by Chris Bodenner
BI: How do you wrap your ahead around the meter concept?
AS: Back in the day I would go to Harvard Square bookstore. When I was there in 1984, having left England, there was no way for me to know what was going on back home except in the British papers. I would go there and flip through the newspapers. At some point the dude had every right to say “Either buy the magazine or put it down.” That’s basically what the meter is.
That’s a good analogy but a tad exaggerated for the Dish, since about 80% of our content – the stuff above the read-ons – will always be free for everyone; we’ll never make you put down the Dish. But yeah, if you’ve enjoyed our work over the years for free and haven’t yet chipped in 2 bucks a month, we hope the meter will nudge you into doing so. As one reader puts it:
I have been reading your blog for several years (since it was at the Atlantic). However, I hadn’t subscribed until you offered the $1.99/month model. Why? Hard to say, really. Part of it is that I am a perpetually broke student. But mostly, I think it feels like a lower commitment threshold. Sure, $20 to enjoy a year’s worth of a blog I have enjoyed for six or seven years is not much of a stretch. But the bite-size $2/month just seems more manageable, particularly for the iTunes generation. Even though I’m paying more in the long run (and glad to do it), each small payment is so negligible that it feels like nothing – unlike $20, which feels like handing over a crisp $20 bill out of my dwindling wallet. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get more young readers signing up on the monthly plan. We’re much more accustomed to buying our media in single servings rather than handing over a lump sum up front, as in the dying magazine subscription model.
Anyway, thank you for your writing, Andrew. You have been a role model for me for what it means to grapple with being both gay and Catholic. Keep fighting the good fight!
As a cognitive therapist, I’m always interested in people’s belief systems – and the actions they take to maintain them.
Along those lines, I imagine that many of your readers have an underlying belief that says, “Content offered online should be free,” or even, “Paying for content online is wrong. It’s a slippery slope. If we start paying for content, we restrict the flow of information.” Or something along those lines. If they make an exception for you by subscribing, they’ve weakened that belief system. And the mind resists weakening its self-protective beliefs.
In your “pitch,” you might want to invite a discussion about the underlying belief system at work here. Should all online content indeed be free? If so, what else should be free? Coffee at coffee shops? Dinners out? Video games? Therapy sessions? Car repairs? Or just online content? And if so, why?
I myself waited a few weeks to subscribe, just to see how my mind would react to the process. I ended up realizing that I am an enormous consumer of your material and would probably value it at somewhere around $300/year. Compared to that value, a $20 price is a no-brainer.
You might ask your readers: What value (specific, numerical) would you place on one year of content from the Dish? If you value it at more than $20, how does that square with your belief system? At the least, it could be an interesting discussion.
Luger actually asked Andrew a similar question:
BI: How much would you pay for The Dish? How much do you think its worth? I ask because it’s very conceivable that, at some point, you may need to raise subscription prices on existing subscribers to hit your desired revenue goal.
AS: [Laughs] I pay $50 to Talking Points Memo so that will tell you something… I think its worth it. I’d happily pay $50 a year and I can prove that I did. And I asked readers to do so.
I am too falsely modest to say how much I’d pay for The Dish and way too close to even understand the concept. It’s very hard for me to see The Dish as some option for me to read. I, generally speaking, hate everything I write and say its all crap. But, every now and then I go on vacation and I look at it and read it. And I go “that’s not bad, is it?” If I was a general reader and wanted to find out about the world, it’s pretty comprehensive and kind of fun.
Update from a reader:
Reading the discussions about how and why people pay how much for The Dish brings to mind a theory of mine about the value of technology, and how much people are willing to pay for it. I call this John Halbert’s Three Laws of Technology Economics:
First Law: People will pay trivial amounts for convenience, and be conscious of small differences. They will pay $1 for a newspaper, but not $2, for example.
Second Law: People will pay out of cash flow for enhancements to their existing abilities or equipment. They will pay $100 for more memory for their computer, or $50 for a software upgrade. This amount is roughly equivalent to what they carry in their wallet on a daily basis.
Third Law: People will make substantial financial commitments for the ability to do something that they could not otherwise do. In other words, they will go into debt for power. Buying a car, or going into debt for an education, are examples.
This theory is particularly useful when there is a differential between cost and value. For example, a plane ticket is Second Law cost (no one goes into debt to buy a plane ticket), but Third Law value: you can go somewhere faster than you otherwise could. The Internet is a two-law differential: First Law cost ($30/month for Internet access), but Third Law value: you can do many things on the Internet you could not otherwise do.
The Dish straddles the line between First and Second Law cost and value. For some people, $20 is a trivial amount, and they wouldn’t particularly care if it was $20 or $50. For some people, it’s also Second Law value: it’s not just convenience (First Law); it’s an enhancement to their existing abilities or equipment. There is a lot of information/discussion on The Dish that would be difficult to find anywhere else. If I absolutely had to, I’m sure I could find a good discussion of prosecutors vs. public defenders, but I doubt it would be as succinct as your recent discussion. So for some people, reading The Dish is a great timesaver. If you’re a high-powered lawyer who charges $800/hour, saving a couple of minutes a day adds up very quickly.
But for other people, it’s strictly First Law cost and value. Paying $20 all at once may represent the difference between going out on a Friday and staying home. It’s also something many people read occasionally, but that they don’t really need. They can read Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, or any number of newspaper sites. So those people are reading it for convenience, and they are conscious of small differences.
(Photo: A German boy leans against the wall next to a magazine stand to read a comic book, circa 1955. By Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)