Sullivan strikes out on his own, with a for-pay model


Here is a rather lengthy announcement from Andrew Sullivan about how he is striking out on his own with a new blog that will sell subscriptions, not ads:

And so, as we contemplated the end of our contract with the Beast at the end of 2012, we faced a decision. As usual, we sought your input and the blogosphere’s – hence thenot-terribly subtle thread that explored whether online readers will ever pay for content, and how. The answer is: no one really knows. But as we debated and discussed that unknowable future, we felt more and more that getting readers to pay a small amount for content was the only truly solid future for online journalism. And since the Dish has, from its beginnings, attempted to pioneer exactly such a solid future for web journalism, we also felt we almost had a duty to try and see if we could help break some new ground.

The only completely clear and transparent way to do this, we concluded, was to become totally independent of other media entities and rely entirely on you for our salaries, health insurance, and legal, technological and accounting expenses…

So, as of February 1, we will revert to our old URL – All previous URLs will automatically redirect, so don’t worry about losing us. Until then, the Beast has generously agreed to keep us on so we can organize ourselves in time for the launch. In fact, Tina and Barry have been fully supportive of this decision once we made it, although we’re all sad to part ways.

Here’s the core principle: we want to create a place where readers – and readers alone – sustain the site. No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way…

So for the next month, we’re going to offer you advance membership of the Dish for $19.99 a year, which translates to $1.67 a month, which is around a nickel a day. The meter won’t start until February, and the price won’t change then, but by pre-subscribing, you give us a crucial financial bridge to get to independence – and you’ll never notice a thing when the transition happens.

To be honest, we didn’t know where to set the price – we have almost no precedents for where we want to go – but $19.99 seemed the lowest compatible with a serious venture. We wanted to make this as affordable as possible, while maximizing revenues.

Maybe, just maybe, Sullivan can pull that off, with the readership he has. It will be interesting to see. Since the old-media business model collapsed some time back, everyone who wants to do journalism for a living in the future has been looking around for the new model. Sullivan says, “The point of doing this as simply and as purely as possible is precisely to forge a path other smaller blogs and sites can follow.”

And we smaller blogs will be watching.

13 thoughts on “Sullivan strikes out on his own, with a for-pay model

  1. JasonG

    As far as I know, the Atlanta newspaper is the only paper in the region that has not gone to a pay model to view on line.

    The free ride is over I suppose.

    Sullivan’s writing gets very old, in a hurry. I guess he wants to be the gay, Catholic, drug legalizing, sorta Roman Catholic. I guess there is a pay audience for that?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Hey, Andrew Sullivan is my very favorite gay Catholic English conservative who once edited a celebrated liberal American magazine. Or at least, he’s in my Top Five.

      But seriously, Jason is right to speak of the “free ride.” Journalism has to find a way to pay for itself. Readers have never been the ones to pay what it costs to maintain newsrooms, and they kick and scream when asked to. But the advertising gravy train has fallen apart. If there is to be professional journalism in the future — people who are paid to go out and find actual facts to report, to give all us bloggers something to chew on — then somebody’s got to pay.

      Sullivan, of course, is a blogger, and therefore a commenter and aggregator, not a source of original news. But to do it on his scale is a full-time job for several people, and they’ve gotta eat somehow.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    He will fail.

    There are too many opinions that you can read for free, and simply being an aggregator and commenter isn’t going to work on a subscription-based model.

    I come to this blog everyday, but I wouldn’t pay a dime for the privilege of doing so.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s exactly what I would expect most of my readers to say.

      I don’t think I’d pay for it, either.

      For this blog to be worth paying for, I’d not only have to work at this and nothing else myself, but would probably have to bring on a few other people. Then this could be a real NEWS source, as well as a place for folks to come and discuss the issues.

      I’d like that very much. Trouble is, I’m afraid that even if the blog WERE worth paying for — and I believe what I described would be, at least as I envision it (that is to say, with high standards — I believe that with a staff of 10 carefully selected people, I could provide a higher-quality news source than anything else you can find) — readers still, by and large, wouldn’t be WILLING to pay for it. Because they are not used to paying what a news source is worth. They never had to do it before, and most don’t want to start.

      1. Steven Davis II

        Staff of 10? Would you go back into a purely management role? With a staff of 10, you’d better be competing with the Free Times. How many does Will Folks have… two or three?

    1. JasonG

      I suspect he has been told what % of readers / amount of subscribers he has to hit in the first few days for his first six to nine months to be worth his time.

      I think Glen Beck is doing pretty well for himself by his subscription model. I’m not paying for it, but I guess he is.

      I think as a society we are doing a more and more precise job of walling ourselves off from others who see the world different. We’re getting very tribal, and not even trying to find ‘squares’ for the different tribes to mingle.

    2. Steven Davis II

      So when are you going to follow suit and go with The State subscription model. I’d be interested to hear how that’s impacted their online viewing stats… I bet they tanked.

      1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

        The State’s pay wall is pathetic. Its so easy to get around I would be surprised if it had any real impact on their viewership. WSJ and FT probably have the best pay walls of any media outlet, but then they are business newspapers and their readers tend to have a greater willingness to pay than ordinary national and local newspapers’ readers.

  3. Bart

    When you are at the bottom of the slope, any flurry seems to be an avalanche. I am sure he will secure enough subscribers to maintain his blog but I won’t be one of them. There is one very good blog I go to for reasonable conservative conversation and insight and it has a two tier set-up. One for the general public and another tier for subscribers. The public tier allows you to read the site owner’s commentary and to offer your own comments but they are not published. If you subscribe, then there is a open forum for members to share with each other, etc.

    Still don’t subscribe.

  4. Mark Stewart

    It’s an interesting question. The fourth estate has always had this issue.

    Government can compel; media must be compelling.

    I would pay something; but think a per comment model might be more viable – After 5 free per month.

  5. Bryan Caskey

    Was Sullivan really that constrained, or is this just an attempt to go solo and get paid more? Nothing wrong with either one, just not sure of the motive here.

Comments are closed.