Thrillist's recession special: Free stuff!

The scenester newsletter company has put together a monthly compendium of ways to score invitations to events with free food and booze. First city served Thrillist Invites: New York.

Trendy men's newsletter Thrillist has already shown its penchant for giving the middle finger to all things recession-related, whether it be chartering party planes or throwing '90s-dot-com bubble-theme parties (granted, both of those stunts preceded the Wall Street meltdown by a few months). But the New York-based start-up may be savvier than its big-pimpin' image would have you think.

The latest move from the company is a monthly compendium called Thrillist Invites, which is a listing of stuff you can do for free, if you sign up and RSVP. The first Thrillist Invites list will be for its New York subscribers--you have to already be subscribed to the Thrillist New York newsletter to be ushered into Invites--but versions for other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, are on the way.

"The concept is that these parties are events that typically, Thrillist readers wouldn't have access to: 100 percent free, open bar, great entertainment," co-founder Ben Lerer told CNET News. The invites will range from restaurant openings and wine tastings to nightclub parties and clothing sample sales.

It's sort of similar to MyOpenBar, a weekly listing of regional establishments that offer free or heavily discounted drinking opportunities, but Lerer said it will have a more exclusive, first-come, first-served focus than the "unlimited Pabst Blue Ribbon" offers that often fill up MyOpenBar's ranks.

Lerer added that launching Thrillist Invites wasn't recession-induced, even though belt-tightening readers may be looking for cheap entertainment, and venues may be looking for people to fill their spaces in a time when they might be booking fewer holiday parties.

"It originally stemmed from the fact that we surveyed our audience earlier this year and asked, 'What do you guys want more of?'" Lerer explained. "Something like 80 (percent) to 90 percent of our audience said they wanted more events coverage."

Earlier this month, Thrillist expanded its Web site to offer more content, putting it further into the niche of "lifestyle publication" rather than "daily newsletter," and Lerer said that with a bigger focus on events, the site may expand further--like into Cobrasnake-ish party photo coverage.

Thrillist will also throw more of its own events, a move that some other food-and-bar culture companies, including the San Francisco-based Yelp, have taken in order to fortify a loyal following and give their users an "insider" status. Plenty of liquor brands advertise on Thrillist already, which Lerer said has made it easy for them to nail down booze sponsors.

And Lerer said Thrillist, which is fully advertising-supported and plans to stay that way, is financially sound. Granted, he didn't start from ground zero: he's the progeny of former AOL executive and Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer, and fellow ex-AOLer Bob Pittman's Pilot Group investment firm has taken a big stake in the start-up. Another Pilot Group-backed newsletter brand, DailyCandy, sold to Comcast earlier this year for about $125 million.

"Obviously, we get asked this question 50 times a day," Ben Lerer said when asked about a recession strategy. "We are doing really good...even if things slow down in the advertising community, in the online ad space, and even if we're growing less quickly because of some recession."

 

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