March 3, 2015

Uber is eager to get into the lucrative business of print


MomentumYesterday Uber announced it would be publishing a quarterly print magazine for its 150,000 drivers. Momentum is not only the name of the magazine, but something the organization needs to move the focus of its PR campaign away from the disasters of the last few months.

You know, after the data breach that affected 50,000 drivers. Plus the pay cuts and insurance issues, as Nicole Dieker recently covered for The Billfold.

And a host of other despicable things. Just take a look at Sarah Lacy‘s reporting for PandoDaily:

Back in 2012, Paul Carr first raised serious concerns about the company’s view that both riders and drivers are disposable commodities in an all-out Randian battle to maximize profits. He uninstalled the app when he wrote that piece, and he started a drumbeat of press around these concerns.

Then, in 2014, Carmel DeAmicis exposed that an Uber driver accused of assault had a criminal record that should have been uncovered by the background checks Uber claimed to do. She further documented a “blame the passenger” culture at the company when such complaints came up.

It started to snowball: An investigation at The Verge exposed cut throat competitive tactics that the company has taken against its primary competitor Lyft.

Then, a few weeks ago, I wrote a story about the outrageous sexism woven deeply into the culture of the company. We’ve seen it in the company’s PR team discrediting female passengers who accuse drivers of attacking them by whispering that they were “drunk” or “dressed provocatively.”

We’ve seen it in CEO Travis Kalanick’s comments that he calls the company “boober” because of all the tail he gets since running it.

And on October 22, we saw it again with an offensive campaign in Lyon that encouraged riders to get picked up by hot female drivers, essentially a scary invitation to objectify (or worse) any woman working for the company.

And then senior vice president Emil Michael, uh, jokingly, suggested the company spend one million dollars to dig up dirt on reporters like Lacy. As though personally attacking a journalist is a reasonable response to criticism.

So it’s time for a new vision for the company. Beginning with the magazine. (Maybe the executives just had a soft spot for Skymall, which is supposed to be relaunched shortly. Did you know Airbnb has its own magazine, too, called Pineapple?)

The first issue is not exactly the Partisan Review, but Momentum will cover convenient bathroom locations, the importance of drinking fluids on the job, and exercise tips to fill those ten-minute breaks. (Climbing stairs, kickboxing, etc.) Copies will be available in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, as well as the states of Oklahoma and Ohio.

But really, I’m pleased that the company thinks starting a magazine will help to create a sense of community among their drivers. Uber’s CEO sounds like a regular Philip Rahv. Investing in a print publication, and fostering a community of readers, takes a kind of chutzpah we don’t see often enough in 2015. Especially in companies valued at $41 billion.

You know what they say about making a small fortune in publishing: you have to start with a large fortune.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.