Sullivan is burning no bridges here. If this works, great; if it doesn’t work, I’m sure that there will be a fair few publications out there willing to add their names to the list of places which have hosted the Dish. It’s what the financial types call a free option. And I’m very glad that Sullivan is taking the plunge, to see just how much money is out there for someone looking to make it on subscription revenues alone. I only have one request for him: please be very transparent about the numbers!
We will. We were waiting for a solid 24 hours of data before letting you know (and that is now up). We’re gathering that data as we speak and will report back to you later today. We’ve struggled with the obvious questions of transparency: if the subscriptions come in as a disappointment, would publicizing that become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or would it help spur more support? If we do really well, would that encourage readers who haven’t subscribed to take a free ride? Would it generate complacency?
After some urgent soul-searching, we’ve decided that this is your blog and that you deserve to see as much behind the curtain as possible, without disclosing individual employees’ private information. We just have to trust that the data won’t hurt the site, whatever side of the line we fall. So, as soon as we gather up all the data, we’ll give you our rough calculation of our estimated budget for our first year and data on how much progress we have made so far. Felix isn’t far off with $750,000 – but we were a little more conservative in guessing future unknown technological costs, and so we calculated a slightly higher number, and a steeper hill to climb. I’m a fiscal conservative, remember.
But basically, we think we should be as accountable to our readers as we can, and leave a lot of the financial mystery, spin and secrecy of the old media behind. One other reason we’ve decided to ignore the risks of transparency is because our ambitions are effectively open-ended. Our initial budget is simply for what we currently provide readers. But if we can do better, we will plow the extra money into commissioning long-form journalism, and hire an editor or two to edit it. We would really love to use the Dish’s bloggy base to enrich long-form writing, just as we are trying to support poetry. My own dream is a monthly tablet magazine called Deep Dish, which would have the best of the month’s Dish (with some reader-threads all brought together, a window view gallery, a couple of photos) and two or three really deep dives into subjects that come up in our unending conversation. Getting the blogosphere to bring back long-form is a really subversive idea. But I think we could have a go at it, if you help us by pre-subscribing (do it here! Or the adorable hound gets it!). So even if we were to hit our target, we can still appeal to readers to help us become more ambitious. We will of course hit a limit at some point – and we won’t really have a good grip on what that number is until mid-February at the earliest, after the meter has actually been installed. But we’ve decided to give you the numbers up-front because we trust you get what we’re trying to do. We are resigned to many free riders with a freemium model as open as ours will be. But we figure the more honest we are with you, the more reasoned you can be in your support (or not). Alyssa Rosenberg wants a thousand business models to bloom:
I hope their business model becomes sustainable not because I think we need it as a sole light forward in a dark publishing landscape. Rather, I think we need a lot of models, so new entrants into the market have lots of paths to sustainability. Some products that have been prestige for the entire run of their existence, like The New Yorker, will be able to flourish in their walled gardens without ever venturing out into a more open marketplace. Others, that have both passionate and casual readers, and perform the services both of delivering basic news information and offering up longer, more proprietary analysis, like the New York Times and the Dish will do well with metered models.
Projects like ThinkProgress and Pro Publica, which want a certain amount of independence from corporate interests and protections from the vicissitudes of the advertising marketplace, will successfully justify their necessity to a variety of non-profit funders. Rather than aiming to be among the most privileged and valued of products and individuals from the start—a position that guarantees financial support, but that doesn’t clarify the nature of the product they’re distributing—publications and content distributors would do better to know the fundamental nature of their business, and to choose a revenue support model based on that.
Paul Constant agrees that our model won’t work for everyone:
This will no doubt inspire many bloggers to consider adopting a reader-funded model. Those bloggers should remember that Andrew Sullivan is one of maybe five names that could make a reader-sustained blog financially viable.