A Double Chai For The Dish

But not the one you get at Starbucks:

I’m a founding member, a happy supporter, and a devoted reader. I love that you tried this Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 7.11.15 PMindependent model, I love that you stay committed to it, and I’m pleased that you seem to be succeeding in this endeavor. I renewed at $36. It is twice chai, which is the Hebrew word for life, numerically 18 (so twice chai is 2×18.) May you have continued success and good fortune in your second year!

That $36 renewal price has been pretty popular with our readers, 71 so far. Another:

My first subscription at $19.99 is up 2/4/2014, but I renewed today at $36.  I figure the extra is more than worth it, not only because your content rocks, but you provide both experience and insurance to your paid interns.  A rare thing that needs to be encouraged.

Another:

I was planning to renew at 36 (double chai), but your 420 post was too creative and funny.  So I renewed for $42.00.

Join him and nearly 20,000 others here. Another reader goes in depth with some criticism:

I’m a Founding Member who renewed at a higher level ($36, or the “Double Chai” level for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah crowd). I was very happy to do this last year, for a number of reasons (to name a few): 1) belief in the Dish’s mission; 2) desire to see your new business model succeed; 3) belief that I owed it to you for all the previous years when the Dish was freely available. I have no hesitation about renewing, and I will happily do so. I am, however, deeply conflicted on whether to renew above the standard rate. It’s not the money (I’m very fortunate and can pay more); it’s philosophical, related to the business model.

Let’s be clear: this is a business, not a non-profit. I’ve got no issue with giving an “above scale” donation to NPR, which is run as a non-profit. But if, for example, I love new music from a new band, I don’t respond by saying, “I know your download is $10, but let me pay you $30 instead because I love you that much and want you to succeed.” No, that band is going to give me other opportunities to support their success – live shows, merchandise, etc., so I can support them in line with their business objectives.

In other words, the Dish is asking me to be something like a patron of the arts. But patrons get closer access to the artist, and some kind of recognition. Last year, when the Veronica Mars movie ran its Kickstarter campaign, some people criticized it – why would people give money to Warner Brothers? – but they failed to recognize that every person got something different for their contribution level (a DVD, a poster, a Kristen Bell voicemail message!). Because it’s a business, they felt a need to provide different services at different levels.

The Dish isn’t doing any of that. Now, do I want a Sully voicemail message, a Dish tote bag, or access to rough drafts of your blog posts? No – in general, I don’t want “stuff,” and I feel more than privy to the inner workings of your thought process. But if I give you extra money, why shouldn’t I give extra money to a good teacher? Or simply pay a good service provider more than they ask? Or supplement a friend’s income just because s/he’s a great person who deserves better in life? The list goes on, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to justify one versus the other versus any.

One answer, I believe, is simple and scary: The Dish needs more subscribers. Innovative and noble businesses routinely fail, and it’s why marketing budgets exist. Another answer, is this: offer the “stuff.” Personalized messages, conference calls, tote bags, autographed “I Was Wrong” copies – I don’t care. Just give me something, anything, to point to that says I’m not just throwing money at you because I’m rooting for you. If your goal is to establish The Dish as a new type of business, then start behaving like it’s a business and not a pseudo non-profit. Work with us here, and I promise I’ll buy the “stuff” even if I can live without a framed picture of your beard.

Be careful what you ask for.

Actually, the “pay-what-you-want” model was, in fact, pioneered by a band, Radiohead. But it’s been very-gradual-changefascinating to read many reader emails about the business model we are trying and ways it could be improved and finessed. All I can say is that we are open to every idea to make this work, and we will continue to refine and innovate as best we can. But we’re devoted to the idea of very gradual change you can believe in. We specifically decided long ago, for example, to start with some basics – like a strong, subscription-based site – and then pursue the intimations of what the web seems to be teaching us about what works. And we’re at a very early stage. So keep the suggestions coming. We’re open to anything. Just not sponsored content, m-kay?

One more email from a reader, who is actually leaving the double-chai club:

I was a founding member last year at $36/year. When I heard you were going independent, I signed up ASAP as I’ve been reading The Dish for a few years, but I wasn’t sure what the new Dish would look like. Over the past year, your updates have kept me thinking about the virtue of paying for quality online content. After college, I made the decision to start paying for my music to support artists. The WSJ and NYTimes forced me to decide whether online content was worth it, and I started paying for my news.

I appreciate your model with The Dish and think you’re doing the right thing by paying your interns and providing health insurance for your staff. Our society has forgotten that if it’s worth it to us; we need to pay for it. Paying for the value of what you consume keeps one from over-consuming … and over-consuming leads one to undervalue what they should value more highly.

So, I’m now on the auto-renew plan at just over $100/year. It’s what I pay for my grad-student subscription to the WSJ, and I get just as much from The Dish as from the Journal.

Mercy, Grace, Peace, and Joy to you and your team in 2014.

And with you.