Maker Media, creator of the Maker Faire events and MAKE: magazine, has ceased operations and laid off all staff.
I’m at a loss to express what this signifies, as Maker Media has been a pivotal element in the development of DIY maker culture over the past decade and more. It’s possible Maker Faire discontinues.
What’s happened? According to a report on TechCrunch, the company let all 22 staff go last week due to financial difficulties; they are going through an Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process, rather than standard bankruptcy procedures.. The company had previously let go eight staff this past March, in addition to other layoffs in 2016, so this was apparently not entirely unexpected by staff.
In TechCrunch, founder and CEO Dale Dougherty said:
“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity. The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”
He’s quite right in terms of the Maker “Mission”. The Maker Faire concept has exploded worldwide, currently having hundreds of events take place annually in over 40 countries. Maker Faires have been mostly independently operated and licensed by Maker Media according to their rules.
Make Faires Stop?
Maker Faires are regional events where expert makers are able to show off their latest amazing creations. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing amount of commercial content at such events, where we’ve seen a number of 3D printing startups introduce their new equipment to the public.
Now, all of that is in jeopardy, as Maker Media will clearly be unable to provide licenses or guidance to Maker Faire events. However, it sounds as if founder Doughtery is attempting to find a way for at least the “Mission” part of Maker Media to continue. If so, then there could perhaps be a way for Maker Faires to continue in the future in much the same way they’ve been operating.
On the other hand, if the rescue attempt is not successful, then the fate of Maker Faires worldwide is in question. Clearly there is a demand for such events, as they were attended by well over a million people each year. It’s possible the local operators of Maker Faire events may attempt to rebrand into their own new type of maker event, but success is definitely not assured, as the loss of the Maker Faire brand name will cost them sponsors in the transition.
I can’t help but notice how the fate of Maker Media has paralleled the curve of consumer 3D printing. When the initial patents on 3D printing expired in and around 2009, cool startups like MakerBot swiftly emerged, and I recall Maker Media, through MAKE: and Maker Faires, complemented the hype. That time might have been the pinnacle of interest in making.
Everyone is a Maker
I recall in 2012 MakerBot then-CEO Bre Pettis telling me directly that “everyone is a maker”, and that was the philosophy behind Maker Media as well. The problem was that it really wasn’t true then, or today. Yes, there are plenty of “makers” in the world, but it’s not everyone.
When the majority of consumers realized that 3D printing was not for them due to the complexities involved and the notable lack of content or purpose, interest in 3D printing fell off dramatically, resulting in failed companies, catastrophic stock price drops, redirected investment and more.
Most of the surviving 3D printing companies of the day pivoted to other markets or products. In particular, 3D printing companies targeted professionals and manufacturers, making new products specifically for those markets. Today we see those companies mostly thriving, having survived the transition from their original consumer / DIY markets.
Consumer 3D Printing Pivot
But could have Maker Media make a similar pivot? I think not, as the company’s very purpose was to work with DIY enthusiasts. If that was not a huge market as the consumer theory proposed, there was no where else to go without entirely rewriting their mission.
All of which led to this week’s events.
I don’t know exactly what will happen next, but my hope is that Dougherty does find a way to at least maintain the company’s libraries of content and the Maker Faire licensing system.