Media startup aims to capture a chunk of the aerospace industry

It’s a good time to be covering the aerospace industry, as space travel steadily shifts from 100 percent government control to private enterprises — names like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos come to mind. 

That was the thinking behind the launch of Payload, a digital newsletter covering the burgeoning space industry that has already expanded into webinars and podcasts, and plans to get into events. Payload appears to be a scrappy upstart: The free newsletter started off with 10,000 subscribers, with the goal of eventually reaching 25,000 professionals in the space industry.

Payload was launched a year ago by co-founders Ari Lewis (a former journalist) and Mo Islam (the self-described space guy), who said they see a white space in the aerospace journalism industry that they can fill because their company is all-digital and can move and adapt more nimbly than their competition, which includes such titles as Space News and Via Satellite. 

They said they’ve raised something in the neighborhood of $750,000 in investments and have an ad revenue stream going that they expect to generate between $300,000 and $400,000 by the end of the year, with the hope they’ll at least double that in 2023. 

“We speak to people who still get their news primarily from going to conferences, from Googling stuff, or who get their news from clipping services, which sounds so crazy in this day and age,” said Lewis, who was a former writer for Crain’s Cleveland Business. 

Islam added that the space industry is ready for a new type of coverage, given the massive changes taking place in the industry. “Space is becoming like truly commercialized, and the cost to doing business in space has come down so much that all of these models — some which may have been considered science fiction even 20 years ago — are now making economic sense,” he said.

And advertisers seem to welcome Payload’s native-content advertising approach in the newsletter. “I do think they differ from other publishers in the industry, in that they’re trying to be more in tune with what people are actually wanting to read versus just a daily news debrief,” said Alexandra Johnson, corporate communications lead for Cesium, a 3D geospatial application platform. “They have a growing subscriber count. While they might have a lower subscriber count than some of the older players in the game, they do bring a good clientele in that smaller group.”

“They’re agile and easy to work with — they’re very open to new ideas and expanding on what we can do,” said Andrew Friedrich, vp of marketing at SpiderOak, a file-hosting and collaboration tool. Friedrich added that his company set up a webinar with Payload that came out of a conversation with Lewis. “They just went out and did it with me. They’re young, they’re aggressive, they’re knowledgeable. But their flexibility is most important to me,” Friedrich said.

Friedrich also noted his company has sponsored Payload’s Pathfinder podcast. “The proof in the pudding for me is, we have people come back to us and say, ‘Wow, we see you guys everywhere.’ And when I ask them where they see us, they say ‘You were on the Payload podcast,'” he said.

Lewis said the podcast delivers 900 streams per episode on average across podcast service Anchor and on YouTube. And he anticipates Pathfinder delivering 10 percent of Payload’s total revenue in 2023.

Kelsey Voss, principal analyst in B2B marketing at InsiderIntelligence, said Payload is dusting off an old model that found new appeal during the pandemic. “Digital publishing is a relatively inexpensive, trackable and measurable way to reach target audiences with tailored and personalized content, including video, animations and infographics,” said Voss. “These newsletters are also easier to spin up than a website — and they offer much more content than a typical email newsletter. Getting into podcasts and webinars also makes sense for Payload; [they] can be a great way to generate revenue.”

Ultimately, Lewis and Islam said they hope to keep growing along with the industry they cover. “Our model is not unique,” acknowledged Islam. “We don’t have a brilliant X revenue model — it’s just what the traditional digital media ad model is, right? The bigger bet that we’re making is that space is going to grow substantially.”

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