On franchises

When you make something on the internet, you’re best off making something that stands out. Even if you follow someone else’s template or structure, you want to put your own little twist on it—so that it cuts through the noise, but also so that people know that you made it. You do this by following the conventions of building a media franchise.

When you make a franchise, you set rules and follow them. Franchises make production faster. They provide a structure, with a degree of flexibility that can transcend strict categories. Most importantly, they have a signature, which makes them great for branding.

When you want to break a franchise’s rules, you can do so by introducing a new segment (or franchise, subfranchise, etc.). 

One of my favorite franchises at Shortcut, the blog I work on professionally with Figma, is 10 Rules (here’s one I wrote with Peter Yang). The franchise’s rules are simple: a leading thinker shares 10 rules for how to make better products. While the rules are flexible, they are sequenced by an organizing principle; in Peter’s case, we start off with rule 1 being very individual-oriented, and close with rule 10 being very team-oriented. The artwork for the article is an illustrated portrait. When you see the portrait and a number 10 in the headline, you can make the guess that it’s a 10 Rules post at Shortcut.

There are many other franchise examples though. For example, while the Midnight Boys make an instant reaction podcast, with a clear structure and set of customs (the signature spoiler warning, the Midnight Manifesto, etc.). When it expanded its coverage to media news it had to introduce a new segment, the Nerd News Minute.

David Letterman’s TV show was a series about David Letterman, it had a separate series called Stupid Pet Tricks that had a different set of rules (hat tip Seth Godin, who has also described his blog as a long-running series of 8,500 blog posts).

Offputting sequels break the rules that the franchise had previously set. For example, Ant Man 3 felt weird because it didn’t follow the conventions that Ant Man 1 had set (such as the oversized objects). 

DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz mixtapes are a good example of how flexible a franchise can be. Of course, there’s the original collection of ~150 mixtapes (with varying special editions), but DJ Drama can also integrate motifs from it into Tyler, the Creator’s Grammy-winning Call Me If You Get Lost
When you start off making a franchise, it can take a while to figure out and develop rules; similar to a novelist approaching their work, you may not even know what the rules are with the first pieces of work in your franchise. You figure it out along the way. And similar to a novel, with a franchise, you are building a world for someone to step into and experience.

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