The decision by Microsoft and Autodesk to not take out a major sponsorship for this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire proved to be the tipping point for Maker Media, forcing the company to shut down. Dale Dougherty, founder of the company that published MAKE magazine and ran the Maker Faire series of global events confirmed it to TechCrunch yesterday.
Although most did not see it coming, Maker Media’s difficulties had been growing. Making money with an editorial company and a magazine is challenging today and doing so in a niche segment is even more difficult. On top of that, Maker Media ran some 200 Maker Faire shows, between owned and franchises. And that is risky business too.
“Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees,” Dougherty told TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.”
Affordable 3D printing, which emerged together with the Maker Movement becoming a commercial phenomenon, is an integral part of Maker Faires and making in general. Likewise, makers can be considered the primary – and only at this point in time – consumer adopters of 3D printing (intended as actual 3D printing, not as users of 3D printed products).
Over the years we have seen 3D printing’s bubble burst and while Maker Media’s possible bankruptcy does not at all mean the end of makers, it does go to show that making – and all that is linked with open source culture – is not a phenomenon that can be commercialized. This is neither criticism nor a compliment. It is just a fact.
As much as Maker Faires brought together a wealth of young people with great ideas, and as much as it was nice to see major corporations around the world embrace the maker community, the business model behind the commercial maker movement always seemed to make little commercial sense. How can anything based on open source hardware and software be transformed into a business? In this writer’s opinion, there are two ways: either by making it closed source or by receiving donations from those interested in using it for marketing purposes.
Out of the two, the simplest and soundest course of action would seem to be the first one. Many companies in 3D printing that originated from open source and the maker community made the jump into becoming purely commercial, closes source companies – not without being heavily criticized by those who chose the direction of corporate sponsorship.
Although I personally never read it, MAKE magazine was clearly a great magazine for making enthusiasts. However, it seems that many of the companies who would have liked to reach MAKE’s audience did not make enough money to adequately support such a high-quality product. Hence, Maker Media, a company built around making anything, forgot about making… money.
However, because we live in a capitalist world, it’s almost never enough to just want to do the right to succeed. In order to do the right thing, you need to always make money doing it. This is not a criticism of society, just a simple fact. In the end, even though they fueled a fantastic movement of people and ideas, Maker Media did not focus enough on making money with it, probably because, if they did, they would have “betrayed” their own philosophy. Makers will certainly continue to exist and even thrive all over the world. They just may no longer have a magazine or a fair to show off what they make.