A Silver Age?

Jan 22 2014 @ 12:50pm

Edinburgh International Book Festival

I have to say it’s been amazing to see Washington get almost giddy about the Ezra Klein story. Well, maybe only Washington journalists … but, still. My basic take on the rise and rise of the super-blogs – from Nate Silver’s new enterprise at ESPN to our old friend Josh Marshall’s TPM to Kara Swisher and now Wonkblog – is here. All the stories about these ventures rightly take a wait-and-see approach as to whether we are witnessing a realignment in which those old big media companies accelerate their decline by being unable to accommodate their new media stars … or whether these new ventures will eventually founder in a grim business climate for journalism. These new models may be evanescent or central to the future. We just don’t know yet.

So here’s an update on the Dish’s progress in this new Nate Silver Age of media. Our crucial first year subscriptions all expire en masse in a couple of weeks. We currently have no other means of support, and have chosen to eschew investors and let this online community grow at its own pace and in its own organic way. Last year, as we jumped off the cliff, we got a one-off, staggering sum of $427,000 in the first week. Recouping that a year later was always going to be our biggest challenge as our little plane tried to reach cruising altitude.

So here’s the full graph of Dish gross revenues since we announced we were leaving the Beast:

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Those peaks tell it all. Since January 1 this year, we have raised almost $400K. On the one hand, that’s a long way from our total revenues of nearly $900K in 2013. On the other, we’re only three weeks in. Since subscriptions don’t actually expire for two more weeks, and since subscribers will still have their free read-ons for a while after that, we won’t really know till the end of March how the year is going to shake out. If we stall now, we’ll be in deep trouble. If you keep renewing, we’ll survive and even thrive. Whether this model works is entirely up to you at this point.

But here’s what’s really struck us after a year. The average subscription price we received from you last January was around $31. This year it is hovering around $37. So those readers who have already renewed have voluntarily increased the price. Ask yourself: how often does that happen in business? You offer something for sale at a certain price and the customer requests she pay almost double ($37 is damn close to twice the minimum of $19.99). I’ve never been a businessman, but, man, isn’t that unusual? And encouraging? Yes, we’re chuffed.

But not complacent. The downside is that the number of subscriptions is down considerably on last year. We are emphatically not out of the woods yet. Yes, we now have 19,000 auto-renewing subscribers. But we need many more if this model is to succeed without sponsored content or venture capital. It’s just one model for journalism in new media, and many others make sense as well. But it’s the simplest, clearest and most transparent there is. And you, the readers, play the critical part in this. You can decide to endorse this model and help sustain a fledgling new era in journalism. Or you can be a by-stander.

By my reckoning – over nearly 14 years – Dish readers are not the by-stander type.

Renew now! Renew here!

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Update from a reader:

I don’t mind at all your posts encouraging us to subscribe / re-subscribe. I LOVE the updates, where we get to chart how much you’ve earned. I disagree with your reader who suggested that your calls for subscriptions are advertorials or whatever. I WANT to see your number get to “900,000”, and it is enjoyable for me to see the “Dish Updates” with the numbers growing higher each time. If you want to install a real-time chart so that even when you’re reposting your calls for subscriptions we can see the very latest numbers, that would be cool but no biggie. As long as you keep me up on what’s going on.

We made that promise of transparency when we launched last January and we will keep it.

(Top photo: Nate Silver, American statistician, political forecaster and author of The Signal And The Noise, appears at a photocall prior to an event at the 30th Edinburgh International Book Festival, on August 13, 2013. By Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images. Bottom photos of Dish readers used with their permission.)