At the Untapped Cities HQ. Photo by Untapped Cities.
Today, the Untapped Cities team was shocked to learn of the demise of Gothamist and DNAinfo. On the staff (past and present) of these New York City-based publications were many friends and colleagues, writers who have published on Untapped Cities (like Dave Colon) or excitedly covered our tours (like Rebecca Fishbein). Gothamist gave Untapped Cities its earliest shoutouts in 2009 when our site first launched, publishing our photographs and regularly linking to our quirkiest content like a jet plane “hiding” in Bushwick or a map imagining if Manhattan were designed like Paris. Gothamist founder Jake Dobkin let us publish his urban exploration photographs of the crumbling Admiral’s Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and inside the Williamsburgh Savings Bank. One time, Gothamist, always snarky and on point, begrudgingly gave us props for calling every number on the doors in the NYC subway (they actually all lead to one place).
For all this, we thank the Gothamist team for supporting us when we were starting out and for continuing to share our work over the years. Here in New York City, there has always been the recognition that writers and reporters must support each other, and that sites that hope to continue to produce original content must support each other. I am often asked, “Who are your competitors?” My answer has always been the same, that any site celebrating New York City is a partner.
Today’s news is therefore sobering on many levels and confirms what we already knew: the finance of online publishing is ruthless. We started Untapped Cities not as a business but as a simple idea: to uncover the hidden gems that surround us. We aim to help people rediscover their own cities, to see the past, present and future that surrounds them, and hopefully through this knowledge to empower and engage them to become a larger part of the civic process of how the city evolves. We’ve evolved from a site I coded myself into a company with over 600 contributors and over a dozen tour guides.
But it has not been an easy road at Untapped Cities either. Sticking to our mission of urban discovery and finding ways to keep our dream alive, for ourselves and for our readers, has often meant foregoing easy paths to financial sustainability (no cat videos here, unless they are of Matilda, the Algonquin Hotel cat). We have never had a financial backer or sold shares to investors because we have adamantly wanted to remain independent. We have turned down several offers to be purchased, because each time, we felt like we still had so much we want to accomplish for our readers. To survive, our core team remains small and driven through and through by a passion for the mission. We put in crazy hours weekdays and weekends, and in tough times, we hope that it is all worth it in the end.
Online advertising is truly the wild wild west – an industry with little regulation and decreasing returns. We have been burned many a time by advertisers and advertising networks. Most websites cannot survive simply on advertising alone, and several years ago, we launched our insider tours initially just to meet our readers in person and then to diversify our revenue streams. In the next six months, stay tuned for the launch of several new initiatives here at Untapped Cities. We hope these initiatives will enable us to keep doing what we’re doing – delivering unique content and experiences for the curious urbanite. We will not stray from our mission because then what is it all for?
We thank all of our readers, contributors and tour goers for all of your support over the years. It is your excitement and your positive feedback that keeps us going, keeps us digging for those hidden gems that you might miss or might not know about yet and pushes us to keep developing new experiences. Rediscover your city!
– Michelle Young, Untapped Cities Founder