[A]ll these numbers are simply guesses. Really. That’s it. California’s numbers are guesses. Maryland’s numbers are guesses. Oregon’s numbers are guesses. Vermont’s numbers are just guesses. Everyone is just guessing. … We’re covering those guesses in the press. When they come in low, we say it’s good news for Obamacare. When they come in high, we say it’s bad news for Obamacare. But we don’t really know whether the guesses are right or wrong either.
Even more interesting is what happens in year two. By then, insurers will know who signed up and how much their care actually cost. But at that point, their pricing won’t really be up to them. The law’s medical loss ratio rules require insurers in the exchanges to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual health care. If the care costs less than that, insurers have to send consumers a rebate — something many have already had to do.
Aaron Carroll wonders if political maneuvering based on these “guesses” will come back to haunt Republicans actively opposed to implementation:
[T]he gambit of those opposing Obamacare seems to be a full throated and all-out-effort to show that Obamacare doesn’t work. The danger, though, is that it might.
Despite the recent announcement of low premiums for Californians under Obamacare, Sarah Kliff isn’t celebrating yet:
California’s health-care marketplace isn’t like those being set up elsewhere in the country. When California created the country’s first-ever health insurance exchange, way back in November 2010, it made a very significant policy decision. The state decided that it would act as an “active purchaser” that would select a small number of health plans allowed to sell on the California exchange. Health plans would have to do more than meet a set of requirements in the Affordable Care Act. They would need to be selected by the California exchange’s board to compete in the marketplace. …
In an active purchaser exchange, health plans know that they’re competing against others for the chance to access millions of customers with tax subsidies. That could easily effect the bids that they submit, the ones they hope will get them into the new marketplace. That’s the dynamic in California, but not in most other states. That makes it a bit difficult to generalize what the state’s insurance rates say about what will happen elsewhere, where this downward pressure doesn’t exist.
Lanhee Chen, Romney’s former policy director, argues that the California’s rates aren’t as favorable as they first appear:
Yesterday California announced premium rates for its healthcare exchanges. Sarah Kliff points out that the premiums are lower than many estimates:
Health insurers will charge 25-year-olds between $142 and $190 per month for a bare-bones health plan in Los Angeles. A 40-year-old in San Francisco who wants a top-of-the-line plan would receive a bill between $451 and $525. Downgrade to a less robust option, and premiums fall as low as $221. These premium rates, released Thursday, help answer one of the biggest questions about Obamacare: How much health insurance will cost. They do so in California, the state with 7.1 million uninsured residents, more than any other place in the country.
It’s also worth noting that, thanks to Obamacare’s subsidies for the poor, many will pay less than the already low sticker prices. In case you missed it, Jonathan Cohn weighed in this morning in a must-read. Ezra notes how California is a vital test:
It’s an uplifting story that also makes you want to despair of government. Three 20-year-old programmers from San Francisco have set up a website – thehealthsherpa.com – that already does a huge amount of the work that the government website cannot effectively handle yet. No, you can’t enroll in Obamacare on it, but you can quickly see your options. What a concept! Available information! Money quote:
“They got it completely backwards in terms of what people want up front,” said Liang. He added: “They want prices and benefits, so that they could make the decision.” Liang showed CBS News how it worked. “You come to our website and you put in your zip code — in this case a California zip code. You hit ‘find plans,’ and you immediately see the exchange plans that are available for that zip code.”
It didn’t work for me, because they don’t have New York or DC plans yet in their system (California is their strong suit). But I did get instant access to both states’ exchange sites – no clogged system at all:
Using information buried in the government’s own website built by high-priced government contractors, they found a simpler way to present it to users. “That’s the great thing about having such a small team,” said Kalogeropoulos. “You sit around a table and say, ‘Okay, how does this work?’ There’s no coordination meetings, there’s no planning sessions. It’s like, ‘Well, let’s read the document and let’s implement this.'”
They’re busy updating and adding new features, like calculations for the various tax subsidies, as the video shows. So why not use this site or encourage other young geeks to set up similar ones outside the government just to convey information that is currently buried in healthcare.gov? You can then use that information to call up an insurance company or broker or navigator and buy your insurance. Then ask yourself: how did three 20 year-olds manage this in weeks while the feds had three years and fucked it up so bad it seems like an episode of computer Hell?
Mike Konczal blames Obamacare’s technical problems on the law’s design. He contrasts Obamacare’s form of social insurance, which he labels “Category A,” with previous forms of social insurance, such as Medicare and Social Security, which he labels “Category B”:
What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.
If I had my way, we’d have a fairly simple, universal, single-payer health care system in the United States. It would work better; provide broader coverage; and probably be cheaper than what we have now. But countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands demonstrate that an Obamacare-like system can work reasonably well too.
The Commerce Department revised its estimates of first-quarter gross domestic product Wednesday to show that the economy contracted at a 2.9 percent annual rate. A combination of shrinking business inventories, terrible winter weather and a surprise contraction in health care spending drove the first-quarter decline, which is the worst since the first quarter of 2009, when the economy shrank at a 5.4 percent rate.
And that contraction is worse than expected; forecasters had predicted only negative 1.8 percent. Ben Casselman has more:
Last month, I noted that negative quarters are rare outside of recessions. Quarters this bad are even rarer. There have been only two other non-recessionary quarters since World War II when the economy shrank at a rate over 2 percent. Both times, the economy entered a recession the following quarter.
That doesn’t mean we’re about to fall back into a recession. On several other occasions, negative quarters were followed by a strong rebound. Just a few years ago, for example, U.S. GDP fell 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2011, then bounced back to post a 3.2 percent growth rate in the second quarter.
Then again, it’s worth remembering that we’re notoriously bad at predicting recessions. In fact, we aren’t even very good at knowing when we’re in one. The semi-official arbiters at the National Bureau of Economic Research didn’t identify the most recent recession until December 2008, by which point it had been underway for a year; they didn’t pick up on the 2001 recession until it was over. If we were in a recession now, we might not know it.
Weather accounted for somewhere between 50 and 100 percent of the GDP pullback, says PNC senior economist Gus Faucher. When polar vortexes and multiple feet of snow keep people stuck at home, they just can’t get out to buy groceries or see the doctor. That’s only a temporary hit to the economy — everyone has to go to the doctor and buy food again at some point. …
Broadly speaking, the job market isn’t growing as fast as we’d like it, but it didn’t seem to pull back in the first quarter. And though healthcare helped pull GDP downward in the first quarter, even employment in that industry didn’t appear to take a hit:
Danny Vinik details the dip in healthcare spending:
[The new GDP data] may be a case of bad news that’s not so bad – and maybe even good.
Dave Cullen is the author of the New York Times bestseller Columbine, a portrait of the two killers and their victims that he spent ten years writing and researching. The book won the Edgar Award, Barnes & Noble’s Discover Award, the Goodreads Choice Award, and was declared Top Education Book of 2009 by the American School Board Journal. He has also written for New York Times, Newsweek, Guardian, Washington Post, Slate, Salon, and Daily Beast. Dave has additionally been a frequent television and radio analyst, appearing on Today, NBC Nightly News, PBS Newshour, CBS This Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, The Rachel Maddow Show, Hannity, and Morning Edition. He is currently working on a book about two gay colonels, who he has followed for twelve years.
Dave’s videos are also available individually on Vimeo.
Dayo Olopade is a Nigerian-American journalist covering global politics and development policy. She has reported for The New Republic, The Root, The Daily Beast, The New York Times, and many other publications. Currently a Knight Law and Media Scholar at Yale University, her new book is The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa.
Dayo’s videos are also available individually on Vimeo.
Shane Bauer is an investigative journalist and photographer who was one of the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran after being captured on the Iraqi border in 2009. He spent 26 months in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, four of them in solitary confinement. Following his release, he wrote a special report for Mother Jones about solitary in America’s prison system. (The Dish’s ongoing coverage of the subject is here.) Shane and his fellow former hostages, Sarah Shourd (now his wife) and Josh Fattal, have co-written the memoir, A Sliver of Light. You can read an excerpt here.
Shane’s videos are also available individually on Vimeo.
Rob Thomas is an American producer, director and screenwriter, best known for the critically-acclaimed TV series Veronica Mars and Party Down. In 2013 he launched one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time in support of a Mars movie. (Our discussion thread of the innovative, Dish-like project is here.) The movie is out now.
Rob’s videos are also available individually on Vimeo and YouTube.
Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences.
His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife and three children.
Martha Shane is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. After Tiller is her second feature documentary. Her first was Bi the Way, which had its premiere at the SXSW film festival in 2008 and debuted on MTV’s LOGO channel in summer 2009. She co-directed, produced and co-edited the film. Shane graduated from Wesleyan University in 2005 with a BA in Film Studies.
Lana Wilson is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. After Tiller is her feature documentary debut. Wilson was previously the Film and Dance Curator for Performa, the New York biennial of new visual art performance. She holds a BA in Film Studies and Dance from Wesleyan University.
Stephen Jimenez is an award-winning journalist, writer and producer. He is a 2012 Norman Mailer Nonfiction Fellow and has written and produced programs for ABC News 20/20, Dan Rather Reports, Nova, Fox, Court TV and others. His accolades include the Writers Guild of America Award, the Mongerson Award for Investigative Reporting (Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism), an Emmy, and several fellowships at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. A graduate of Georgetown University, he has taught screenwriting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and other colleges. Mr. Jimenez lives in Brooklyn, New York and Santa Fe, New Mexico. His new book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, is published by Steerforth Press.
Kate Bolick is currently working on her first book, Among the Suitors: On Being a Woman, Alone, to be published next year by Crown/Random House. She is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and writes regularly for Elle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate. Her 2011 Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies”, addressed why more and more women are choosing, as she did, not to get married. The Dish debated the piece here and here.
Frederic Rich is an American lawyer, environmentalist and author. His new novel Christian Nation is a work of speculative fiction imagining what would have happened if McCain had won the 2008 election and subsequently died, making Sarah Palin the president and putting America on the path to theocracy.
Ken Mehlman is a businessman, attorney, and political figure who held several national posts in the GOP and Bush administration. He managed Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, which used anti-gay marriage arguments to win the critical state of Ohio, and subsequently chaired the RNC from 2005 to 2007. After that, Mehlman worked for the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, then became the Global Head of Public Affairs at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a private equity firm. In 2010, Mehlman came out as gay, making him one of the most prominent openly gay Republicans and a major advocate for the recognition of same-sex marriage. He also serves on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Michael Wahid Hanna is a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, where he works on issues of international security, international law, and US foreign policy in the broader Middle East and South Asia. He appears regularly on NPR, BBC, and al-Jazeera. Additionally, his Twitter feed is a must-read for anyone interested in Egyptian politics.
Dan Savage is a columnist, author, media pundit and theater director. His syndicated sex-advice column, Savage Love, appears in several dozen newspapers. He additionally writes the SLOG blog and produces the Savage Lovecast podcast. Dan and his husband Terry also started the It Gets Better Project in 2010 in an effort to prevent suicide among LGBT youth by having gay adults (and others) convey the message that these teens’ lives will inevitably improve. Andrew’s (May 2013) conversation with Dan about sex and marriage at the New York Public Library is here.
Josh Fox is an American filmmaker and environmental activist. He is the writer/director of the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary, Gasland, and has subsequently become one of the nation’s most prominent critics of hydraulic fracturing. His new film, Gasland Part II recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and will air on HBO this summer.
Steven Brill is an American journalist who has written for Newsweek, The New Yorker,The New York Times Sunday Magazine,Harpers and Time. He is also the founder of CourtTV and American Lawyer magazine. Brill’s most recent venture is the business Journalism Online, which he sold to RR Donnelley in 2011 for a reported $45 million and now has more than 400 publications using its Press+ service to charge for digital content. He also founded Verified Identity Pass, Inc., a New York-based company that operated the Clear airport security fast-pass, a pre-cursor to the current Federal Trusted Traveler program.
Flynt Leverett teaches international affairs at Pennsylvania State University and is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. Hillary Mann Leverett teaches international affairs at Yale and American University. During the Iranian uprising of 2009, the Dish continuously clashed with Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the most well-known skeptics of the Green Movement. The husband and wife team continue to blog at The Race for Iran.
Andrew: I’ve known David Kuo since he worked in the Bush White House as Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. When he was working there, he suffered a brain seizure while driving and, without his extraordinary wife, Kim, taking the wheels from him, they might both never have survived.
But they have. David was diagnosed with brain cancer and left the Bush administration, reflecting in his conscience on his work there. The result was a book, Tempting Faith, that came out at almost the same time as The Conservative Soul. We found ourselves estranged from modern Republicanism and united by faith in Jesus. Thus a friendship was born, and it’s one I have treasured deeply. We have talked together, joked together, laughed together and prayed together. And the cancer has come and gone and come back again. When I saw him last, he had difficulty walking very far. … He has helped me so much over the years in my own spiritual journey; and it would be true to say simply that I love him and am proud to have him here.
Michael C. Moynihan is an American journalist and the cultural news editor for The Daily Beast/Newsweek and formally the managing editor of Vice magazine. Before that he was a senior editor of the libertarian magazine Reason.
Bill McKibben is one of the world’s leading environmentalists and writers. He is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Time Magazine called him ‘the planet’s best green journalist’ and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was ‘probably the country’s most important environmentalist.’
Mark Bowden is a writer and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He is the author of numerous non-fiction books including Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War; Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw; Worm: The First Digital World War; and most recently, The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
Reihan Salam is a conservative political commentator, columnist and author. He is a columnist for The Daily and lead writer of The Agenda blog at National Review, as well as a policy adviser at e21 and a contributing editor at National Affairs.
Peter Beinart is a senior political columnist at The Daily Beast where he is the editor of Open Zion. He is also a former editor of The New Republic and has written for Time, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books among other periodicals, and is the author of three books, including The Crisis of Zionism.
John Hodgman is an author, actor, and humorist. He has written numerous books, including The Areas of My Expertise, More Information Than You Require, and That Is All. He has also appears regularly on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Hanna Rosin is senior editor at The Atlantic and a founder and editor at DoubleX, Slate’s women’s section.She is also the author of the book The End of Men based on her story in the July/August 2010 Atlantic.
Jesse Bering Ph.D. is the author of The Belief Instinct and Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? and is a regular contributor to Scientific American, Slate, and Das Magazin (Switzerland). His writing has also been featured in many other sources, including New York Magazine, The Guardian, Discover, The New Republic, NPR, and the BBC. Bering is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University, Belfast and began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas.His next book will be on the curiously scandalous science of human sexuality.
Barnett “Barney” Frank has been the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’s 4th congressional district since January 1981. He is the former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (2007–2011) and is considered the most prominent gay politician in the United States.
Jim Holt a prominent essayist and critic on philosophy, mathematics, and science, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of two books, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes and Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story – additional Dish coverage of that book is here, here and here.
Jane Mayer is an American investigative journalist who has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1995. She is the author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. She has most recently reported on the powerful Koch brothers and the raving lunatic Bryan Fischer, and has written extensively on the influence of outside money this political season. Catch up on her work here.
Daniel Klaidman’s is a special correspondent for Newsweek, where he has worked since 1996, serving as investigative reporter, Middle East correspondent, Washington bureau chief, and managing editor, before his current position. After 9/11 he led Newsweek‘s award-winning coverage of the attacks and their aftermath. He is the author of Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency.
Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her primary research interests include the U.S. economy, federal budget, homeland security, taxation, tax competition, and financial privacy issues. She has testified numerous times in front of Congress on the effects of fiscal stimulus, debt and deficits, and regulation on the economy. de Rugy writes regular columns for Reason magazine, the Washington Examiner, and blogs about economics at National Review Online’s The Corner.
Sister Jeannine Gramick is a Roman Catholic religious sister and a co-founder of the activist organization New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for justice and reconciliation of lesbian and gay people with the institutional Catholic Church. After a review of her public activities on behalf of the Church that concluded in a finding of grave doctrinal error, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared in 1999 that she should no longer be engaged in pastoral work with lesbian and gay persons. In 2000, her congregation, in an attempt to thwart further conflict with the Vatican, commanded her not to speak publicly about homosexuality. She responded by saying, “I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right [to speak]. To me this is a matter of conscience.”
Tina Brown is a journalist, magazine editor, columnist, talk-show host and author of The Diana Chronicles, a biography of Diana, Princess of Wales. She is the current editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek and the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
Eli Lake, is the national security correspondent for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and a frequent contributor to the Bloggingheads.tv. He previously covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times. Lake has also been a contributing editor at The New Republic since 2008 and covered diplomacy, intelligence, and the military for the late New York Sun. He has lived in Cairo and traveled to war zones in Sudan, Iraq, and Gaza. He is one of the few journalists to report from all three members of President Bush’s axis of evil: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
Bruce Bartlett is an American historian whose area of expertise is supply-side economics. He served as a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and as a Treasury official under President George H. W. Bush; he also served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”
Tyler Cowen is an American economist, academic, and writer. He occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. He also writes for such publications as The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek, and the Wilson Quarterly.
Jim Manzi, perhaps most sane and thoughtful voice at National Review, has had a regular presence on the Dish for many years. Jim is the founder and Chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of the book Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society.
Charles Murray is an American libertarian political scientist, author, columnist, and pundit currently working as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 and the co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.
Below are our posts regarding the Dish going independent, beginning with Andrew’s original announcement on January 2 and then followed by our coverage of the resulting commentary and conversation among readers and the blogosphere.
To skip to the more detailed explanation of “The Dish Model” click here.
When I first stumbled into blogging over 12 years ago, it was for two reasons: curiosity and freedom. I was curious about the potential for writing in this new medium; and for the first time, I felt total freedom as a writer. On my little blog, I was beholden to no one but my readers. I had no editor to please, no advertiser to woo, no publisher to work for, no colleagues to manage. Perhaps it was working for so long in old media that made me appreciate this breakthrough so much. But it still exhilarates every day.
For the first time in human history, a writer – or group of writers and editors – can instantly reach readers – even hundreds of thousands of readers across the planet – with no intermediary at all.
And they can reach back. Few discovered this as quickly as I did – and as the Dish evolved over the first six years, I was forced to admit when I was wrong (see: George W. Bush, 9/11, the Iraq War, etc), and it was not pretty at times. Looking back, I realize that in many ways, you, the readers, made that unavoidable. I had to face you every day. And you were merciless.
And that, I realized, was a good thing. The more this sank in, the more what started as a monologue became a dialogue. The dialogue eventually ceded to a sprawling conversation in which I now play the role of host/provocateur, while my Dish colleagues (and readers) scour every nook of the web to add insight, news or amusement to the whole mix. We have an official staff of 7, and an unofficial one of around a million unpaid obsessives.
But as the pretense of old media authority ceded to the crowd-sourcing of argument, fact and thought, one thing remained elusive: how to make this work financially.
I did it on my own for nothing but two pledge drives for six years. Then I tried partnering with bigger media institutions for the following six – Time, the Atlantic, and the Daily Beast. The Beast in particular gave us the resources and support to take the Dish to a new level of richness, breadth and depth: adding one more staffer and two paid interns, helping us with video, giving us a supportive space to breathe and grow, as we have. We are intensely grateful to them, especially Tina Brown and Barry Diller, who became great partners in this evolving enterprise. The Dish now is beyond what I allowed myself to imagine twelve years ago.
And so, as we contemplated the end of our contract with the Beast at the end of 2012, we faced a decision. As usual, we sought your input and the blogosphere’s – hence the not-terribly subtle thread that explored whether online readers will ever pay for content, and how. The answer is: no one really knows. But as we debated and discussed that unknowable future, we felt more and more that getting readers to pay a small amount for content was the only truly solid future for online journalism. And since the Dish has, from its beginnings, attempted to pioneer exactly such a solid future for web journalism, we also felt we almost had a duty to try and see if we could help break some new ground.
The only completely clear and transparent way to do this, we concluded, was to become totally independent of other media entities and rely entirely on you for our salaries, health insurance, and legal, technological and accounting expenses.
The “we” in particular was executive editors Patrick Appel, Chris Bodenner and me. Every member of the Dish team contributed to the debate (Zoe and Matt very much so), but Patrick, Chris and I were the core. We’d bonded most powerfully during our coverage of the Iranian Green Revolution, but over the years before and since, we’d evolved into something like a triad brain, blogging alone (apart from weekly lunches and South Park nights) but somehow intuiting each other’s rhythms and interests, passions and conflicts – while constantly feeding off yours in the in-tray and beyond. We grew to trust the model that emerged from the intimations of the daily blogging, and treasure the formula you slowly helped concoct and we collectively call the Dish.
And so last week, the three of us signed an agreement setting up an independent company called Dish Publishing LLC, and agreed to strike out on our own with no safety net below us but you.
And that’s the primary reason we’re hopeful this can work. Because the Dish readership is the core strength of this site anyway, and you have shown us over the years how deeply you care about an open, honest, provocative debate on all kinds of subjects. The computers say the average Dish reader spends up to 17 minutes a day on the site – a massive investment of time and energy. All your extraordinary emails are anonymous – a sign of a community eager to debate the real issues rather than take credit for their own insights. And this relationship between all of us now goes back a long way – to a time when everyone I met kept asking me what a blog was, through the horrors of 9/11 and the Iraq War, past the Obama miracle and the odd lies of a former half-term governor whose name now escapes me.
If you’ve stuck with the Dish through all this, if you’ve tolerated my idiosyncrasies and occasional meltdowns, and if, in fact, you’ve helped create our content with the best reader threads anywhere online, we just hope you’ll help keep this show on the road in a more sustainable, permanent way.
So, as of February 1, we will revert to our old URL – http://www.andrewsullivan.com. All previous URLs will automatically redirect, so don’t worry about losing us. Until then, the Beast has generously agreed to keep us on so we can organize ourselves in time for the launch. In fact, Tina and Barry have been fully supportive of this decision once we made it, although we’re all sad to part ways.
Here’s the core principle: we want to create a place where readers – and readers alone – sustain the site. No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way.
The decision on advertising was the hardest, because obviously 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. And we’re increasingly struck how advertising is dominated online by huge entities, and how compromising and time-consuming it could be for so few of us to try and lure big corporations to support us. We’re also mindful how online ads have created incentives for pageviews over quality content.
We’re only human and so we want to set up the incentives so we are geared entirely to improving the total reader experience, not to ratchet up hits, or to please corporate advertisers. We may be fooling ourselves, and it would be imprudent for us to rule out all advertising right now for ever. So we won’t. But it would be a great missed opportunity, in my view, not to try. Remember the classic saying:
If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product being sold.
We want to treat our readers better than that, because you deserve better than that.
Hence the purest, simplest model for online journalism: you, us, and a meter. Period. No corporate ownership, no advertising demands, no pressure for pageviews … just a concept designed to make your reading experience as good as possible, and to lead us not into temptation.
So for the next month, we’re going to offer you advance membership of the Dish for $19.99 a year, which translates to $1.67 a month, which is around a nickel a day. The meter won’t start until February, and the price won’t change then, but by pre-subscribing, you give us a crucial financial bridge to get to independence – and you’ll never notice a thing when the transition happens.
To be honest, we didn’t know where to set the price – we have almost no precedents for where we want to go – but $19.99 seemed the lowest compatible with a serious venture. We wanted to make this as affordable as possible, while maximizing revenues.
Which led us to a second thought: who better knows the value of a site than its readers? More to the point, we know the Dish is worth much more to some of you than others; that twice-daily readers plumb more of it than daily ones; and that multiple-click readers and regular emailers are the source of so much of our content, and might see the Dish as more valuable. So for those of you who would like to support the Dish over and above $19.99, we’ve left the price box empty. Pay $19.99 or what you think a year of reading the Dish is worth to you. No member will have any more access or benefits than any other member, but if hardcore Dishheads want to give us some love for the years of free blogging and for the adventure ahead, we’d be crazy not to take it.
And we do need it, if we are to continue and grow. We need, in particular, to get paid decently for what is extremely intense work 365 days a year. Some people I bump into ask me how we produce 240 posts a week (13,000 separate posts last year alone) or how we read the 90,000 emails we get a year. I have a simple answer: we work our asses off. And my colleagues and I deserve to be paid for it. (For the best defense of this basic principle, see Louis CK’s explanation here.) If the money doesn’t come in, we’ll have to find another way to make a living.
Equally, the more you give us, the more we will be able to do. It’s really as simple as that. The more of you who pre-subscribe the easier our transition will be; the more of you who give more than $19.99 the more ambitious we can get. We have many future projects in our head – commissioning and editing original long-form journalism is a core ambition of ours, along with a possible monthly tablet magazine called “Deep Dish” (which would both require hiring old-school editors) – and the more you give us, the faster we can evolve, mature and develop further. Throughout, we’ll be asking you what you want, and as always, airing dissent and opinion as freely as possible.
And that’s where the real pay-off begins. If this model works, we’ll have proof of principle that a small group of writers and editors can be paid directly by readers, and that an independent site, if tended to diligently, can grow an audience large enough to sustain it indefinitely.
The point of doing this as simply and as purely as possible is precisely to forge a path other smaller blogs and sites can follow. We believe in a bottom-up Internet, which allows a thousand flowers to bloom, rather than a corporate-dominated web where the promise of a free space becomes co-opted by large and powerful institutions and intrusive advertising algorithms. We want to help build a new media environment that is not solely about advertising or profit above everything, but that is dedicated first to content and quality. (And notice I’ve even finally managed to spell “advertising” right in this post.)
That’s why we have partnered with a new company, TinyPass, which shares our vision. You can read their mission statement on their website. Here it is:
Tinypass is a team of refugees from advertising, design, and banking. We came together because we believe that in this new digital world there should be more than one bookstore, more than one music store, and more than one video store.
They are providing a way for any website – from a mom and pop store to a fledgling newspaper – to get revenue from readers in the easiest and simplest way. No massive cut for Amazon when selling your book, no 30 percent to Apple for getting your music or podcast out there – just a simple meter and payment system that can be scaled at any level.
Our particular version will be a meter that will be counted every time you hit a “Read on” button to expand or contract a lengthy post. You’ll have a limited number of free read-ons a month, before we hit you up for $19.99. Everything else on the Dish will remain free. No link from another blog to us will ever be counted for the meter – so no blogger or writer need ever worry that a link to us will push their readers into a paywall. It won’t. Ever. There is no paywall. Just a freemium-based meter. We’ve tried to maximize what’s freely available, while monetizing those parts of the Dish where true Dishheads reside. The only tough love we’re offering is the answer to the View From Your Window Contest. You’ll have to become a member to find where the place is. Ha!
So it’s over to you. We’re in your hands. The meter won’t start until February 1, but you can become a member now. It takes two minutes tops. All you need is a credit card and a zip code – and you’re done. The more of you who decide to contribute more than $19.99 the deeper and richer and more ambitious a Dish we will be able to provide. We have no marketing, no ads, no corporation behind us now. We only have you.
The link is here. Join us and keep the Dish alive and ad-free here.
And change the media world just a little – for the better.
Congratulations on the move forward! I’ve already registered for a Dish membership ($25), but I’ve got one question: will RSS feeds work with the meter and the new site? That’s my primary method of delivery for all online reading, and it will be difficult to keep up reading yall without it.
Fear not – our RSS feed won’t be affected by the meter. Another:
Congratulations on the new adventure, we will definitely join the team! However, I could not figure out whether a subscription can be purchased for a couple with multiple machines or whether we need a separate account for each individual. Any info on that?
You will be able to use your username/password for multiple devices, given that many Dishheads read the blog at work and at home, as well as mobile devices. Another reader:
Please consider allowing comments in the paid site. There will be far fewer “trolls” in that environment.
No plans for a comments section, but we will put it up for a vote again in due course. In the past, readers have overwhelmingly preferred our curated reader emails rather than often raucous comments sections. One final point which may have gotten lost. There is no paywall. No one coming to the Dish home-page will ever be stopped. All links to individual posts will be outside the meter and as free after we launch as they are now. We have no intention of cutting ourselves off from the blogosphere we love and need. And vice-versa. The only meter arrives at the “Read On” posts, whose full text you have to be a member to read. And, by the way, we are currently overwhelmed by the massive response. We’ll report back as soon as we can firm up the precise numbers. But the level of support so far is pretty staggering. We can’t thank you enough. Stay tuned …
It’s an avalanche of memberships. And so far, a full third of you have given more than the $19.99 minimum, which is incredibly encouraging. We’re still at the bottom slope of the mountain for a truly sustainable base, but your response thus far, I can truthfully say, has blown us all away. We knew you were a special readership. Now you’re proving it. In a matter of a couple of hours. All we can say is thanks; and that we will work our asses off to make it worth every cent you pay us. The post explaining the move is here. And you can pre-subscribe here. We’ll get more up-to-date info on the first day’s response soon. But my basic response so far: wow.
“Unfortunately, Sullivan isn’t going away entirely. He’s too beloved by the elite left-wing media to disappear into the obscurity he deserves. As we’ve seen from left-wing journalists like Ben Smith and Dave Weigel, there’s already a push to ensure Sullivan’s success in a new venture that will likely produce more of the hysterical, out-of-control Andrew Sullivan the media finds so valuable. Now that he’ll be a total independent and beholden to no editorial oversight whatsoever, Sullivan will enjoy the room necessary to blossom even more as the media’s wicked id, the raging conspiracy theorist and bigot who attacks the Right in ways the media doesn’t dare, but still enables by propping Sullivan up,” – John Nolte, Breitbart.com. Actually, my contracts in the past all guaranteed me total editorial independence so there is no change there. And he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a pay-wall (which we won’t have) and a meter that nonetheless leaves a vast amount of the content free. But if you want to show him that this is emphatically not a site propped up by anyone except its readers, pre-subscribe here.
I have been reading you for 12 years. I would have paid you a long time ago. $19.99 is too cheap. I just sent you $100. Thanks for all of the years of excellent reading. You make me think. You have introduced me to so many other excellent writers – David Frum and Rod Dreher specifically. Congrats on this new business venture. If you can’t make it work – no one can. Happy New Year to you and your excellent team (and the dogs and Aaron).
I was waiting for you to finally ask me for money. I will say, I’ve rarely, if ever, received so much for so little. Glad to support you and your great team. Best of luck.
Easiest $100 I’ve ever spent! Consider it retroactive payment for 10 years of reading you for free without ever once clicking on an ad. I suspect you are going to be surprised at how many people choose to give more – we already know that quality of time at the Dish is higher for core readers than almost any other source, and people will always pay for that. Hell I give to NPR every year and I know I am on the Dish more often than on the radio.
I just signed up for $49.99. I wish it could be more, but, to be candid, I’m still carrying debt from Obama 2012 contributions. Living and contributing according to my means is a definite focus of the new year and beyond.
Since I found this blog several years ago, it has become part of my daily read. I don’t always agree on everything that comes out (I still don’t know the fascination about circumcision ), but I know that I’ll get honest, fair and balanced views on national events. It’s been Andrew’s marriage that helped me to be in favor of same sex marriages, where I wimped out and thought civil unions was the way to go, the essays on Obama’s first and second campaigns put me behind his candidacy, the discussions on religion made me to accept my own atheism (yeah, probably not what you wanted) and the fun of the “View from my window” contests, opened my eyes to wonderful places on this earth. This what a blog is, in my mind. Thank you so much and yes, I am going to subscribe!
Count me in for $100! As a graduate of Columbia School of Journalism back in 1982 and now an advertising agency owner in L.A., I think you’re simply the best. If I had to choose between giving up the NY Times or you, I’d probably choose you. I am a firm believer in paying for value and The Dish has been an enriching and vital part of my life for years. You are worth $19.99 and then some, so I am happy to be one of your first subscribers and happy to pay $100 for the privilege. Keep up the great work. I know you will do well. As I learned back in 1989 when I first left the big agency I worked for and went out of my own, you’re always better off cutting out the middle man and betting on yourself!
I just gave $50 to Greenwald a few days ago. I only gave you guys $30 because I’m less concerned about your viability. I was surprised you didn’t go this route sooner but I’m glad you have faith in your readers. I think one key difference between your blog and most other media outlets, particularly “old media,” is that you have all worked hard and succeeded at creating a real community vibe, and that you have done so without a comments section is a real testament. I’ve been reading since pretty much the beginning, and I do feel like I’m a contributor, however small. I would feel that way even if you never printed any of my emails. You guys not only read your emails, but you legitimately cherish the input. Dissents and varied opinions are aired, minds are changed … what a concept. I think a lot of us feel like we have a stake in this thing, so $20 is nothing, though I’m really glad you’re not cutting off the free-riders. The advertising and host-jumping never felt right to me. This feels right.
The way I think of my relationship with your site is similar to a get-together I have with a good friend of mine every two or three weeks. We meet at a local bar here in Toronto and talk about the three things that interest us: movies, American politics, and baseball. I realize baseball isn’t really your thing (although you should reconsider that – it’s a beautiful sport). Other topics come up, of course, and we don’t always agree. But the discussion is the point. The whole thing costs me almost exactly twenty bucks in beer money. (I buy, since my friend comes to my neighbourhood.) If I get the Dish for an entire year for the same amount for a whole year -well, that seems like a steal to me. Now if you could only supply the beer.
First, $20 a year is hugely reasonable. I think I pay $80 a year for New Yorker, $120 a year for the NYT as part of a student deal, and £140 a year for the Guardian (I’m British), all on iPad. However much I worry about my ever increasing media diet (both in terms of cost and size), adding The Dish at that price is a steal. Second, I think it’s worth saying that, if anything, I think paying for content makes it better as an experience, in every sense. When I’ve invested in journalism, I feel I’ve done my bit to sustain this vital industry that I’d never want to see crumble. And it also makes me more attentive, more inclined to spend time reading what I should. I can only assume other Dish heads will feel similarly. Oh, and if there’s any way to bind a digital community even more tightly together, this is it. Fret not. It’s going to work.
We certainly hope so. Join us and keep the Dish alive and ad-free here. A lot more reader feedback to come. We are simply overwhelmed with email but pledge to read every single one eventually. (Context for the top illustration here and here. More Dish explained here and here)
Though Sullivan concedes that “no one really knows” whether or not online readers will pay for a blogger’s content, others (like Glenn Beck) have proven that it is at least possible to make money from online subscriptions. Say what you will about his politics, as a blogger, Sullivan is a visionary. And by maintaining his own brand — and “ownership” of his blog — he has proven that he is a free agent, capable of moving from outlet to outlet without losing his audience. If anyone can pull it off, it might be Sullivan.
Longtime readers know that Andrew and I have argued and fallen out over various issues over the years, and have agreed on some of them as well. The thing about Andrew’s blog is that even when it drives me crazy, I keep reading it. I have to. I want to. He and his team are scooping up stories and information that means something to me. I don’t care about pot, and I don’t care about Obama love, and I don’t care about the evolution of gay culture — three of Sully’s big themes. I think Sully is often unfair to his enemies, especially the Pope. What I do care about is the broader cultural coverage the Dish team aggregates, which has for years given me lots to think about, and, of course, to blog about. And what I do care about is reading opinion journalism that engages me and makes me argue with it, even when it ticks me off. I love The Dish sometimes, I hate it other times, but above all, I read it, several times a day. With so many sites out there clamoring for one’s attention, that’s quite an accomplishment. Therefore, I’m happy to support them financially, and to invest in a journalism model that means something to me personally. I encourage you to do the same.
Let me say that I will never, never, never forgive Andrew Sullivan for what he hired Charles Murray to do to the New Republic–or, for that matter, for any other of his manifold sins against the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, he and his myrmidons are always worth reading, and definitely worth funding now that they go Full Utopian on us.
Mistermix compares our new business model to others in the industry:
This is a variant of the subscription model other sites like the Times and Gannett papers are using, except that it sounds like a lot of the Dish content will always be free. In practice, those subscription models end up looking a lot like public radio or TV – it’s pretty easy to get the content for free even after you’ve reached a limit, so “subscribers” tend to be voluntary. Sully has a huge readership, so I assume that enough people will pony up $19.99 a year to pay for him and his two under bloggers, and his site will still get a lot of hits since you can still view a lot of the content without a subscription. He won’t be hosting ads on the site, which is an indicator of just how badly the Internet ad market is cratering.
Just on a factual note, the Dish has seven employees (five staffers and two paid interns), not just three, so the budget is a challenge, but the rest of the paragraph is largely correct. Steven Taylor probably won’t subscribe:
Sullivan has been at the forefront of blogging since the beginning, so I will be curious to see how this plays out, although I am unlikely to be a subscriber, given that I have more free content to read now than I have time for (which is the biggest threat to this model to begin with).
Drum worries that “as free access gets rarer, blogging is going to get harder”:
[T]his is a trend that’s a real problem for blogging. I currently subscribe to three newspapers: the LA Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. This costs me over a thousand dollars a year, but I need to have access to all these sites to do my job decently. But as more and more media sites start erecting paywalls, I simply won’t be able to afford to keep up all the subscriptions. Andrew’s 20 bucks a year is obviously fairly small change compared to subscription fees from big media operations, but as more and more sites go down this path, my choices are going to get harder and harder.
To be sure, clicking through for nothing is a different kettle of fish than being a paying customer. At least in the early going, though, a lot of people will sign up out of sheer loyalty for past services rendered. Hell, I did that for Josh Marshall’s site at a substantially higher price and most of its content is still free; I’ll almost certainly do it for Sullivan. Still, off the top of my head, I figure they’ll need at least $500,000 a year to cover salary and basic operating costs. That’s 25,000 $19.99 subscriptions.
I can’t disagree on the math. And as the numbers come in, we’re on our way. We’ll report on the day’s results when we have more data. But the trend is pretty amazing. Keep it going by pre-subscribing here.
“Please consider allowing comments in the paid site.” NO! NEVER! PLEASE! In general, I HATE comment sections; they so often turn into cesspools, despite everyone’s good intentions. But your “curated comment section” is one of the best things about your blog. I’ve already signed up for the paid site, but if I get wind that there will be an open comment section, I’ll probably try to get my money back.
Another reader reminds us that “if people want comments, they can go to the Dish Facebook page and comment there till their heart’s content – and I don’t have to see it.” Another:
Delighted to see you striking out on your own. I think it’s high time. I pay for the NYT, the FT, and the Economist, and I think your move is another signal of the quality differentiating itself. I wouldn’t pay for just any newspaper, and I wouldn’t pay for just any blog. But you’ve set yourself apart. That begs a separate question, though. If we give enough, would you all consider setting aside the resources to build dedicated apps/web apps for your subscribers? I’d love to have a clean, specially designed iPhone/iPad interface, and with the web apps the NYT and FT are now using, you wouldn’t need to go through Apple (and for that matter, you could probably do a pretty easy port to Android).
Apps – or at least a customized mobile version for the home-page – are definitely forthcoming, once we get our footing with the new Dish. Another reader:
Have you ever thought of a limited merchandise offering? I can’t be the only one who’d love to have an official DishHead teeshirt or ball cap. It would be fun to recognize each other at the local coffee shop.
Merchandise is very much on our radar. Back in December 2010 we launched some limited edition t-shirts (the ones featured in our staff photo). We are holding off on any subsequent merch until we have stabilized with the new transition, but stay tuned. Another reader dissents:
If you are going to start off on your own, start off right. Don’t go for that $19.99 crap; be honest and direct and ask for $20.00. I have just finished law school and have to last until I can take the bar in February. My only income is some money from my Dad; I have to make my savings last. I don’t even pay for the local Sacramento Bee, but I sent in my twenty and wish you the best.
We are immensely grateful. Join him in subscribing to an independent, ad-free Dish here.
Back in December 2011, we posted the Urtak survey seen above as a quick and easy way to get a better sense of you, the typical Dish reader. We first brainstormed questions we’d like most to know about you, and then we allowed you to brainstorm and add your own questions – and answer them. The reaction to the reader-driven survey was overwhelming – responses nearly eclipsed the 1.5 million mark. If you didn’t respond to the questions at the time, or think you may have missed some added by readers, go ahead and click through the quick and easy Yes/No questions above. Analyze the results of the survey here. Some cross-tabs from the Urtak blog:
[Andrew Sullivan's] readers under the age of 35 are less likely to have cried in response to a Dish post. Cold-hearted youth!
His married readers would be less interested in attending an annual conference of Dish readers.
His Jewish readers are almost three times more likely than their gentile counterparts to have attended Ivy League colleges.
I was shocked to find out that FIFTY percent of your readers who took your poll were atheists like me. I’ve always respected your Catholicism and read every word of your debate with Sam Harris years ago, but I think that this is living proof that there are a lot of nameless, faceless, intelligent skeptics out there – many of whom are aligned with you on most other important issues. I think it just goes to show how independent and anomalous you are.
Well, that’s a nice way to put it. Another writes:
I suspect you already knew the rough answer to this question, but it still must be jarring to see that 78% of Dish readers answered yes when asked “do you consider yourself a liberal?” while only 9% answered yes when asked “do you consider yourself a political conservative?” As you know, I’m one of those liberals, tried and true. I think people like me read The Dish because we’re craving an actual intelligent, well-reasoned political opponent. A point of view based in reality but skeptical of liberal political thought. We want to have real political arguments, but they’re impossible to have with know-nothing movement conservatives. The Dish is where we come to grapple with the patriotic, intelligent, small-c conservative, loyal opposition we wish we could get from the GOP.
Holy cats, Andrew. The survey of your readership is an eye-opener in many ways, but my greatest take-away from the results so far is: I am one of only 22% of your readers who is female, and the rest of your readership appears to be largely comprised of straight men around my age, a good percentage of whom are unmarried, non-religious, liberal, and voted for Obama. And many of them have dogs!
You’re damn straight I’d come to that annual gathering …
Explore the data for yourself here. Thanks again to all our readers who took a few minutes to answer and submit questions. The most original submission among them:
Would you pay to see Andrew shave his beard live on The Dish with proceeds going to “cure” Marcus Bachmann?
There’s a really beautiful letter that a newspaper journalist named Bruce Bliven wrote in 1923 to his editor. It was about how the circulation manager had taken over the newspaper, deciding what went on the front page. Today, search engine optimisation is the “circulation management” of the internet. It doesn’t put the reader’s best interests first – it turns them into a sellable eyeball, and sells that to advertisers. As soon as you begin to treat your stakeholder as a bargaining chip, you’re not interested in broadening their intellectual horizons or bettering their life. I don’t believe in this model of making people into currency. You become accountable to advertisers, rather than your reader.
Heh. But it’s not a paywall. To reiterate: No one coming to the Dish home-page will ever be stopped. All links to individual posts will be outside the meter and as free after we launch as they are now. The only meter arrives at the “Read On” posts, whose full text you have to be a member to read. Even non-members will be able to read a certain number of “Read On” posts a month, free and in full. Dish alum Zack reiterates something else for us:
In 19 years of heavy Internet use, I have never – not once – paid money for original written online content. Until now.
My partner always jokes that we don’t pay for anything except food and our mortgage because I pirate everything else – movies, magazines, music, e-books. But you hooked me this time. I subscribed and did so happily.
Another isn’t onboard:
I’m a reader since 2003 who won’t be paying. I realize 20 dollars a year is not much. To me it’s the principle. For better or worse I like my Internet free. Friends come and go. I’ll miss you but with so many other free sites available that void shall be filled elsewhere. Best of luck.
A reminder to our reader and others that the vast majority of Dish content will remain free to non-members. Another is less torn:
So, wait … Andrew moves to New York City, complains about both the cost and the environment for weeks and now wants to charge readers to subsidize him and his staff living in Manhattan? Surely the same talent could be had in DC?
I probably will join, though. I do think it’s a shame that information and good public discussion is shifting into a “pay-to-play” operation. When I was in college, most news outlets were completely free and I got such a great variety of different perspectives, helping me form a worldview. With individual accounts to pay for each of these voices, it’s going to price a lot of people out of the market.
Another tough sell:
I’ve been thinking about whether or not I want to subscribe all day, and, right now, I have to say that it’s a no. Your blog is compelling, but there are many compelling blogs out there. I don’t feel that you ever truly atoned for Betsy McCaughey, and that’s pretty hard to ignore.
People can make decisions about this based on whatever they like. But I hope the criterion is not some sin I have committed in the past or some outrageously dumb thing I will inevitably say in the future. Those can either not be undone or are integral to this blog. Another:
I was pissed when I first saw that you would charge for content. I’m 100% sure there’s a way around it – I’ve gotten around pretty much every paywall on the Internet. So why treat your future one differently? Well, firstly, I knew an intern of yours from last year and I knew that he was treated fantastically well. This seemed encouraging. But more importantly, I’ve been a Dish-head for years. I’m probably to the far-left of most readers, and I’m constantly telling my Republican family that if they want to make intelligent right-of-center arguments, to read your blog. I don’t particularly like a lot of your politics, but I respect the hell out of them, 98% of the time anyway.
Next, I’ve had letters put on the blog twice. It was really cool to feel like a part of the team, if only for a fleeting second. A highlight of my week, both times. But lastly, the real conundrum, if not for very long, is the cost. I’m working for a year, in the middle of law school, so I can pay for my last year of law school. I’ll graduate with $180K in student loans. I’ve pretty much maxed out my credit, came up $8000 short for this year, and am literally saving every penny I can, because damnit, I’m going to be an awesome lawyer.
But even as I say ‘no’ every time friends or coworkers ask me to go out for drinks or dinner or a movie, I go home and read The Dish. I read many of the linked articles, too. I watch the videos. It’s most of my entertainment and intellectual life right now. I spend WAY more than that average 17 minutes on the website every day. So what’s it worth to me? A lot more than $20. But that’s what I gave (sorry, I promise for more when I get a fancy career somewhere!) and I hope my little portion helps keep the blog afloat.
I just purchased your $19.99 pass. What I’m most excited about is your decision not to rely on advertising to supplement the subscription income.
I might have bought a pass anyways, since I’m a regular reader and want to support both your work and the decentralization of media, but to me the decision to eschew advertising is the really exciting idea. The standard line about this is that if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product. I know that’s simplistic, but I think that being forced to cater to advertisers has all sorts of pernicious effects on privacy, framing, content, and even choices about coverage, and I am eager to see if moving away from that model has some unexpected positive side effects.
Congrats on the new model, I’m here to help. I signed up for $20.13 this year. Next year it will be $20.14, $20.15 in 2015, etc. That way, your income will rise with inflation, assuming of course inflation is only around 0.05%. Good luck.
Before I signing up, how much side boob will be featured on the new Dish?
Sorry, only side beard here. Another:
I laughed when I read the poll question, “Have you gotten your parents to start reading The Dish?” Not long after you began blogging, I got my then-13-year-old daughter to start reading The Dish. (She’s 24 now, and still a fan.) I also make it a point to mention your blog to my 50something peers; when I find a fellow Dishhead, it’s a real treat.
I was delighted to read your news, I’ve sent in my subscription (plus a little extra for all the wonderful hours of reading you’ve given me), and wish you many more years of mind-expanding, sometimes exasperating but always interesting (except for the beards), blogging.
Thank you for not making it $0.99 for the first four weeks and then some hard-to-find amount automatically billed thereafter. I rewarded you a bonus $5.01 just for that. If only the NY Times would treat me so well.
I have a deeply personal connection to the Dish. This past year I went through a painful divorce that involved sorting out custody for our two kids, setting up a new home, and upending the life I’ve built over the last 14 years. Hands down the worst year of my life. Throughout the year, one of the few daily constants has been the Dish. It’s something I turn to every morning when I wake up alone. I feel like I’m part of a community in a way I don’t as a reader of the NYT or New Yorker – even though I’m a silent reader who has never solved a VFYW content. Thank you and the entire Dish staff for everything. I look forward to many, many more years.
I’ll be subscribing tonight on the home computer (I’m still “old fashioned” that way). The early rabid passion of Dish-heads will likely lead to many purchases above the $19.99 price, but it’s important to note that this isn’t a sustainable model. In fact, early comments you’ve posted indicate that people are paying up for ten years when they’ve received the Dish for free. Well, that won’t apply next year.
Here’s a thought: the photo of you and the staff celebrating your independence featured you all in the great Dish t-shirts. Take a page from NPR – for a subscription of $50 (you pick the level), you get a Dish t-shirt as well. You can also think about this along the lines of rock music – many musicians look to break even on the concert tickets, and make their money on merchandise. Certainly you could think of other level-based incentives once the initial first year rush to support the subscription model fades.
Earlier feedback here. A lot more to come. To be a part of an independent, ad-free Dish, go here and subscribe. We are incredibly grateful for your support.
Unlike Mr Morgan (prove him wrong by pre-subscribing here), Felix Salmon likes our new economic model. From his conclusion:
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.
Basically, we’ve gotten a third of a million dollars in 24 hours, with close to 12,000 paid subscribers (at last count). On average, readers paid almost $8 more than we asked for. To say we’re thrilled would obscure the depth of our gratitude and relief.
More details below. All of the graphics can be enlarged by clicking on them. The number of subscribers and the total revenue that has come in as of 1:15 pm ET today (credit card and Tinypass fees take a small bite out of the revenue number) is below:
The next graphic breaks down subscription revenue by price paid and shows the number of subscriptions at that price. This includes only the 10 prices that have brought in the most revenue:
The number of subscriptions in each country:
Go Canada and Britain! The number of subscriptions in each state:
If our goal was an annual income of somewhere around $900K (we erred on the safe side), we have gotten a third of the way there in 24 hours, which is why we’re all somewhat gob-smacked. We feared it would take far longer for us to get that kind of support. Total number of paid subscribers? Almost 12,000 right now. That’s still only 1 percent of our total monthly readership – so we have plenty of room to talk more of you into subscribing before the meter hits. And the current number is misleading because of that. We really won’t know how effective this is going to be until we actually have the meter in place. That’s the only true measurement of how many readers will eventually pay to read the Dish.
But as a kick-off, this has been, well, words fail. We don’t know how to thank you enough. Except to work harder than ever to make the Dish everything it can be in the future.
If you’ve held off so far, please think about giving it a go. We’re still in the foothills of the mountain we need to climb. At the basic price, it’s around a nickel a day. Simply as an experiment in figuring out how to make journalism work in the new media world, it’s a pretty good investment. In return, we’ll stay as transparent as we can (this post is a downpayment) – and answer only to you.
Pre-subscribe here. My explanation of the move is here. And, er, you rock. But we knew that already.
Jeff Bercovici reports that The Atlantic is also exploring a meter for its digital content:
“Paid content is going to be a big area of focus for us,” says Scott Havens, The Atlantic’s president. Havens is in the process of putting together a “paid content SWAT team” whose brief will include everything from overhauling The Atlantic’s tablet products to experimenting with a metered pay wall like the one The New York Times implemented two years ago. “It’s not definitely happening, but it’s definitely part of the mix,” Havens says of the metered model. “We’re watching what’s going on out there, and I think the conditions are right for experimentation.”
Dean Starkman cautions that the Dish’s new business model “may not be as much of a bellwether as you might think, or hope”:
To a certain extent, Sullivan and his crew are, if not sui generis, an anomaly on the Web—one of only a handful of established bloggers able to draw what amounts to a mass audience, month after month, year after year. InThe Myth of Digital Democracy, published in 2009, Matthew Hindman assembles the data to show that, for a number of technical and cultural reasons, a small number of bloggers—and Sullivan was one of those singled out—dominate traffic heading to politically oriented sites. A lot of traffic goes to a few sites, while the vast majority gets very little. Hindman calls this the “missing middle.”
I addressed this line of argument in an interview with Techcrunch:
Asked whether this approach can be replicated by other, less well-known bloggers, [Sullivan] said, “Well, we don’t know if it’s even going to work for us yet, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” After all, low six-figure revenue isn’t enough to sustain even a year of the Dish. At the same time, he said that smaller blogs that are “just one person blogging out of a room” will have lower costs.
“If you get rid of all the overhead … I think it is scalable with a smaller blog,” he said. “I don’t see why not.”
Just a simple point: Jay Rosen grasps and explains better than I could the reasoning and hope of “mutualized journalism.” Here is how Alan Rusbridger defines it:
This open and collaborative future for journalism – I have tried the
word “mutualised” to describe something of the flavour of the
relationship this new journalism has with our readers and sources and
advertisers – is already looking different from the journalism that went
before. The more we can involve others the more they will be engaged
participants in the future, rather than observers or, worse, former
readers. That’s not theory. It’s working now.
Indeed it is. It pretty much sums up the inchoate thing we all have been developing on this page for a decade or more. Rusbridger adds:
And, yes, we’ll charge for some of this – as we have in the past – while
keeping the majority of it open. My commercial colleagues at the
Guardian firmly believe that our mutualised approach is opening up
options for making money, not closing them down.
Exactly our intention: everything you see on the Dish will remain free if you never press a Read On button. You will be able to link to any post with no meter counting. But the deep dish experience will be paid for by the core Dishheads. My fuller explanation of the move is here.
I read with interest the statistics regarding sign-ups by country and state. When I saw Arizona, though, I was surprised, because I had subscribed yesterday evening and I live in Goodyear, AZ. (Our zip is 85395, in case you’re looking for it.) Perhaps it’s just that the statistics were captured before I signed up. So, even though Arizona is pretty hopeless in its politics, there are a few of us here who appreciate your point of view and this Arizonan is proud to be a Dishhead.
PLEASE, PLEASE let us know if we are the first subscribers in Arizona! Can we be the only Dishheads in the state?
Not nearly so, since more than two dozen Arizonans wrote the Dish to announce their formal support. According to the most recent data, we have 181 subscribers in Arizona. The subscriber numbers on the world and state maps were added manually. In our rush to get the statistics up as soon as possible, subscribers in The Grand Canyon State must have inadvertently been left off the map. But the error had at least one good effect:
I’ve been putting off buying my membership, but the empty space on the enrollment map over my home state of Arizona moved me to action. If there’s a “1” over it now, that’s me.
In fact, four other readers emailed to say the same thing. Join them in subscribing to the new Dish here.
(Modified Dish subscriber chart from The Atlantic Wire)
Whether or not the phrase “personal brand” grosses you out, it’s something any journalist who wants to be employed in another 10 years should be thinking about. Having a direct, dedicated following—a readership invested in you, not just the publication you’re primarily associated with—is like a career insurance policy. While there are many fine journalists who never bring even the lightest detail about their personal lives into their professional narrative—no tweets about their kids, no first-person anecdotal ledes, no opinion-tinged asides in reported features—they are an increasingly small group. I cringe every time I read a New York Times story in which the reporter awkwardly refers to herself as “a visitor.” Really? You can’t just say “provided me with directions to her Craftsman bungalow”? Please. …
[J]ournalists were always a part of the story. Why not just own up to the fact that three-dimensional humans are doing this work?
All of the posts in the Dish Model thread can be read here. A reader sent the above photo:
My mother-in-law, after years of me talking about “Andrew” and her asking “Who?” and me responding “My favorite blogger”, got the jump on you re: Dish merch. I received a one-of-a-kind coffee mug for Christmas, replete with your face on it (courtesy of the George Stephanopoulos show).
Of course the Dish has grown to be much bigger than one blogger – four other staffers, two paid interns (new ones started this week: Doug Allen and Brendan James), a poetry savant and a million-strong readership, which provides about a third of our content.
And as of this post, as I write, we passed the $400K mark. That’s $400K in 48 hours. “Thanks” seems like such a puny response. But you’ve offered us a serious challenge. We’ll do all we can to meet it.
(Bonus coverage of the move in Italy’s La Reppublicahere and the UK’s Guardianhere.)
Amen to the reader whose comment you posted saying you should make it 20 bucks, not $19.99. I had already sent in my $20 contribution when I read the comment. Being a quantitatively literate person, I hate that .99 stuff. It’s a way to try to fool people, and that is exactly the opposite of the honesty that has attracted me to your site over the years (I’ve been reading you since almost the very beginning). And it is inefficient: it takes much longer to say and write 19.99 than 20. I would be happy to see us abolish the penny and even happier if every merchant and gas station in the country would stop with their ridiculous .99s and just round up to the next dollar. Truth in advertising.
That’s a good point. I wonder if there’s strong evidence that using the whole .99 thing works. And by “work”, I simply mean brings in more money than all those extra pennies put together. Is it a myth? Or is it real? We’re happy to adjust, but figure Dishheads will know the answer to this empirical issue beforehand. Anyone?
I wish him well with it, but I also hope no one else tries too hard. (Note by the way that Sullivan will allow a free RSS feed, with complete posts, and free links from other blogs, so this is hardly a full gate.) In the limiting case, imagine a blogosphere where everything is gated for some price. What could we at [Marginal Revolution] link to?
$19.99 is a pittance. But if I give Andrew Sullivan his due, who else should I “tip.” How about Tyler Cowen? Or Maria Popova? I consume more of Tyler’s content directly than Andrew’s, and Maria’s even more indirectly and in a diffuse fashion. In terms of media consumption I’m currently a subscriber to The New York Times, contribute to Wikipedia, try and support bloggers who I read and have fund drives, and also have a Netflix account. This isn’t much. But it starts to add up. The content universe of the internet is vast for the infovore, especially for one who relies a great deal on intermediating technologies to sift and filter the stream of content.
But this was always the case with old media. You paid for your New Yorker and New Republic and Wired and the Economist. And we paid more, relatively speaking, for each – because we were also paying for paper, print and physical distribution. Dan Gilmor proposes one possible solution:
One thing I’d bet on is alliances among bloggers where we can pay a lot less for a grab-bag of sites, on the theory that many more people will be willing to join that way, creating win-win-win situations. Again – and I can’t use this word enough – the more experimenting and innovation the better.
[I]f subscription models succeed, I’d expect them to evolve in the direction of big bundles. That might be because there are eight or nine giant content conglomerates selling subscriptions. Or it might be because of cross-marketing deals. Either way you’d get something that looks less like “the Internet” as we know it today and more like the adjacent series of walled gardens that CompuServe, Prodigy, AOL, etc. originally promoted as the vision of online existence.
At the Dish, we are not so much proud of our agnosticism as resigned to it. We do not know what the future will bring. What I do know is that this medium is still very young, in the grand scheme of things, and that the only way to survive is to experiment in line with what the web seems to be telling us it wants. That last thing is a little hard to gauge precisely: it’s hitting a moving target as you are in transit as well. Which is why innovating this medium is as much art as science – and full of wrong turns and surprises. After a while, you relax and enjoy the ride. But I have to admit I was really anxious this past week; last night, as some of it sunk in, I couldn’t sleep at all. One hour in the end. So I may be crashing soon …
PM Carpenter argues that being completely reliant on subscribers may restrict the Dish’s editorial freedom:
Just know that with every strong opinion you write, you’ll be risking half of your readership, and therefore, potentially, half of your subscription base. And when finances get tight, the temptation to retract one’s opinionated claws might become irresistible. In short, you may find that corporate-free editorializing is far more tyrannical than being free from corporations might seem.
This has occurred to me. I lost a third of my readers in 2003 when I turned against the Iraq war. But somehow I think my lack of a filter is not related to its potential impact on my life, career or income. So I’ll trust my own psychological tic. I wish it were an act of moral courage. But it’s just who I am. And if you think I have no filter, you should meet my mother.
Conor Friedersdorf, a Dish alum, understands that strength is you:
I finally saw the readerinbox in all its glory while guest blogging for Sullivan as he vacationed. It’s a gig I did several times, all of them while The Dish was hosted here at The Atlantic. I’ve never received so much delightful correspondence. The Dish readership is massive, highly educated, ideologically diverse, employed in a stunning array of fields, and spread out across the world. Of course, those same attributes characterize the readership here at The Atlantic, and I’ve gotten tons of wonderful emails in the course of my current job, but something about the blogger’s personal, informal tone inspires correspondence of a different character. Compare the comments on the average item here at The Atlantic with the loyal readers Ta-Nehisi Coates has cultivated in the comments section of his blog, where it’s more like an intimate community.
Alex Massie, who has also guest-blogged on the Dish, bets that “many bloggers could perhaps raise more money from an annual ‘pledge week’ than they suspect”:
Not enough to compensate them for all their time but enough to make a difference. I think – actually, I just hope – that some goodly proportion of readers (at whatever “level” you’re at) appreciate that, at some point, not everything can be free and that even “amateurs” catering to small or specialist audiences merit some compensation for the enjoyment they provide.
(Photos from Dish readers’ Gmail profiles, used with permission. Become a founding member of an independent, ad-free Dish here.)
We promised to keep you informed about progress. Over the weekend, we passed the critical, symbolic figure of $420,000. At last count this afternoon, we’re at $440,000 in pre-subscriptions. That’s a staggering number in less than a week.
It has died down, of course, after an initial rush. But we know there are serious Dish-lovers out there reading this who have not yet subscribed. We’re only half-way up our fiscal cliff for the year – so we still badly need your support. If you want to keep this blog alive and well and making trouble for the indefinite future, you can get your pre-subscription here. My post explaining the whole ad-free, reader-based model is here.
Become a member for only a nickel a day in under two minutes here.
Noah Millman, who wishes us well on our new venture, contemplates the economics of the web:
[N]one of Sullivan’s revenue will downstream to the content-creators on whom he depends. And that remains the essential business-model problem of the written word in the age of the internet. Newspapers were vertically-integrated: the same organization produced the content, aggregated it, and delivered it. But in the age of the internet, the delivery mechanism and editorial function have been disaggregated from content-production. You get access to the internet from a utility company like Verizon that does not own and is not responsible for providing content. And you find what you want using an advertising-supported search engine like Google that similarly does not own and is not responsible for producing content. Or through a reliable aggregator like Andrew Sullivan, who also does not own or pay for most of the content he steers people towards. These business models depend on content-generation for their own viability, but they aren’t primarily responsible for content-generation.
It’s easy to see how things could be structured differently. Aggregators could downstream a fraction of their advertising or subscription revenue to producers of content that was clicked through to. But it’s not obvious what would motivate these entities to adopt such a model, there being no actual shortage of content. And there will never be a shortage of content, because there is a large enough group of people who will do this for fun, whether or not it is profitable.
All questions we are closely considering as we go along. More on this soon. Freddie DeBoer, for his part, focuses on the Dish’s endless search for new online voices:
I literally started this blog at a public library, here on Blogger’s free platform using Blogger’s free server space, with no connections in media or journalism or commentary, no published work, and seemingly no entrance into the Byzantine and cliquish world of professional media. I had little thought of anyone reading this blog. But within two weeks or so of starting it, Andrew Sullivan had linked to one of my pieces, and from their came far more clicks, links, and attention. My readership is small, but it is committed, and while I am terrible at communicating with people who thank me for my work, their support means everything.
This is still an amateur blog, one for which I have never received a dime, although I have had people buy me books from my Amazon wish list, for which I’m immensely grateful. That amateur status suits me fine, both pragmatically and theoretically. But to be in the conversation, to have the ability to weigh in and be listened to– that’s a blessing, and I owe it to Andrew and his deep commitment to equality on the level of ideas. Whatever disagreements I may have with Andrew or with the Dish as an entity, his fierce commitment to looking anywhere and everywhere for fresh voices, quality writing, and provocative opinions is a profound credit to him. When it comes to writing, he is truly an egalitarian. More than anything, that commitment, and the workload it requires, will be his enduring legacy. I can only thank him and his staff and wish them all the best.
You can read Freddie on a regular basis at L’Hôte, his excellent little blog. Update via email from Patrick O’Connor, whose tweet is embedded above:
FWIW that tweet was made within moments of reading about the plan at Huff Puff before they corrected their story saying the rate would be $19.95 a month, not $19.99 a year. So I retweeted “never mind” soon after. After learning the correct (and very reasonable) amount to be charged, I regretted the flippancy of tweet’s “huh?” I have great admiration for what you all do.
By the way, I don’t know if any of you are Californians, but a dear member of the California Public Broadcast community passed away today at 67. His name was Huell Howser. Everyone I know is very upset at his passing. He was like Fred Rogers for grown ups. His programs on every facet of California life are treasures. His format was simple. No crew for his shoots. There was a hand-held cameraman. Huell was his own sound man, holding a microphone. He would travel thoughout the state, stopping wherever appealed to his fancy to interview the locals. It was as close to blogging as you could do on television.
You seem to be soliciting opinions, so I’d get rid of the .99 if I were you and just make it $20. I think the .99 makes the whole thing seem sorta cheap. Your audience is much better than that (although I did appreciate humor in the $9,999.99 donation).
Another is more blunt:
The .99 cents business has always struck me as plain and simple bullshit that I always round it out to the dollar amount. Anyone who is taken in by $19.99 rather than $20.00 is a fool.
Myself, I dislike the .99 pricing (and the 9/10 cent on gasoline is the most stupid variant) and I suspect you would not see a significant variation. The place where .99 pricing comes into play is when you have direct competition to whom you haver to price match. That’s not the case with The Dish … yet.
99-cent pricing for smaller ticket items can work, because people look at the left numbers of the price more than the right. But this effect can backfire by making items seem cheap. Nice things are usually priced in whole dollars. In other words, it’s gimmicky, may increase sales among value shoppers, but may make your product seem cheap to non-value shoppers. (I looked to see if I could find something backing up my memory, and found this article in Science Daily.) So I’d change your asking price to $20 if I were you. Your product is not cheap and you’re not marketing to people who need to you to use a psychological trick to get them to pony up! (I subscribed yesterday!)
More reader feedback and empirical evidence on pricing below:
I’m a new reader of The Dish (which I found out about from stories about your new subscription model), and I don’t see how to comment on a Dish post directly on the website, or I would have done that. But in response to your post about “that .99 stuff”, Wikipedia calls it “psychological pricing” and references some research on it. It’s hard to get a sense for the research from the Wikpedia article, but it sounds like one of the studies found that psychological pricing is effective.
But personally I adhor it; and if I subscribe to your new site, which I am strongly considering, I will donate an extra penny just to be able to pay $20!
Another with first-hand experience elaborates on “psychological pricing”:
I have been in the marketing and advertising field since 1996 and before that studied microeconomics which leads me to this perspective. Most consumers will ignore the .99 part of the price and round down to $19 subconsciously. This means for the cost of charging $0.01 less than $20, you are gaining $0.99 – a 99:1 return on investment one penny at a time! This is why you typically see pricing always end with 95 or 99 – especially in tight margin businesses.
This type of approach plays on the psychology of the consumer and works best when you know the exact price at when a consumer is no longer willing to purchase. In this scenario, your $19.99 price assumes that $20 is too high for your consumer and therefore you need to send the signal to the consumer that the price is not $20.
If $20 is the efficient threshold at which consumers will not pay for a subscription, charging $19 vs. $19.99 will probably lead to statistically insignificant differences in signup levels; whereas the $0.01 difference between $20 vs. $19.99 would. If this was academic, and not your livelihood, we could run an experiment where consumers who go to the signup page see either $20, $19.99 or $19 as the price and then measure if there is a statistically significant difference in signup rate. Many ecommerce sites are now using this type of testing to ensure that they are charging the most efficient pricing at any given point.
Anecdotally, I consulted for one wine retailer in particular whose owner swore by the .99, so much so that when he overheard me tell a prospective buyer “It’s $25 per bottle,” he blew a gasket and upbraided me right then & there. Thankfully, a regular was nearby, walked over and said to the owner, “Come on, man. Nobody actually believes they’re getting a deal because of a penny.” And that’s why I gave you $25 even!
The illusion, Schindler says, isn’t the last number on the price tag. It’s the first number. “People focus more on the left-most digit,” says Schindler, who reviewed about 100 different studies in performing his meta-analysis. “Just-below pricing certainly makes it seem like the price is less than it actually is. It gives an image of being a bargain or a discount.”
Another cites a countertuitive finding we’ve noted before:
At least one study published in 2003 by two economists from MIT and University of Chicago showing that not only does an item priced at $39 sell much more than the same item priced at $40 (and by much more than needed to offset the extra dollar not made), but that the same item priced at $39 actually sells more than if priced at $34, because we’re psychologically disposed to think the one ending in 9 is a better deal.
Of course .99 works. We all know that. Even companies such as Saturn (“A different kind of car company”) with its one-price-for-everyone model, and Apple (“Think different”) could not bring themselves to drop the .99 from their pricing.
The next trend, I fear: My local “99 cents” store (I’m in Berkeley, CA) prices everything at “99.99 cents”. Yes, you read that correctly. They know their name gives them an edge over the abundance of “dollar stores” out there, but they still charge you a dollar (rounded up)! You would need to buy 100 items ($99.99) in order to get a penny back in change. Does the Dish really want to join this crass, deceptive culture? Make the Dish an even 20.
Personally, I prefer the straightforward $20 to the sneaky $19.99, but perhaps you could set up your own experiment: randomly display either a $19.99 price or a $20 price when visitors load this page and record what percentage of visitors actually donate.
By the way, your map of purchases by location brought to mind a recent comment (which I would attribute to its author if I could remember where I read it) that most heat maps (the technical term for this type of graphical display) are really just population density maps. In other words,it’s no wonder that NY and CA are the most darkly shaded states. Perhaps shading according to donations per capita might reveal more salient information.
To close, let me thank you for going to a metered model rather than throwing up a paywall. I resent paywalls enough that I would not have subscribed under that model. But given that your model feels more like a donation or a tip jar, I’ll be sending in $20.00 the next time I have a positive PayPal balance.
If you are interested in joining that reader in subscribing to the independent, ad-free Dish, go here. And thanks to everyone for the great feedback, please keep it coming.
A handful of readers differ from the previous ones who protested the .99 pricing:
I’ll tell you right now, it works for me. And I like it. Even at the dollar level: I feel better paying $199 for something than I do $200. I’m not tricked into thinking I’m somehow paying less than I am, but at some emotional level I mind parting with the money less when it’s presented to me in that way. So perhaps I *am* being tricked, but I like it.
I, for one, think the $19.99 pricing was sheer genius. I mean, look at all of the folks who have paid more for a Dish subscription. That kind of pricing just begs someone to throw in a bit more. I paid $25. (I think that’s what I gave Obama – multiple times.)
To all those who want to pay $20 rather than $19.99:
Shortly before my mother died in 2006 at the age of 83, I witnessed her arguing with a checkout person about two pennies’ difference in the price of a single item. I remember becoming somewhat embarrassed for holding up the rather long line. In the end, my mother prevailed. On reflection now, isn’t that how the Depression-era kids built a strong country? And we boomers are squandering the whole thing, penny by penny. I think you should stick with the 99 cents meme.
You’ll notice that most really high end restaurants are priced with round dollars (in fact, if they want to look even more premium and their menu designer is worth his salt, they’ll drop the .00 ending altogether), while value restaurants like diners are more likely to use the .99. This concept applies across most industries. So I guess you gotta choose how you want people to perceive your product. Is your product a bang for your buck? Or are you a premium brand?
For me, the psychological difference between $19.99 and $20 is all about the relationship between the buyer and seller. If I’m giving money to a real person that I know, I’m going to give $20. $19.99 is more like some sort of “easy payment” I send to some faceless company. As a reader of your blog, I feel like I know you, so it’d be awkward to do $19.99. Louis CK is also someone I feel that I know through his work, so paying $5 instead of $4.99 for his latest album makes sense, and in some way makes the transaction feel a bit more personal.
The link to pay $19.99, 20 bucks, or more for an independent, ad-free Dish is here. The whole staff is working overtime to roll out the new site by February 1st.
(Chart from TinyPass. Statistics current as of 5 pm Sunday.)
According to at least one study on the penny (pdf), the true purpose of having prices end in .99 is not to “trick” consumers into believing that an item costs less than it really does. Rather, stores use these prices to deter theft by employees. If something is priced with an even amount, say $20, the consumer is likely to pay with exact change. It’s fairly easy for a cashier to just pocket the $20 bill without ever ringing up the purchase. If an item is priced at $19.99, the cashier will probably have to make change. It’ll be pretty obvious if she takes a penny out of her pocket, so she will have to enter the purchase into the register.
Thought this theory might be of interest to you. And, if true, it implies that it is pretty pointless to price something at $19.99 over the Internet.
Steven Landsburg offered this explanation of 99-cent pricing in his 1993 book, The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life:
The phenomenon of “99-cent pricing” seems to have first become common in the nineteenth century, shortly after the invention of the cash register. The cash register was a remarkable innovation; not only did it do simple arithmetic, it also kept a record of every sale. That’s important if you think your employees might be stealing from you. You can examine the tape at the end of the day and know how much money should be in the drawer.
There is one small problem with cash registers: They don’t actually record every sale; they record only those sales that are rung up. If a customer buys an item for $1 and hands the clerk a dollar bill, the clerk can neglect to record the sale, slip the bill in his pocket, and leave no one the wiser.
On the other hand, when a customer buys an item for 99 cents and hands the clerk a dollar bill, the clerk has to make change. This requires him to open the cash drawer, which he cannot do without ringing up the sale. Ninety-ninecent pricing forces clerks to ring up sales and keeps them honest.” (http://books.google.com/books?id=qTBgMMxeJ5IC&pg=PA19)
It’s a cute theory, but even Landsburg notes some holes. What about states with sales tax, where an item priced in whole dollars would still require change? And why has it persisted, even after the advent of scanners and electronic registers that record sales even when no change is required?
The question seems particularly troubling to economists, because a strong consumer preference for $19.99 over $20 would seem to wreak havoc with the notion of consumers as rational actors. Nevertheless, over the last twenty years, a growing number of empirical studies and experiments have confirmed that 99-cent pricing actually works.
One explanation is for that success is that 99-cent pricing signals to consumers that the item is a bargain, because it’s most often used on bargain goods. Consumers aren’t buying these items because they mistakenly think that missing penny makes them meaningfully cheaper, the theory suggests, but because they’ve been flagged as discounts.
A second is that consumers – or at least, some significant subset of consumers – process prices in two discrete units, before and after the decimal. Some people, perhaps don’t find it worthwhile to invest the time and effort necessary to pay close attention to prices, and merchants calibrate their pricing to take advantage of their inattention.
You’ve actually been running your own experiment, with interesting results. There is, practically speaking, no real difference between those sums. At the moment, all contributions are voluntary – even the leaky paywall hasn’t yet been put in place – and it’s hard to believe that readers who will voluntarily hand over $19.99 would begrudge you the additional penny. And although subscribers are prompted with the $19.99 minimum, they have to manually enter the amount, and it’s easier to just put down $20.
Indeed, that’s exactly what nearly two thousand of them did. The only catch? Twice as many took the trouble to type out $19.99. I’d say that’s fairly solid data in support of the theory that $20 just feels like more money – and that many readers are more likely to take the plunge and invest in the site if that threshold isn’t crossed.
Why Online Advertising Need Not Die (And Could Just Get Better)
While explaining why, as of February 1st, the Dish won’t be taking advertising, I wrote how “distracting and intrusive” online ads can be and “how online ads have created incentives for pageviews over quality content.” Mike Masnick pushes back:
[I]t’s absolutely true that an awful lot of advertising sucks in exactly the manner described above. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be that way. There’s a growing recognition in the industry that intrusive and annoying advertising is not the way to go for exactly the reasons that Sullivan explains above. But as we’ve discussed, when you do advertising right, it’s simply good content itself that people want. That’s why a month from now, the most popular thing on Superbowl Sunday won’t be the football game, but the commercials. There are times that peopleseek out advertising and are happy to see it. And compelling ad/sponsorship campaigns need to be about that.
Now, it’s reasonable to admit that many marketers haven’t full grasped this concept, and dragging them, kicking and screaming, into this new era is not something that Sullivan and his team wants to take on. And that’s a reasonable argument (and, as someone who’s spent way too much time trying to convince marketers of this thing, only to see them default back to silly, pointless, misleading ad metrics, I can completely respect such a decision). But, it seems wrong to slam “all advertising” into a single bucket, just because some (or even a lot of) advertising is done really poorly.
Agreed. And we have emphatically not ruled out advertizing for ever. It’s just that, right now, it’s more trouble for a site like ours than it’s worth. But if the industry begins to smarten up and find a way to bring creative advertizing that does not impede but enriches the reader experience, we have no philosophical objections to it. Just not yet. In the same vein, Derek Thompson assesses Buzzfeed’s business model:
It’s probable that the Dish can live a year on subs alone. It’s plausible that the Dish can live for two years on subs alone, or three, or 30. But practically everything else — the vast majority of journalism, from the New York Times to the pop culture blogs that specialize in bikini shots — cannot survive on the good will and generosity of their readership, and there is no expectation that they will. Advertising is what makes news and entertainment — first in 19th-century newspapers, then on early 20th-century radio, then on late-20th-century television, and now on early-21st-century Web and mobile — affordable at a mass scale. The news needs successful advertising to breathe.
That’s why BuzzFeed’s story matters. It’s commonly understood that Web advertising stinks, quarantined as it is in miserable banners and squares around article pages. BuzzFeed’s approach is different: It designs ads for companies that aim to be as funny and sharable as their other stories. Jonah Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed, told the Guardian’s Heidi Moore that he attributed nearly all the company’s revenues to this sort of “social” advertising. “We work with brands to help them speak the language of the web,” Peretti said. “I think there’s an opportunity to create a golden age of advertising, like another Mad Men age of advertising, where people are really creative and take it seriously.”
I know there are a lot of shady folks in my industry, but I have always had a tough time buying the idea that advertising is evil. It takes a lot of money and privilege to say that you prefer to pay than to have your reading experience sullied by, ick, advertising! Advertising keeps your experience free. It keeps walls from going up all over the web. I can tolerate seeing an ad for a discount airline in my favorite blog if it means I get to read it for free.
There is a movie theater here in San Francisco that charges a $1 surcharge so that you can enjoy an ad-free movie experience. It always sticks in my craw. I’ll subject myself to the ads and not pay the fee, thank you. So that is the one part of your new monetization plan that I don’t quite get.
But for the years of enjoyment of your blog, I’ll donate come February. Just please consider adding ads to bring down the subscription cost. Remember your View From Your Recession series? Those were all Dish readers, too.
I emphatically do not regard advertising as “icky,” let alone “evil”. We are one of the few big sites that regularly features the best of the advertising industry in our “Cool Ad Watch.” And in time, we may well try ads out, depending on the success or otherwise of the meter. Another:
There are NO REASONS whatsoever for you to not offer two models for your new site: paid with no ads and unpaid with ads. That is actually a very common choice these days. I will contribute through an ad-sponsored site. I’ll pay if my finances reach a point where I’m more comfortable. In the meantime, I guess I’ll no longer view anything you create because I don’t think you have provided an option that works for me. Ads suck, but they allow those who can least afford a pay model to participate.
We should again remind our reader and others that roughly 80% of Dish content will remain free for all readers, regardless of paid membership, after the new Dish launches with a meter in February. Only “Read On”s will be blocked for non-members after a certain number of clicks, and even then the meter will be relatively easy to get around – just inconvenient. So consider the $19.99 a convenience charge for regular readers who want a smooth, seamless experience on the Dish. Another has a clever idea:
You will surely have ads in the new Dish, you just won’t be paid to run them. I’m talking specifically about the 1000 installments of “Cool Ad Watch“. You wrote:
And we have emphatically not ruled out advertizing for ever. It’s just that, right now, it’s more trouble for a site like ours than it’s worth.
I disagree. Just call up those “cool ad guys” and ask for a $1000 donation to the Dish AFTER you post their ad. That way, there’s no quid pro quo, and you can even post how much they chose to donate. That info should be provided for full disclosure, but also so Dishheads start patronizing companies that support the Dish.
That could easily raise $200k per year… not enough to cover expenses, but a nice buffer.
I hope you reconsider the use of advertising on your site. There are many ways to build a lucrative web business without intrusive advertising. And honestly, I want you and your venture to be as lucrative as possible so that you can keep doing what you’re doing. One of my favorite blogs, Daring Fireball, appears to do quite well with advertising that is not only non-intrusive, but often useful to me and other readers. You can see the pricing here. Yes, that’s $8,500 a week (or $442,000 a year) for the RSS feed alone. I have no idea what he gets for the actual ad on the web page, but I do know that, in total, he does alright for himself. Please consider as many creative revenue streams as possible.
We are open to exploring all options down the line. But for the time being, we felt pure subscriptions was the place to start. And there are just five of us who both drive this car as we build it. We ask merely for some patience as we feel our way forward. The membership link is here if you haven’t yet taken the plunge. How one reader thinks about it:
If I were to calculate the true worth of The Dish I would start this way: I drink pricey San Francisco coffee every day (Philz – you must have some if you are ever in the neighborhood). The cost of one cup is $3.75. I usually make it last for a couple of hours. I visit The Dish many times a day and spend more time following links or reading other sources connected to Dish posts. So a daily fee for my Dish consumption should be work at least $3.75.
I also share Dish posts on FB and with friends, both online and in conversation. I guess that is like sharing a cup of coffee with friends. So let’s add another 3.75 into the equation.
That is $7.50 a day for 365 days a year, which totals an annual fee of $2737.50. So the $60 I paid is a very good deal. I wish I could pay more and my fingers are crossed that you do not raise the fee to reflect it’s true value. I would hate to give up my coffee.
I suspect the longer pieces that trigger the pay-us reminder will need to be original just because writers being aggregated will get pissed if they use long quotes from their stuff to drive subscription sales.
We’ve been contemplating the best way to use “read-ons” going forward, since the read-on clicks are what will trigger the meter and the please-pay message. We could set the meter lower and only have read-ons on longer original commentary and on reader threads. Or we could set the meter higher and use read-ons essentially as we do now. Or we could just play it by ear, experiment a bit and see what works best. What do you think?
The complex but natural reporting process that is generated by [online journalism] has a certain organic authenticity that is rarely found on TV or radio or in newspapers or magazines. More expertise and perspective is typically brought to bear. The pretense of objectivity is abandoned, making for a more honest forum, and everything is generally much more transparent.
Online journalists like Sullivan invite their audience into the reporting process and bring them along for the ride, while many traditional journalists keep the reporting process between them and their sources, leaving their audience in the dark about how they came upon the information they’re reporting. Naturally then, traditional journalists often put the interests of their sources above their audience — a major problem in the corporate media — whereas the new breed of online journalist is reestablishing a genuine connection with readers and earning their trust in an age where distrust of the media is probably more rampant than distrust of government.
One of the best examples of reverse-reporting on the Dish was our “It’s So Personal” series, a spontaneous outpouring of first-hand accounts from readers confronting late-term abortions, triggered by the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. My impression at the time:
I’ve never seen the power of this medium so clearly and up-close: one personal account caused a stream of others. How could old-school reporting have found all these women? How could any third-person account compete with the rawness and honesty and pain of these testimonials? It was a revelation to me about what this medium could do.
Coincidentally, a reader wrote in yesterday to praise the series:
I first became a regular reader of your blog in 2008-9, in the lead up and aftermath of Obama’s first victory, during the financial crisis, and as you covered the Green Rebellion in Iran. I became particularly taken with the Dish, however, when you started posting letters you were receiving following the murder of George Tiller.
I am a philosophy professor and often teach bioethics. For the past few years, when I’ve been introducing the topic of abortion by reviewing the different methods of abortion (on the premise that getting the empirical facts right is the obvious starting point for philosophical progress), and mentioned late-term abortions (“intact dilation and extraction” aka “partial birth abortion”), I’ve ended up talking about the “It’s so Personal” posts. I’ve then posted a link on my course website for the students to read themselves. So thank you for offering my students a resource for understanding one of life’s most complex moral decisions.
P.S. I haven’t yet subscribed to the Dish, but that’s just because I’m a procrastinator, and probably will wait until I’m forced to subscribe before getting myself officially signed up!
Previous commentary about our readership here. The full discussion thread on the Dish model and its new independence here.
I think you should experiment with the upcoming meter. One of the reasons I gave you $100
(even that is low for the value I get
from the Dish every year) is to encourage this experiment of yours.
So you should experiment with every aspect you can.
Also, I think you should have no problem putting the meter in place
for stories that are not original reporting. Aggregation is part of
the media now, like it or not, and aggregators (like HuffPo, e.g.) get
paid for using stories that they did not write. It’s just the way
things work now. I would think that most writers would jump at the
chance to be exposed to your vast and influential readership. And if
they object, just keep a database of folks that don’t want to be
included and make sure not to link to them anymore.
I’m a relatively new reader – started during this election, now I
catch every post – and I haven’t subscribed. Yet. I’ve been waiting
to see how the new website looks. But I know how I’ll behave under the
circumstances you’ve described:
If you use read-ons primarily to hide other people’s content, I’m
not going to subscribe. I can read other aggregators for free. If your
reblogs and recommendations are free, but your original commentary -
the most valuable thing on the site – is metered, I will probably
Another reader worries that “there may be potential copyright issues if it was
less than 50% original content/comments by the Dish team with a “charge”
being issued by the Dish.” But another writes:
The read-on might actually work to the external
sources’ advantage, in that non-payers will then have more reason to
follow the link to the original if they’re interested.
Another has an interesting idea:
Why not set the default read-on button to simultaneously link to the original work in a new tab? That way the original material page gets a share of the traffic. It might be slightly annoying to Dishheads, but I often link to the original articles anyways and would be willing to put up with the extra key strokes to close any tabs I’m not interested in.
Another echoes the majority of the emails on what content should go behind the meter:
Long time reader, first time contributor – in my opinion, I think it
only makes sense to trigger the meter with your longer original
commentary and the reader threads. If the goal of the trigger is to
encourage additional subscriptions/donations, people are going to be
more willing to make that spur of the moment decision in order to read
content they can’t get somewhere else. Otherwise, you may risk turning away potential Dish-heads by
triggering the meter with content which is easily obtainable
elsewhere. I sincerely love (almost) everything about The Dish. But
what truly separates your brand from other imitators is 1) your
original content and 2) the on-line community you have built up through
the years. People will pay for quality and that is The Dish’s
You do a wonderful job of linking to interesting nuggets from other sites
and exposing the community to thoughts/items outside their comfort
zone; but that’s the icing on the cake. People won’t pay for icing
unless they can taste the delicious cake it’s on top of.
Another tosses out specifics:
Behind the meter
Andrew and staffs’ long-form writing.
VFYW contest results
Extensive threads (Cannabis, Marriage Equality, etc.)
Cool Ad Watch
Mental Health Break
You, your staff, and your readers evolve my world-view every day, thanks. (Notice I did not say just you and your staff?)
We have received about 4,000 emails since our declaration of independence on January 2, mostly from readers having just signed up for the new Dish. I have been trying to respond to as many as I can, while the Dish staff has been helping to compile all of your constructive feedback regarding our new experiment. So a lot more of your ideas and criticisms are still to come. But first, here are some of the most touching emails from our in-tray:
I just paid $500 in equal measure to the frustration, humor, and intelligence the blog has brought over the last 11 years I’ve been reading. I might not donate that much again, but this time I owed you. You were very kind a few years ago to post a number of posts of mine on an anti-gay speech/assembly/etc bill in Nigeria, effectively identical to the one in Uganda. It meant a lot to a lot of people to get that kind of exposure so quickly in the US. I still hear from “pen-pals” in Nigeria.
Good luck with the experiment!
First time writer here. I want to applaud your team’s decision to move
to a subscription service. The Dish has been a part of my daily
routine through college, while I was an expat in Sierra Leone (where
your site took 5 minutes to load) and Syria (where your site was often
blocked), and now as a policy analyst in DC. In fact, it may be the
only thing that has stayed stable across the years and continents. At
$20/year, this subscription has the best use-value of anything I’ll
purchase this year (so much so that I tossed in a bit extra).
Good luck and come back and ask for more if you need to. I’m sure most
of us would be willing.
I just completed the purchase of a $100 membership and hope all of
your readers who can afford it will buy in at a higher level. I
can imagine new startups are expensive, even if it involves blogging.
I am an avid Dish Head, and as a 60-year-old African-American woman
living in Indiana, I probably don’t fit your typical reader profile. I
don’t do Twitter, but if I did I would be following you and Josh
Marshall over at TPM. You both are the best in the blogging business.
Good luck with the new venture. I have no doubt it will be a
I’ve been dismayed at how few truly successful journalists – the kind
of people who can actually afford to take professional risks – have
taken management positions or created a single job for an
up-and-comer. Now, we’re not all born managers, of course, but do I
think that we journalists often lose sight of the fact that starting a
business is often a deeply noble act.
I’m proud of the Dish because I realize that you guys could surely
have negotiated a more lucrative contract with another publisher, made
a ton of money, and continued to do great work. You’ll do great work,
I know, but this new path has the potential to be so much more. The
fact that you’re turning down easy money (and the easy respectability
of operating under a large media company) and taking a risk to create
something new is just so damn inspiring. Thank you.
I just gave you 50 bucks and, whatever the ultimate price is, I’m
looking forward to reading your work for many, many years to come.
Have you thought about taking us all on a cruise like they do at the NRO?
Er, no. I have thought of taking all the award nominees on a cruise and as soon as it debarks, climbing into a lifeboat pronto. Previous reader reaction to the launch here and here. If you would like to become a founding member of an independent, ad free Dish, subscribe here for just $19.99 a year (or more if you are able and feeling generous).
I started reading your blog about two years ago and subscribing to your new model was an easy decision for me. Regarding your meter discussion, I have to disagree with many of your readers. I think metering the original long-form writing by you and your staff is counterproductive. Your long-form blogging is the very best part of the site, so putting it in a place where non-paying readers can’t see it will decrease your ability to attract new subscribers. If when I first came to the site all I saw was the content aggregation, I would have quickly taken the Dish off of my RSS feed. Why take away from potential new customers the very thing that is going to convince them to sign up?
Even if all of my longer posts are metered, only a portion of my writing will go behind the read-on, thus allowing all readers to get the gist of the post, regardless of subscription. Another reader:
I’m not quite sure why there is so much hand-wringing about whether your links to other people are in front or behind the meter. If you chose to fund your website with advertising instead of subscriptions, you’d still be making money from linking to other sites. You currently don’t pay for the privilege of linking to the various sites you post every day, do you? So why does it matter where the links are on your site?
I guess I don’t see your use of “read on” being the trigger of the site meter as necessarily the most effective way of getting more subscribers. I view it more as just your community of loyal readers/subscribers subsidizing everyone else’s being able to share in the value we see in The Dish. But I guess it will all depend on whether you can get enough subscribers to meet your revenue goal.
The first big wave of subscribers and their high percentage of donations were likely driven by that feeling of “loyalty”, but that initial wave of support has dropped off significantly:
So we presume – hope! – that a much larger swathe of fence-sitters will only subscribe once they are nudged by the meter. That theory is reinforced by many emails we are receiving, such as this one:
Although I haven’t subscribed yet, I love the Dish and can’t imagine my
day without unhindered access to it. So when the meter hits, I will
almost certainly sign up. I’m just waiting to see the site first.
Regarding your discussion about the meter’s mechanics, I have a suggestion and a plea. My suggestion: do not put reader dissents behind the meter (as someone else suggested.) The high-quality vigorous push-back you include from readers is one of the best and most distinctive things about your blog and will help lure new readers. Also, the dissents will tweak people’s interest in the commentaries that are behind the meter. In doing so, they may encourage new subscriptions.
My plea: It makes sense to put reader-generated threads behind the meter. But if you do, can you make them freely available after a certain amount of time has passed? The bioethics professor who shares the “It’s So Personal” link with his or her students would no longer be able to if it’s behind the meter. The content of some of these threads remains just as valuable and relevant over time. So why not allow delayed free sharing? Readers who want to follow or contribute to the threads in real time would still have an incentive to subscribe. But those bioethics students would also benefit from the content, down the road – and may become followers of the Dish as a result.
Another bit of brainstorming:
When presenting a longer piece that includes aggregated content, I think you should alter the format you currently use. Right now, you frequently have quoted content in the middle of a longer piece. Going forward, why not put all that stuff up top as a “jumping off point,” give a brief summary of where you’re going, and then the meter kicks in for your full thoughts?
Previous feedback from readers here. To help keep this community alive and innovating, sign up for the new Dish here.
That quote by Roger McNamee refers to the number of heydey New Yorker subscribers, in the context of a brand isolating a core audience willing to pay for content rather than mass-market to everyone. But 900,000 also happens to be the rough number of Dish readers per month. McNamee gives that readership a shout-out starting at the 26-minute mark of this video, flagged by a reader:
Roger McNamee, the tech venture capitalist, was just on Charlie Rose. One of his topics was paying for content that is valuable to you (one of his analogies was classical music – it doesn’t make it on its own so it gets subsized by a small group). He said he supports about a dozen blogs directly and mentioned you specifically, saying $20 was nothing, and that he paid what it was worth to him – “10 times more than what [you] were charging.” Anyway, he’s pretty insightful, and entertaining. I suggest you watch the whole Rose interview and consider inviting McNamee on your “Ask Anything” series.
Stay tuned. And you can join Roger by pre-subscribing to the new Dish here.
One of my favorite websites interviewed me about the new Dish when I was still in bed with the flu. Money exchange:
Maria Bustillos: I’ve freaked a few atheists out by telling them: You don’t understand doubt nearly as well as my friends who are believers. Faith is a much harder struggle than just smugly shelving the question of doubt, imagining you “know” something. You don’t understand it.
Andrew Sullivan: Thank you. Thank you, thank you so much for saying that, because the one thing I always argue is that no Christian does not have elements of agnosticism in his or her life, because God is ultimately unknowable; so of course there is a vast amount about God that we cannot begin to understand, and therefore doubt is integral to faith; it’s not some sort of enemy of faith, it’s its wellspring.
Finally done reading through and responding to the few thousand emails you sent surrounding the Dish’s declaration of independence. A big thanks again to everyone who wrote in. Many people by now are probably tired of seeing these reader reaxes (I, II, III), but we want to try to do justice to the immense input on the new venture:
Long-time reader, but I’ve never e-mailed you until now. I felt compelled to say that I just purchased a subscription for $30. I wish I could do more, but I’m a teacher with five kids, limited income, blah blah blah. But I couldn’t just do the bare minimum here. I’m surprised by how good it feels to do this. I have read The Dish for years, almost entirely using your RSS feed via Google Reader. It sounds like from your response to the reader who asked about RSS that I could have continued reading you on Google Reader with no noticeable difference, but I still felt a strong need to a) support this venture to help prove the naysayers wrong, and b) compensate you and your team for the incredible work you do.
I included a $5.00 tip since you published MY “view from your window” this past Christmas Eve. What a fabulous early Christmas present. I was
I’m surprised that you haven’t
received (or at least posted) more emails from readers who will NOT
subscribe to your new service. I will be one of them. I have read your
blog for many years and thoroughly enjoy most of it, especially the wry
commentary, political posts and links to others (Frum, Brooks, etc).
However, I skip a lot of posts: I’m not Catholic, so I don’t read your
religious posts; I don’t like poetry, so I skip the poems; Although I
like to travel and found the View from Your Window Contest initially
intriguing, I’m intimidated by your readers who can pinpoint not only
the city but the street; the building; the floor and even the room of
where a photo was taken, so I skip that as well. Although I believe in
marriage equality, I skip many of the posts regarding homosexuality. I
read your blog once a day during lunch at my desk, and during the work
week, find it uncomfortable to watch videos, even innocuous ones, so I
usually skip the Mental Health Break. Like I said, I enjoy the political
stuff. I especially enjoyed the Lies of Sarah Palin series and was
surprised that you hadn’t written a book to flesh out and expose her
After writing the preceding, I see that I’m
not experiencing the fullness of your web site. I guess that I’m more of
a Saucer-head than a Dish-head. So, thanks but no thanks.
A female subscriber:
In my home, you are simply referred to as my boyfriend. Tonight, on the way to dinner with my husband, I informed him I would be taking our relationship to the next level. I would now be financially supporting you. He laughed. He understands.
Another adds, “For my subscription I paid $36 – a good luck number in Judaism.” Another:
Your decision has left me very conflicted. I want your blog to succeed, but I hope your business model fails. I believe the pay-for-view website model is tacky, outdated, and contributes to a less open Internet. By subscribing, I would feel as if my money would be supporting an idea I just don’t believe in.
I think you guys will do really well with this model for exactly one year, as most people now are subscribing off of emotion (I almost did myself) and attachment to your blog. But your revenue stream is solely dependent upon old readers; how can you possibly attract new readers to a pay blog? And as for your older readers, competition from lesser but freer bloggers will eventually draw many of those subscribers away. I wish you guys had considered more creative, less-intrusive, revenue models (pay-to-comment being my favorite) as opposed to this.
I have a modest proposal: Email from paying readers receive higher
priority over casual, non-paying reader email when considered for
publication as a “curated comment.” You could even add tiers to boost
income from your subscription drive! For example, I subscribed for $25,
so I’d be in a tier above a reader who paid the minimum $19.99, who
would in turn be above the non-paying reader. You could top off the
priority at $200 or some other modest sum in order to encourage giving
but discourage discourse being weighted too much towards the wealthiest
Dish readers. This could be a lot of fun for your staff. Then again,
this idea is probably a waste of Dish resources.
I work for one of the largest online advertising exchanges in the world and have a significant amount of experience in how web sites increase revenue. If users are interested in “tipping,” or otherwise increasing revenue to the owner of the ad space, one potential solution would be a system wherein users reveal a greater amount of information about themselves (buying preferences, age, income, gender etc.) to preferred websites, such as blogs, with the expectation that those blogs can then improve yield. This would still accomplish the goal of giving back to their favorite websites, but wouldn’t require any actual tip.
We’re all supposed to tithe; few of us do. In many churches, the lack of tithing from guys like me is covered off against by a select few, usually old, men. They don’t do it for show, but you know who they are, and in many cases they expect a certain status for the effort. If I give $50 to PBS, I may get the opportunity to tote around an attractive tote, and I might bump into a fellow traveller who gave $500 and is sportin’ the snazzy Mr. Rogers diamond-encrusted broach. By our souvenirs, both of us demonstrate our superiority to the riff-raff, with the $500 person also knowing she is better still than me.
In the case of the Dish, what do I get for being a loyal subscriber, specifically what can I take out on the town to show how cool I am? Or do I have to rely on my secret, sacred knowledge like the church’s great benefactors, which is unfortunately far more secret in the case of the Dish?
Another suggests, “Once folks donate, there should be a Twitter, FB and Tumblr button to announce one’s support to the world.” We’re looking into it. Another reader is eager to give more:
Good luck on your
new endeavor – and to that end, I also wanted to let you know that I
signed up to be a founding Dish Member with a payment of $100 for this
To the extent that there are students (or others) that would otherwise
read your blog, but might not spend the $20/year, I’d be happy to
underwrite a number of subscriptions. Say somewhere in the range of
10-20 subscriptions for the first year. Let me know if that’s helpful
or interesting to you at all.
A gifting option is definitely in the works. Another reader:
I used to be a blogger and was linked on the Dish a number of times. I can confidently state that I got a very good book deal because of the exposure you gave me. Because of my book I ended up on NPR and PBS. Thank you.
Another is wary of our model:
First, I wish you and the Dish staff well with your new venture. Internet ads, pop-ups, and animated panels are becoming thick enough to make me avoid certain websites already and that is something for all bloggers to consider circumventing. But what I find to be the most frustrating and disappointing aspect of this venture is that if you succeed, your success will be due to the cult of personality rather than purely from a desire for valuable content. Your celebrity is in the driver’s seat and, however flattering that may be personally, it is a sad comment on our age and what we choose to monetarily value.
I am a relatively unknown novelist with a strong desire not to become personally known. That sounds crazy, no? And in this current celebrity-driven culture I’m left with very little chance of success. But why is my personal life so important to my readers that they must know and like me before they are willing to read and like my novels? In the not too distant literary past, the title of a book dominated the cover and the writer was only on the spine. Writers were secondary to the books and stories themselves, and people read them based solely on their content–now it’s hard to even locate the titles of books because they are visually crushed by the author’s gigantic name. This current trend is a perversion, IMO, and seems even more perverse when it happens in the world of news and information if it too must be driven and sold by a cult-celebrity model or be otherwise doomed to financial failure.
I mean no disrespect to you personally and realize blogging is personal opinion and not news, and in that sense is legitimately personality-driven. I only want to encourage you and your readers, while we ponder this topic, to look at ourselves and ask, “If I am willing to pay to read Andrew Sullivan’s personal opinions, why won’t I pay for other basic non-personality driven content?” In short, where are we placing our values and should we rethink them?
The vast majority of content on the Dish is our aggregation and commentary on others’ work. It is driven by my personality, sure, but my colleagues take pains to make sure that it is balanced by opposites and alternatives. A subscriber writes:
A no-brainer, really. I was paying $33 a month last year for a gym membership that I never used. Honestly, the only I time I walked into the place was when I enrolled. So, $33 x 12 + $4 to make an even $400. Which puts you about parity with my NYT digital access. So job well done, congrats and best of luck!
At first, I was one the fence about paying. Twenty bucks isn’t a lot, but to a struggling writer it’s not nothing. What changed my mind was two movies I saw last week: Lincoln and Les Miserables. I paid $20 to see these two movies. Both will resonate with me for a long time, but both were essentially transitory experiences. If I can pony up $20 for two films, I can certainly do so for a year of the Dish.
But on a related point, what really pushed me toward paying was how much my viewing of those films benefited from the discussion threads on your site. Similarly, the extensive commentary on Zero Dark Thirty has convinced me not to see that film (at least not until it comes out on DVD). Those who dismiss this experiment or this site wondering who’d pay for one man’s political commentary completely miss the point.
I have always imagined that if I run into the Dish team at a bar, I
would buy you all a round, and that would be little for all that I have
learnt from the blog. So let’s say a round of beers would cost 25 bucks
… that’s what I gave (unless you are into the good Belgian stuff -
that will be next year). Cheers and the very best for the year ahead.
I’ve long been a reader of the Dish, since
the very beginning in fact. I happily gave you $100, and that is
probably only a fraction of what the true value has been for me over the
last ten plus years. What I realized this morning is that while you
have forsworn advertising, you are now going to subject Dish readers to
regular NPR/Public television-style pitches for
subscriptions/donations. Maybe I’m wrong, and you’ll tone down the
pitches after the meter starts in February.
Yes, we plan to. But until then, you can pre-subscribe to the new, ad-free Dish here. Very grateful for everyone’s support, we literally can’t do this without you now.
(Photos of Dish reader Gmail pics, with permission. Update from a reader: “Loved the pictures of “us” – Dish readers. More please.”)
I just read that you pay your interns. I applaud that! In the ’90s I did a couple of unpaid internships that paved the way for gainful employment, so I’ve benefitted from the system. I was lucky because my parents could help out while I was working for free. I agree with the idea of people paying dues, learning the ropes, starting in the mail room, etc. But why not for minimum wage at least? The poor cannot afford to audition for jobs for several months the way I could. The rise of unpaid internships as a prerequisite for interesting work is just unfair and perpetuates the class system.
We actually pay Dishterns one-and-a-half times the minimum wage and include health insurance. That’s the deal I insisted they had with us at the Beast (no one who works for me is not going to have health insurance, period), so that’s the deal we are determined to continue under Dish Publishing LLC. You can help keep our internship a paid one by pre-subscribing here (and we allow you to give a little extra if you have the means).
I just subscribed. I planned on doing it soon, but hearing that you provide health insurance to your interns made me do it immediately. Even if I never read your blog again, I wanted to at least provided a tiny bit towards your efforts to provide health insurance.
In fact, of course, you are providing health insurance, since the independent Dish launching on Monday is completely funded by reader subscriptions. Another writes:
My husband and I own a small business that has 9 employees, so we know how much it costs (in dollars) to provide them health insurance. But to not do so would be, in my estimation, a moral failure on our part.
They are our family, those we trust and rely on to help make our dreams a reality. If we have the resources to free them from the fear of losing work, time, and money due to illness, I firmly believe it is our moral and civic duty to do so. People always come before Money.
One thing I’ve learned from a foray into business is that you really do have to make some moral calls. I realize that I’m not such a capitalist, after all, since my goal, I realized, was not really to be rich (I’m doing fine) but to do what I love in as efficient and as fair a way as possible – and to work with people I respect and love. I realized that I could not employ someone I respect and love if he or she didn’t have access to a doctor if he or she got sick. This was not a hard call. It’s reflexive. But it was not really an entirely business call either – unless you are smart enough to realize that treating interns well is about as sensible thing a start-up media company can do. Chris and Patrick and Zoe all started as interns. They’re now pillars of the enterprise, and two are co-owners of the company. Another sends the above photo:
Just saw the post about how you pay your interns – which is wonderful, by the way – and I wanted to direct your attention to the Pay Your Interns tote bag. I saw someone sporting the bag in Brooklyn a few days ago and I had to order one for myself. The OWS-affiliated Intern Labor Rights sells the bags for a very reasonable $10 at internlaborrights. wordpress.com. Mine arrived in the mail yesterday, and I think you’ll agree it’s rather fetching.
Not quite as fetching as this classic tote, however:
I’d love to see you write a little bit about your staff’s health insurance in the context of the larger political debate about the Affordable Care Act. You’re a small business owner now, so you’re exactly where all the uproar is about. Is ACA going to make it more affordable to do right by your employees? I realize this is more of a developing story since most of what would affect this doesn’t kick in till 2014, but seems like something right up your alley.
Patrick has been in charge of setting up health insurance for the new company. As far as he can tell, the ACA hasn’t majorly affected our healthcare options yet. But it will be worth watching going forward because New York state, where our business is based, has guaranteed issue and community rating laws. Those laws mean that, even though we are a very small business, our employees can’t be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions and insurers can’t charge us more if we have employees with preexisiting conditions. That’s great, but, partially because of those laws, New York health insurance plans are much more expensive than insurance plans are in the other states.
Premiums are so high that Peter Suderman used New York as an example when making his case against the ACA. Of course, New York doesn’t have an individual mandate, which is the ACA’s main cost-control mechanism. Currently, the basic healthcare plan we provide to employees free of charge costs us over $500 a month for an individual, and Patrick has calculated that health insurance will cost the business between 70K and 80K for the year. Once 2014 rolls around, we’ll be very curious to see whether the individual mandate or the insurance exchanges make healthcare more affordable for us. And we’ll keep you posted.
The above chart is from Kaiser (pdf), which broke down average premiums by state a few years ago:
Nationwide, the average monthly premium per person in the individual market in 2010 was $215, but the state-by-state range was substantial. Vermont and Massachusetts both had average per member per month premiums over $400 per month. The average premium revenues in Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey were also relatively high, ranging from about $344 to $364 per month. Alabama ($136), California ($157), Arkansas ($163), Idaho ($167), and Delaware ($169) had the lowest average monthly premiums in the country. (Note that these figures represent average premium revenue per member per month. This represents an average across adults and children, so will be lower than a typical premium charged to a single adult.)
I’m opting for COBRA coverage myself because IAC (which owns the Beast), as a larger company, has a better plan than we were able to get as a small business, and I won’t have to worry whether some of my current meds will all be approved again by a new insurance carrier – or cost a lot more. After my COBRA expires, I’ll either join the Dish’s plan or buy an individual plan from the exchanges. But I have to say that knowing that Obamacare is around the corner eased some of my worries, especially as someone living with a chronic condition. So in this case, it played a positive part in our decision to start a business. And not just positive: HIV-positive. Another reader:
This is one thing I’ve been wondering about: would an enterprise like the one you’re planning be significantly easier in Massachusetts, where individual health insurance is a functioning market? How much lower would the threshold for jumping have been over the years, if it weren’t for the need to get group insurance?
Since it’s currently around one fifth of our current revenue total, theoretically it could have prevented us from going independent earlier. But that wasn’t how it happened. Another reader:
I just read your post where you stated that no one will work for you who isn’t offered health insurance. I have excellent insurance through my employer, but I realize what a tenuous situation even that is. Should I ever leave this position, I could possibly be forced into the open market where, as an otherwise healthy 43-year-old man, a minor heart attack three years ago (it is almost a rite of passage in my family for men to have heart attacks by the time they’re 40) would likely prevent me from EVER being covered outside a group policy offered by an employer. It’s not just a frightening prospect; it’s downright terrifying. As a homeowner with some small rental property, it would be entirely conceivable that I would lose everything should I suffer a lengthy illness with no coverage.
Anyway, I’m getting maudlin now. I subscribed to the site a few weeks ago. Your perspective on health insurance for your interns guarantees that I’ll be adding some additional funds shortly. I think yours is an important business model, and I want to do everything I can to support it.
I subscribed to your blog when you first posted about it. I paid $20. After reading that you are providing healthcare and good wages to your interns, I wish to add more money. But I cannot figure out how. Tinypass just says thanks for being a member and sends me back to the Dish.
Many subscribers have been emailing us asking how to contribute more funds. We considered just creating a quick-and-easy PayPal account to direct those readers to, but the new Dish is trying to get away from the tip jar model. So if you are a subscriber who wants to increase your support, bear with us while we develop a gifting option through Tinypass that allows you to buy subscriptions for your friends, family members, coworkers or anyone else you think might get something out of the Dish. Until then, you could help us by spreading the word through Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Or if you really can’t wait to donate more, you could always just purchase another subscription with a different email address.
The meter and new ad-free site arrives Monday; we migrate (I seriously have no idea what that means) from the Beast over the weekend. But we just passed $500K in pre-subscriptions. Which is to say: holy shit. Seriously: this is still a little hard to absorb. But thank you so much.
Previous answers to reader queries here and here. Another writes:
I don’t get it. I thought no adverts. But there is one on the site today – for Turbo Tax.
The new ad-free site doesn’t launch until Monday (pre-subscribe here!). Another asks:
Does the subscription price go up after today?
Nope, still just $19.99 a year. And you’ll still be able to set your own price if you feel like contributing more to the Dish’s future. Read our manifesto here. Another reader:
I’ve been following the updates and progress of the new Dish model, but I haven’t yet opted in. I’m sure I will, but I’m still wondering about something I haven’t seen discussed, namely: what will it look like? Will it be responsive – that is, look good on my iPhone or iPad?
“Responsiveness” (it means the text automatically adjusts to the size of your screen) was one of our top priorities with the new site, so it should be much more readable on mobile devices of all shapes and dimensions. Another:
In June I will be leaving by job, moving countries and heading back to school. Right now I mostly access the Dish either from my work laptop or my iPhone. By April, I will have a different laptop, a new credit card (because I’m moving countries), and a new iPhone on a different phone network. I will not have access to any of the devices I currently use. If I buy a subscription to the Dish now, how will you recognize me in the future? Is there a password/login system I’ll need to use?
During the subscription process you select an email address and password that becomes your login for the new site. Once you’ve logged in on a device, you won’t have to re-enter that information every time you visit from that device. And you can use the same login on multiple devices. Another:
Will there still be the “Andrew’s Recent Keepers” bar on the side? Although I do like reading a lot of your posts, I don’t have enough time to read everything now and then, so the Keepers helps me decide what to read, as I’m sure it does for other readers.
We are keeping the Keepers and adding a new section featuring recent threads. Another:
Could my hard earned $19.99 please buy me a useful search function and/or a tag feature? Finding old Dish posts on one subject is way harder than it ought to be.
Searching should be easier with the new site. We may do tags in time, but not for the launch. Another reader:
On your new indie site, can you please make the links open in a new tab? One thing I’ve hated is getting catapulted off the Dish every time I want to click something you’ve hyperlinked.
Consider it done. Another:
I’m curious whether, operating under your new subscriber model, you will put safeguards in place to make sure you aren’t influenced to publish the opinions of contributors over non-contributors.
The world of advertising-supported journalism has (or should have) a firewall to protect its editorial decisions from business influence. A subscriber-supported blog, particularly one like yours where readers’ letters make up an important part of the dialogue, should be
similarly protected from financial interest. Can you assure your readers that their financial contributions (or lack thereof) will have no bearing on whether their letters are published, and, if they are, on the content of your possible reply?
This isn’t a pay-to-play blog, rest assured. When we scan the in-tray, we have no way of knowing who’s a member and who isn’t. Nor the time to figure it out, for that matter. Another:
If the Dish has “grown to be much bigger than one blogger”, shouldn’t the URL reflect this? And shouldn’t there be author credits for the work produced? Then it would seem much more like a publication, a la TPM and Boing Boing, than the ruminations of just one voice. Your backup deserves credit, no?
We actually decided to make the resting URL http://www.dish.andrewsullivan.com. But typing in andrewsullivan.com or any of the URLs from Time, the Atlantic or the Beast will get you to the right place. As far as author credits, in order to give the Dish a single, cohesive voice, we adhere to the Economist model, which lacks bylines. It’s hard to describe how the process works – but it’s an organic structure, with an increasingly collective voice centered around a single personality.
Here’s a shot at explaining it. Readers, interns, editors, executive editors and then finally what’s left of my own frontal cortex hone and hone the product (throwing out fails, winnowing near-misses, polishing threads) until it’s ready to serve. Most posts are collaborations between two or more of us, apart from the obvious longer posts from me – and the process has just kept getting more refined, as we add layers of research, writing and editing (and staffers). The goal is to edit a collective brain for that collective brain’s own consumption. It never ends. Human thinking will remain as permanent as human eating.
That’s why, in a weird way, the name “Dish” (which was a not-terribly-inspired name conjured up in a few minutes 13 years ago) turned out to be more appropriate than I first imagined. What we do here is a little like a kitchen. I started cooking myself, creating recipes or formats, if you like, then gradually added new ingredients – forms of technology and communication (there was no real world of web video when the Dish was founded, for example, and no Facebook) – then involved others in the prep, then new dishes emerged from the new kitchen sous-chefs spontaneously, and now, we hope, we have a newly independent restaurant, along with paid aboyeurs.
The revenue graphs we’ve shown so far include the huge burst of subscriptions at the time of the announcement, and a much lower line since. But if you chart donations from January 8 till today (excluding the big bang), you see that pre-subscriptions (become a member here!) have actually been gaining a little before the meter arrives on Monday (inshallah):
We have absolutely no idea what will happen when the meter comes into force next week. But we will keep you posted. Gross revenue as of now: $511,000.
Yes, we are still being hosted by the Beast’s servers. But as of today, we are our own independent entity, and over the coming weekend, the site will migrate to a new URL and a newish ad-free design (our creed is “very gradual change you can believe in”). By Sunday at midnight, we should have the new meter in place – so those of you who have already signed up need only enter your username and password. If you’re worried about your bookmark, don’t be. Whatever bookmark you have – from the days of http://www.andrewsulivan.com onwards – will automatically redirect to the new site.
The chances are there will be some glitches.
We have tried very hard to prep for as smooth a transition as possible, but there are unknown unknowns, as someone once noted. So please be patient as we move. I want to thank all my former colleagues at Newsweek and the Beast for their support and work in helping us transition – and for all they did for us for the last couple of years. Tina Brown made this launch possible, by giving us the resources to keep this operation afloat, adding two paid interns and one new editor, and then seeing the logic of independence and wishing us all the best. Without that, we wouldn’t have the Dish we are now launching. One personal thing: Tina was a wonderful, demanding editor, a truly class act, and a humane, sensitive person. I wish an often jealous press corps would see that truth. In the last six months at the Beast, we also saw our traffic rise to an average of 1.8 million unique readers a month. Our pageviews increased by around 40 percent in two years. That’s a hell of a ski-jump to launch off.
Chris, Patrick, and Chas have really been amazing this past month as well (though they amaze constantly). This was truly a team effort. I simply do not have the skillset to start and run a small business – but they mastered it for me. And of course, your extraordinary generosity and support drove all of this. Two words: thank you.