A New Site Intended to Serve People in Recovery
By JEREMY W. PETERSAddiction is a big business — and not just for the treatment centers that rake in billions of dollars every year. It’s also a huge media business that has spawned popular shows like A&E’s “Intervention” and VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab,” and best-selling memoirs by Mary Karr, Augusten Burroughs and a seemingly inexhaustible list of other recovering writers.
Now, Maer Roshan, the founder of Radar magazine, is betting that addiction is also a good and potentially profitable proposition for the Web.
TheFix.com, a Web site that combines feature writing, news, video and Zagat-like reviews of rehab facilities, will go live on Monday. It is the latest endeavor for Mr. Roshan, who became a fixture in New York media as an editor for Talk and New York Magazine, but then fell out of the public eye after Radar folded as a magazine for the third time.
By his own account, it was a rough exit from public life. Radar’s Web site was sold to American Media Inc., leaving Mr. Roshan with no role. He moved to Los Angeles and spent some time in recovery for alcohol abuse, where he came to realize that the vast community of people trying to overcome their addictions had no media outlet that spoke directly to them.
“These are people who are united by their values, united by their mission; there’s a common lingo, common literature,” Mr. Roshan said in a recent interview at a cafe down the block from the sober living facility in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn called The Core Company where TheFix.com has its offices for the moment. “There’s an actual community here.”
By the estimation of Mr. Roshan and his business partners, it is a community that advertisers will discover is large and eager to spend: “The demographics are really good,” he said. Back-of-the-envelope math suggests that a Web site catering to people in recovery could be a huge business.
Various surveys put the number of people who enter treatment each year from two million to four million. At costs that easily run tens of thousands of dollars a month, often paid out of pocket, the money spent getting sober is staggering.
Allison Floam, a co-founder of TheFix.com, said, “This is the largest market you’ve never heard of.”
As a niche publishing enterprise, TheFix.com (tagline: “Addiction and recovery, straight up”) is not unlike any media that play to a specific demographic with hopes of drawing in the kind of specific, highly engaged audience that advertisers desire. The Fix sees tremendous potential in the buying power of people in recovery.
“They’re people who have lots of new disposable income because they’re not spending it on crack or Absolut,” Mr. Roshan said. “They are people who are newly invested in their health and well-being. They are people who have a lot of time on their hands that they didn’t have before.”
The Fix plans to reach out to health clubs like Equinox and Crunch; beverage sellers like Poland Spring and Vitaminwater. Coffee makers like Starbucks are on their list too because recovering addicts often develop a taste for coffee. The site’s founders are also eager to attract travel advertising.
There is little doubt that recovering addicts are a large audience. But whether advertisers have any desire to cater to them as a distinct group is uncertain.
“That’s the question: Is putting your brand in the environment of that condition and mind-set going to create an association that you want, and one that’s scalable enough that there’s a business reason to do it?” said Andy Chapman, director of digital trading for Mindshare, a media-buying agency. “Because you can reach them in other places. And that may be good enough.”
The creators of The Fix are trying to soothe advertisers in part by not presenting addiction as an exploitative spectacle. But The Fix does not intend to ignore stories of Hollywood celebrities who have often explosive spirals into substance abuse. Nor does it intend to treat addiction as purely serious fare. In fact, one of its first features is a gallery of what its editors have deemed history’s messiest celebrity breakdowns.
“We’re certainly not looking for any kind of Victorian freak show element,” said Joe Schrank, a co-founder of TheFix.com who worked with Mr. Roshan to develop the idea for the site, and founder of The Core Company. “However, I think you have to have a sense of humor about it. It’s a very delicate line.”
The Fix will publish serious essays by big names like Susan Cheever. There is an article questioning the effectiveness of a new vaccine that purports to curb cocaine cravings. Experts have recorded videos that offer advice on managing addictions.
“My hope for The Fix is that it’s giving much more texture to the comprehensive life — not just the crisis that thrusts people into treatment,” Mr. Schrank said. “The story arc in the media is always the same. It’s Charlie Sheen freak show, or a guy went to rehab, redeemed himself and became a rehab counselor. When the truth is it’s as individual as a human thumbprint.”