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Q&A: Pitchfork Founder Ryan Schreiber on Conde Nast Sale, Indie Roots and Expansion

Ryan Schreiber was an indie music buff with no journalism experience when he launched the website Pitchfork out of his suburban Minneapolis home in 1996. On Tuesday, Pitchfork Media joined the big leagues of publishing with the announcement of its acquisition by Conde Nast. Schreiber, 39, spoke with Variety about how Pitchfork grew up with the Internet and what Conde Nast’s resources will bring to his fiercely independent operation.

What made this deal happen?

It’s a really great thing. It’s an amazing moment for Pitchfork and for me. It’s been nearly 20 years since I started doing this out of my bedroom. It’s a crazy development. To be part of a roster that includes so many legendary editorial voices is super-inspiring. It means that we will continue to have the creative independence that we’ve always had.

Who approached who? How long have you been discussing the acquisition?

Conde Nast approached us about becoming part of their video platform the Scene about a year ago. As we began to work with them on that, it became increasingly clear that we had a lot of things in common. They have a great dedication to editorial voices. The more that we talked and collaborated, the more naturally it seemed that everything fit together… It was not a decision we made lightly. We feel really good about it.

Were you the primary owner of Pitchfork? Did you have other investors?

Pitchfork had been independent for its entire lifespan. This is a major development. Going forward we’ll keep running our editorial operations with the same voice that got us to this point… My partner (Pitchfork president) Chris Kaskie and I were the owners of Pitchfork. We never had any other investors.

All of your operations to date have been financed through your own earnings?

That’s absolutely the case. This is a big moment.

Will Chris remain with the company?

I can’t imagine it without Chris. We’re like brothers at this point. We’ve been working together for over a decade.

Did you have other offers to sell over the years?

There were — nothing ever even remotely made sense to us. I can count on one hand the companies that would have ever made sense for us to make a move like this. To have Conde Nast come to us was extremely flattering.

How many employees do you have?

We have about 50 people split between two offices — in Chicago we have our primary ad sales, design and development there. Our base of editorial and video operations are in Brooklyn.

Will your offices remain separate or will you move into Conde Nast’s new headquarters in lower Manhattan?

We have no plans to at this point to move any offices, at least for the next year. I like following where things are happening. Now I’m splitting my time between Los Angeles and Brooklyn. And Miami has a really interesting and vibrant music scene that is making some waves. There’s a really cool grassroots thing happening there.

How did you hone Pitchfork’s editorial voice? What is it that made Pitchfork stand out in a crowded field early on?

I had no music writing experience when I started this thing. I was really influenced by independent ‘zine culture. There was a grassroots approach to music writing there that really spoke to me. As we evolved and got bigger, we took on more writers who had more experience and not only had great taste but were also great thinkers. Having an intelligent approach to music criticism and journalism is always central to what we’ve aspired to be. The trust we’ve built (with readers) has come out of that naturally. It’s very validating to know that people have been reading what we’ve been doing for so long and we’ve been able to expose them to artists they might not have otherwise found.

When did you first start to see the site getting real traction?

One of the first instances was when we ran a rather notorious review of Radiohead’s “Kid A” (in 2000). It got an unbelievable amount of traffic. What was really a surprise was that a lot of people who came to us through that review ended up sticking around and becoming daily readers. As we grew we would see correlations between some of our reviews running and those artists’ tour dates starting to sell out.

What have you learned from your expansion two years ago into a quarterly print magazine, Pitchfork Review?

It’s something we’d always dreamed of doing. Print was our original inspiration but it was something that never really made sense in terms of the existing models that were out there. What we’ve tried to do with Pitchfork Review, which has been fun for us as readers, is look at things that are contemporary but with a lot of deeper music culture (and) historical perspective. When you’re sitting down with a magazine, you’re in a much different mindset than when you’re reading something on the web. A magazine is a much more immersive format and so we’ve been trying to do things that take advantage of that format.

You’ve also branched out into live events and annual music festivals in Chicago and Paris. Will you do more now that you have access to deeper pockets?

There are a lot of different ideas about where to do something else and how we might do something different than the other festivals that we’ve done. It’s something that is very much in the cards but we haven’t made any firm decisions on what the next city might be.

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