’d share.
Rule 1: Don’t be a dick. This is the governing law of the Internet, as created by the great Wil Wheaton, and we try to apply it to our businesses. Not being a dick mostly means treating your clients and customers respectfully, and focusing on creating value rather than creating profit, and generally being reasonably kind and personable when it comes to business relationships.
Rule 2: Increase Awesome or Decrease Suck. If an idea won’t increase world awesome or decrease worldsuck, we won’t do it. (And if we’re doing something that no longer feels like it is increasing awesome or decreasing suck, we stop doing it.)
Rule 3: Minimize lawyering. Hank and I tend to lose interest in any endeavor when a lot of lawyers become involved. Basically, if we require lawyers other than our cousin Mike or the people he works with, we don’t do it.
Rule 4: Employ more people per dollar of revenue than PepsiCo. This is very important to us. So one of the emerging metrics for a company’s “success” is revenue generated per employee. PepsiCo generates more than $196,728 in revenue per employee. (That may seem ludicrously high, but it’s much lower than many companies: Google generates $1,900,000 every year per employee.) The thinking goes that successful companies generate a lot of money per employee. Our thinking is that it is both good business and good citizenship to invest revenue in new employees.
Rule 5: Keep promises. We try to keep promises even when they are very inconvenient and expensive to keep, such as when Amazon Germany ships out a thousand unsigned preorders of your new book even though you signed more than enough copies for them to ship to their customers.
Rule 6: Pay tops out at 10x average worker pay. Pretty simple, really: The highest paid employees of a company shouldn’t make more than 10 times the average employee’s pay. (Current estimates in the US indicate CEOs make between 185 and 310 times more than the average worker.) Capping this at a multiple of ten means everyone is invested in seeing the company grow and succeed.
Rule 7: Have awesome customers. If you don’t like the people who watch and read and wear the stuff you make, then you will not have any fun. Speaking of which…
Rule 8: Have fun. Our grandfather wrote thousands of lists in his life—grocery lists, lists of business ideas, pros and cons of taking different jobs. Almost all of his lists ended “Have fun!” We think this is good advice.
And I thought I couldn’t like Hank and John more than I already did. This is fantastic advice, and I’m honored to be included in it.