"The Fellowship of The Media"

Our Story of The Birth

by Yoichiro Nagao,
General Manager of KODANSHAtech

"Media without tech...?"

The story of the birth of KODANSHAtechcannot be told without a web media, GENDAI BUSINESS which is run by KODANSHA, an "old school" publisher that had been in business for over 100 years.

Winter 2017.

GENDAI BUSINESS was trying to achieve its goal at the time of 100 million page views per month. And struggled to find the path to take in the future.

Members of the editorial department got together and bounced ideas off each other.

The profession of editors is to come up with new ideas, so it's true that we came up with a lot of different ideas.

But how? -- How do you actually make them happen?

What can you achieve on the web in the first place, and how hard is it to do?

Until then, we had outsourced most of our development projects to external vendors, and we found ourselves "dreaming" but unable to determine whether it was the best way to go, or how much it would cost.


In this 21st century, we can't stay that way.

And as we look at the company as a whole, it's also come to light that, in fact, many editorial departments, regardless of field, are facing the same problems.

The media and content business is becoming more and more integrated with the UX itself, not just the "content" of the product, but the UX that makes it enjoyable for readers.

Isn't the "technology" itself, which creates that UX, an important part of the content provider's "product" then?

Of course, it's inefficient to do everything in-house, and it's important to meet various developers.

And even if so,is it okay for media company itself not to have its own technology?

So, we've asked several engineers to join GENDAI BUSINESS, initially as advisors.

The engineers met at KODANSHA mostly in the evenings to discuss the future of the media.

This was the "first form" of our team that led to KODANSHAtech.

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The Birth of the "Tech Team"

In June 2018, we became a separate team in the company's structure with the expectation that we would be committed to a variety of web media within the company as well as GENDAI BUSINESS.

This team, commonly called the "tech team," built FRIDAY Digital from the ground up.

Image of FRIDAY Digital

FRIDAY Digital has reached over 100 million page views in a year and a half since its launch. It was built using a variety of technologies like React, Next.js, etc., that Kodansha employees had never heard of before.

It was also a process of experimentation, trial and error by engineers to search the way to create a media of the next generation.

How should we deliver ads on SPA?

How should we distribute images in FRIDAY, a photo-centric media?

At the special page for the Rugby World Cup, we discussed the design of an easy-to-understand UI/UX and how to present video content to make the game, which was not necessarily familiar to the Japanese public, easier to understand and enjoy.

These discussions on a variety of issues unique to media development came to be actively debated, involving the editorial department and advertising department, among others.

We also launched Bluebacks Outreach, a crowdfunding platform to support researchers, as a part of the more than half-century-old BlueBacks science brand from Kodansha, to propose and build new businesses that would "extend" the media and traditional content brands.

* * *

And Then to Incorporation...

The tech team has expanded its activities beyond the news media to include science brands . We have also been involved in the management of women's magazines such as FRaU, VOCE and ViVi.

Image of services we have been involved with
Media and services we have been involved with. GENDAI BUSINESS, FRIDAY Digital, Bluebacks Outreach, FRaU, VOCE, and ViVi and others.

However, as a manager of the team of freelance engineers, I began to feel that there was some kind of "ceiling."

In order to commit to web media in a more precise way, and to implement new ideas, we needed to expand our team.

Furthermore, if you look across KODANSHA, there are many areas of comics and novels that we haven't participated in much yet that could have "interesting things" happen in chemistry with technology.

It was obvious that we needed more people.

Of course, there is a simple way to recruit more freelance engineers to join us (and if you're a freelance engineer interested in media at the moment, please contact us).

On the other hand, it's a bit of a challenge for people who already work for a development or production company to be asked to come as a freelancer.

However, in KODANSHA itself, we don't have an employment system that suits the way engineers work, and a system in place to evaluate engineers.

So instead, why not create a company that combines the "good" and "free" aspects of the freelance engineer's work style with the "good" aspects of a company?

I proposed this to the board of directors and the president of KODANSHA, and I was able to gain their approval. With the help of many people, we were able to establish a new company within the KODANSHA Group.

We registered our new company in August 2019 and began preparations for the start of business. It wasn't until 2020 that we were able to actually get our engineers to join us.

We decided to mark the anniversary of the founding of the company as "20200202" (that's a palindrome-ish).

* * *

The Fundamental Idea of the Way to Work

Now, there are three main "advantages" of working that I've come to feel in my experience with freelance engineers.

  1. The ability to organize your working hours according to the projects you have on hand
  2. The ability to commit to a variety of projects, and gain technical and social experience.
  3. The ability to balance your own "market value" or the "interestingness" of the project and to make sure you are satisfied with the project.

On the other hand, what are the good things about a organization so-called "company"?

  1. Reducing the burden of basic taxation and other tasks that you would have to do yourself if you were a freelancer.
  2. The safety net is more generous than that of a sole proprietorship, including health insurance and employee pension plans.
  3. There is a sense of security that "there is a stable job" in the medium to long term.

KODANSHAtech has devised a number of ways to balance these factors.

This kind of freedom of working is, perhaps, the most common practice in development companies.

Then, what is the true "attractiveness" of KODANSHAtech?

For example, we don't pay significantly higher salaries than other companies, so "salary" isn't the thing.

What's unique about us is that we are essentially a publishing company, and we deal directly with the media and content business.

As a member of the aforementioned tech team within KODANSHA, you'll work on the same floor as the web media editorial team, as a "fellow" in developing KODANSHA's media business.

Over time, as related fields expand, we will join more various editorial teams and commit to the content world as "insiders" rather than "outsiders".

Therefore, I believe that KODANSHAtech's work is suited to those who want to challenge themselves in the media and content business, and who want to try something new with technology in this field.

That's the biggest attraction for those who are interested in this kind of work.

Meanwhile, in such an environment, there are other skills that are required in addition to technical skills.

That is the power of communication.

Especially with editors who mostly have non-technical background (naturally!), If you want to do something interesting with the content, you need to communicate with them patiently.

There are also situations where you need to act as an "interpreter" to convey technology to people who live and breathe it in a non-technical context, such as when you're asking an outside vendor to join you or when you talk to a decision makers from other fields.

If you think it as "That can't be a part of my job", then unfortunately, KODANSHAtech is not the right place for you.

If you are the kind of person who can enjoy the communication with a "traditional" editor in chief of a magazine, and can have joy when you find they eventually understand the technological terms and try to find the way to improve their media, then I think you're well-suited to the job.

After all, at the time of writing, we are still a company that has only been up and running for a few months, so things are going to be changing.

However, we are publishing this as a "message" to express how we got to this point, our awareness of the issues, and the way we work in this company, and if more and more people join us, nothing would make us happier.

If you are interested in our work of creating media and adding value to it through technology, please contact us.

* * *

April, 2020 (updated: June, 2021)

Yoichiro Nagao, GM of KODANSHAtech LLC.

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