Some readers have asked about – and some bloggers have written about – the kind and generous profile of yours truly in the Washingtonian. Dylan Byers concludes from the piece that blogs are dead, and that the only relevant practitioners of online journalism are beat-bloggers embedded in larger media entities … like, er, Dylan Byers, it turns out. I’d say Dylan is obviously right that the era in which blogs were the primary form of online journalism is over. Once we had charted a path, the big media companies swooped in behind us, with their current model of page-view-based revenue, paid for with “sponsored content”. But that doesn’t seem to me to mean the end of blogs, as such. They still exist and thrive all over the place – big and small. You can’t read the Dish without finding out about newer ones all the time. So it’s not either/or; it’s both/and.
Which form is best at “owning the morning” or maximizing ad revenues? Probably Politico. But – and here’s the main thing – that is not now and never has been my ambition. I blogged because it gave me a freedom no other form could. Period. As for pageviews, any site with a meter like ours is going to lose some traffic after being completely free – but gain a huge amount in stability, subscriptions, reader-support, and freedom from the pageview-dollar connection. Our loss so far – and it’s about 20 percent from our non-metered days, from about a million readers a month to 800,000 – does no harm to the product and, because we’re not solely dependent on ads for our survival, is largely irrelevant. It also jumps around with the news cycle and viral surges. So this February, for instance, we had more than 2 million uniques – double our average at the Atlantic.
But there’s an obvious difference between our independent model and the previous ones. At the Beast and Atlantic, I used to obsess over traffic numbers – because they directly correlated with income. Now, we obsess over subscription revenue, which is our business model. Yes, the Atlantic and Politico have gone on to become even bigger in terms of pageviews – and I remain proud to have played a part in creating the current, thriving Atlantic.com. But you know what? We have almost 30,000 subscribers, which is 30,000 more than Politico has, 30,000 more than the Huffington Post has, 30,000 more than the Beast has, and 30,000 more than Vox or 538.
And if Dylan thinks that’s “diminishing returns”, he’s empirically wrong. Our revenue this past year is now at $917K, and growing all the time. Here’s the latest monthly update on revenue:
Our revenue, as you can see, is now remarkably steady – and immune to ups and downs in news cycles – and at $35K this past month, after $35K in April. Last May’s total in contrast was $19K. So our monthly revenue is close to double last year’s – far from diminishing. And because our revenue comes from subscribers, not advertizers, and is on auto-renew, we are also stable enough to be free of the ethical messes that so many big sites need to keep themselves inflated, with their large staffs and traffic ambitions. So if blogs are “over”, this little one seems to show few signs of slowing down. We’re planning some more business model innovations in the near-future – to continue forging a new path for online media which isn’t in hock to the pageview, clickbait metrics which are doing so much to drag the quality of journalism down.
Who knows if we’ll succeed? But it’s incredibly interesting, fun and rewarding even if we fail. And what we have – in a way Politico never will – is a community of truly engaged and dedicate readers who now contribute as much to the blog as the staff do. That’s what makes this so much more worthwhile: in my view, one of the more eclectic, informed and diverse conversations anywhere on the web. But I’m guessing you knew that already.