P109: Media Geeks Rejoice: Bill Simmons is Back

Mid-last month, we learned that Bill Simmons’s next venture, The Ringer, would be unveiled first as a newsletter. A week later, we learned that the site would live on Medium. This week, the first newsletter reached inboxes and it was all very Bill Simmons-y. It might sound like I’m damning with faint praise, but I mean that in all the possible ways you can mean it.

I’m a fan of Bill Simmons, a frequent listener to his podcast, and an eager observer of his burgeoning media company. I consider the 4 days I spent devouring The Book of Basketball on the beach in Punta Cana to be one of my most enjoyable reading experiences ever. I clearly enjoy tons of wordy prose with lots of pop culture references and running gags. So I know the voice, I know what to expect, and in the first issue of the newsletter:

  • Simmons delivered an enjoyable riff on how they settled on the name “The Ringer,”
  • Jonathan Tjarks had an interesting meditation on the makeup of Kentucky basketball teams from the past few years that didn’t really deliver on the awkward headline, and
  • Jason Concepcion revived the beloved Game of Thrones Q&A column, “Ask the Maester,” previously on Grantland (RIP).

As far as debut newsletters go, it’s a strong showing. Just as with the recent X-Files reboot, the first objective is surely was to give the fans a taste of what they’ve been missing. To me, though, the most interesting part is the fact that this newsletter exists at all. Here’s Simmons explaining the role of the newsletter in a recent episode of his podcast (quote starts at 12:16):

”We’re going to release this newsletter, I think, up to three times a week starting in mid-March. It’s not going to be a website jammed into a newsletter – we don’t want to flood your email box with 7000 words of text. We have writers we’ve already hired, we have people who are creative, and we’re not going to have a site for a few months so we wanted to have a place that people could go and read quicker takes and lists and fun stuff. And if something crazy happens in the NBA lottery, I’m going to need a place to write. So I think it’ll be a fun short term alternative until we actually have a site.”

My one beef would be the idea that this newsletter is a temporary bandaid. Yes, it’s important to have something out there while they build the site, but Simmons doesn’t have to look any further than his frequent podcast guest Lena Dunham to see the impact of a well-made newsletter. Smart money is that Simmons is playing these cards close to the vest. Keep an eye on this space.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron