Author, TV host, gourmand and raconteur Anthony Bourdain is adding another line to his business card: media venture capitalist. The Parts Unknown star announced on Wednesday that he has invested in the three-year-old digital magazine Roads & Kingdoms, which publishes longform pieces about travel, food and culture.
As part of the deal, Bourdain will also become the site's editor-at-large. While the amount of the investment was undisclosed, Roads & Kingdoms tells Inc. it is enough to fund operations of the 10-employee company, which has offices in Brooklyn and Barcelona.
Founded in 2012 by former Time editor Nathan Thornburgh and Matt Goulding, co-author of the bestselling diet book series Eat This, Not That, Roads & Kingdoms was first a Tumblr account published out of Mayanmar. In the early days, Thornburgh and Goulding reported about the Burmese civil war and expanded to food, culture and travel.
"It seems counterintuitive when the rest of the world is seemingly going towards 'Top Ten Favorite Cities' and 'What You Should Know Before Going to Kuala Lumpur,' these guys are breaking off very personal, handcrafted tales that are immersive and atmospheric," Bourdain says. "The space has been left to us, I don't know anyone who is playing around in the same ballpark."
A team of 500 paid contributors, mostly foreign correspondents who are stationed around the world, write most of the site's content. "No clickbait or listicles are founding principles from the get-go," Bourdain says. This isn't pithy Lonely Planet travel guide content; the stories transport readers down back roads in Kashmir with heroin smugglers or to a kidnap survival camp in Florida.
As editor-at-large, Bourdain edits his own section, called Dispatched, a collection of longform pieces handpicked by the famous chef-author-host. The first read out of Bourdain's section is a piece by Thornburgh about an ayahuasca training center in the Peruvian Amazon. As part of the partnership, Bourdain will also publish books through his imprint at HarperCollins. The book from the partnership will be Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture, written by Goulding and slated to be on shelves this October.
Before they launched Roads & Kingdoms, Thornburgh and Goulding met through friends of friends while they were both in Mexico reporting. Goulding was writing a piece about how there are no nachos in Mexico for Men's Health and Thornburgh was coming back from a trip in Cuba, where he was detained. They talked about how all their friends in foreign bureaus around the world at multiple media outlets were being let go. They decided to leverage those talented writers and build a site where they could flex their muscles. The duo quit their jobs and went backpacking in Myanmar to report on the civil war and launch Roads & Kingdoms.
"It didn't really make sense, but history will either absolve us, or not. It's funny to think back on it, for whatever batshit idea we had we quit great jobs in media to go start reporting for a Tumblr page in an active war zone," Thornburgh says.
As with any media startup, the question is how it will turn a profit. Thornburgh tells Inc. that the site will never carry conventional advertising. No banner ads, no popup ads, no instant play video ads. Instead, Roads & Kingdoms will do branded content with a select group of brands. The site's chief designer, Douglas Hughmanick, owns his own design firm, ANML, which will act as an in-house design agency work for clients. As for partnerships, Thornburgh says they have content partnerships with Sports Illustrated, Slate and Tumblr and will start a rotating global lifestream with Google's Dropcam.
Bourdain says Thornburgh and Goulding will be more focused on the profit-turning aspect of the media startup than he will be. But, he says, he has his own idea for monetizing a digital magazine:
"For me, the business model is the same business model I have in all of my enterprises -- if you produce really good content, some one will buy it," Bourdain tells Inc. "You don't have to talk down to people, you don't have to use television voice, you don't have to dumb stuff down, and you don't have to create stuff that makes you feel bad when you look at yourself in the morning."