By Cameron Kittle
Edwin McCabe says he's not a typical man, and he doesn't believe in conventional wisdom.
So when he called up a stranger in Minnesota and told him he'd fly 1,400 miles across the country to buy the man lunch and pitch his business idea, it should come as no surprise that he brought a bottle of shampoo and some shaving cream as gifts, despite the fact his business model had nothing to do with toiletries.
Whether it was the smooth talking of McCabe, who worked as a trial lawyer for 40 years, or the sweet scent of the hair-care products, McCabe walked out of that three-hour lunch with another founder.
The man McCabe traveled to meet was James Lileks, a popular columnist at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and an early pioneer of writing and blogging online, and their company, The QOR (pronounced 'core'), was finally ready to get off the ground.
McCabe, a Melrose native who has lived in Gloucester for the past five years with his wife Karren, sat outside on his porch sipping fresh iced tea last week as he spoke about his new company and its origins.
"My whole objective is to do things differently," McCabe said. "I like being associated with a pioneering technology; I find that exciting."
The QOR is a new media company that seeks to blend the best selection of literary, video and audio content on the Web and organize it all in one place, at www.theqor.com.
The QOR's management staff, including McCabe as the CEO and Lileks as The QOR's curator, will hand-pick the best arts, literature, sports, humor, and entertainment content and offer it to their members advertising-free for the price of $0.67 per day, or $19.95 per month with a one-time initiation fee of $49.95. The site is set for a soft launch on Sept. 9, 2009, and a formal, public launch on Nov. 1.
From free news content on most newspaper Web sites to free video services like YouTube.com, the idea of paying for online content hasn't been wholly embraced. But a quick look at McCabe's life story shows that he's thought outside the box for years.
"I've never been a good listener when it comes to people telling me what to do," he said.
He picked up ambition early: after high school, he was Ivy-bound. He graduated from Dartmouth College with high marks and then sang "Hail to the Victors" all the way to a full-tuition scholarship at the University of Michigan Law School.
He started his own law firm in Boston in 1983 and decided to use a slash instead of an ampersand in the name (McCabe/Gordon), something unheard of at the time.
"You would have thought we reinvented the wheel," he said about the slash. The firm then grew from two lawyers to 30 in just 18 months, and it was involved with many cases on the national and international stage.
McCabe was a successful lawyer, but the job wore on him. McCabe said the profession had changed, and it wasn't fun anymore when he chose to give it up three years ago. That's when he took on the pseudonym "Everyman" and found a niche in the online blogosphere, at www.everymanblog.com, with help from his technologically savvy son Scott, who will be The QOR's CIO & CTO and has handled most of the computing aspects of the site.
McCabe adds multiple items to his blog every day and scans the Web constantly for more information. The amount of material to read online is "bottomless," McCabe said, and it became an addiction for him. That's when he came up with The QOR.
"While I was starting to collect that stuff and post it, I saw there was a business opportunity there, and I wanted to see what I could do with it," McCabe said. "I want to bring some honesty and civility to the Web."
The QOR won't have advertisers; it won't have anonymous users. It bans politics, which McCabe said are "overexhaustedly done" by the media today.
Simply put, McCabe wants to break down the Web. He says he wants to cut away the fat and present his subscribers with the filet mignon — a collection of what he hopes will be unparalleled Web reading content.
McCabe said he likes the way things are done now, but he sees one major flaw: it's too busy.
"The Web that would be interesting to me would be the one that's as easy as taking a can of beer out of the refrigerator," he said. "The best idea was to have a very clean look and make access to it as simple as possible."
McCabe took additional trips across the country to build his management team. He added Gerard Van der Leun, the author and publisher of American Digest, from Seattle to be The QOR's editor-in-chief; and McCabe received an enthusiastic response from at least five other prominent freelance writers to be a part of the company.
The most important addition, McCabe said, is Neil Amdur, formerly the longtime sports editor at the New York Times who also did producing work for the NFL on CBS. After Amdur bought into the idea, McCabe named him The QOR's executive vice president and senior managing editor.
"It just seemed like a good opportunity to try something and see if we could make it work and bring a different dimension to an emerging marketplace," Amdur said. "I've always tried to be a big-picture person, and I thought my journalistic background would add a complementary perspective."
Amdur said he's always liked a challenge, and with much of the public not buying into the thought of paying for Web content, a founding job at The QOR seemed to fit perfectly.
"I think there is room for a Web site that appeals to an audience that wants a refreshing, invigorating, enlightened, composition narrative," Amdur said, "And I think that my goal is to bring a group of individuals to a Web site that would provide that type of input."
Amdur said the lack of a central theme excited him. The QOR has laid out feature sections of the site already: a customizable sports corner with home and away newspaper coverage, serialized works of fiction and non-fiction, book reviews, real-life stories provided by members, an open forum, and stories of art, history and the military.
There's even an entire section devoted to seafaring in hometown Gloucester, with articles and writing about the subject. Amdur said he likes the idea of providing a huge variety of content to The QOR's subscribers.
"We're not locked in, that's why this will become a special spot," Amdur said. "We won't be one of 17 celebrity Web sites tracking Michael Jackson's funeral and future plans. We will have material that will be very different. I think the Internet has room for people who want to play on a lot of different levels."
McCabe says he's raised about half of the $100,000 seed capital he needs. He's aware of the tough economic times and the difficulty in convincing people to invest in an idea without something tangible to give them, but also said he doesn't foresee a problem in raising the money and getting the site up and running on time.
The QOR's business model projects huge membership increases over the first four years, and McCabe said the site breaks even at only 6,000 members. If the assumed projections hold, McCabe's detailed business plan shows, The QOR would generate more than $15 million in gross subscription revenue by 2012.
McCabe hopes to get the word out through his writers' current Web sites, like Lileks' blog at www.lileks.com. McCabe said the sites where he'll promote The QOR get 15 million to 20 million readers per month, and he knows that if even a small portion of those decide to join The QOR Club, business will boom.
"The opportunities for creativity here are unbelievable, that's what I like about it the most," McCabe said. "There's a lot of fun to be had with this."
Cameron Kittle can be reached at email@example.com