This January, noted blogger Andrew Sullivan left his perch at The Daily Beast to embark upon a highly visible and seemingly risky enterprise. He took his blog, The Dish, independent and decided to test whether it was possible for the operation to sustain itself entirely through a subscription-based revenue model.
Sullivan initially set a revenue goal of $900,000 a year to maintain the standard of the blog. He specifically set out to reach his revenue goal without the help of any advertising revenue, saying “it provides a vital revenue stream for almost all media products. But we know from your emails how distracting and intrusive it can be; and how it often slows down the page painfully.”
Sullivan also declined to take any venture capital. He threw himself entirely at the mercy of his loyal and sizable readership, outlining the core principle: “we want to create a place where readers – and readers alone – sustain the site.” He asked readers to sign up for annual subscription that costs a minimum of $19.99, and gave the readers the choice of paying more if they wanted.
The Dish’s financial performance is being closely watched, as is every high-profile effort to monetize digital content these days. Luckily, for those interested, Sullivan has made the performance of his paywall entirely transparent.
So, how’s he doing? Well, Sullivan got off to a booming start. He raised over $333,000 from 12,000 subscribers in the first 24 hours his new blog went live, leaving him “gobsmacked.”
While subscriptions have continued to come in, the initial burst has gradually turned into a more consistent trickle (or as Sullivan puts it, they’ve “flat-lined.”) As of March 12th, The Dish had collected over $660,000 from nearly 25,000 subscribers. Sullivan has both tightened the meter and introduced a new monthly subscription option (a $1.99 “app-like fee”) in an effort to bump subscriptions in the last few weeks.
A few months in, it’s very clear that when it comes to the viability of Sullivan’s experiment, things are still very unclear. So, I decided to sit down with Sullivan to get his take on the performance of his model so far. We discussed how and why he launched the meter, analyzed what he’s learned since the launch, and talked about his future ambitions for the The Dish and digital journalism in general.
The full interview is below (all bolds are my own).