Apologies for being a little late on the monthly report, but it’s great news. July saw our traffic at 900,000 unique visitors and over 6 million pageviews. As for revenue, here’s the monthly chart since March:
It was our best month since March, bringing us tantalizingly close to 30,000 subscribers. Revenue in all of 2013 was $851K. Revenue for 2014 with five months remaining is $833K. Revenue in July 2013 was $20K. This July it was $39K – almost double. Thanks to all of you who subscribed last month – especially those treasured Founding Members who came through with their renewals after an email nudge from yours truly.
We’re trying to prove you can build a profitable new media enterprise without surrendering to native advertising. You’re showing how it can be done. So if you haven’t yet, please take a couple of minutes to subscribe. Without you, we couldn’t do any of it.
It’s that time of the month, as it were, so here’s the latest data on the Dish experiment in independent subscriber-based web journalism. But first up, let’s just say we’re chuffed to read the following statement by Scott Havens of Time Inc.:
I see many digital examples of customers paying for digital content that give me hope – the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Daily Dish, Netflix – even when the consumer can possibly find it, or a replacement, elsewhere.
The WSJ, NYT, Netflix and little ol’ us? Well, we hoped we could be a trailblazer. And the good news is that we remain pretty stable. Traffic is marginally up from last month at 680K uniques, compared with 670K in May – but still a notch down from year one. Whether this gentle decline is a function of the news cycle or merely stabilization under the meter, we don’t know. We probably won’t until the political season heats up in the fall. As for revenue, it’s still coming in and subscriptions are now at 29,200. Here’s the data for the last few months:
We’re gliding downward in new revenue – but we did exactly the same last year in this period. And June revenue in 2014 is $26K, compared with $15K in June 2013. You can see why above: the red line is renewing income, and the blue segment is new income. Each year, with any luck, it compounds a little. Our twelve-month subscription revenue is at an all-time high of $927K. We’re beginning to prove, I think, that a subscription model can work online, and if that’s true, there’s a much brighter future for quality online journalism. Which may be why several sites are now following our lead.
So if you haven’t yet subscribed, but were meaning to, please help this experiment succeed. It’s just $1.99 a month, or $19.99 a year – and takes two minutes to sign up. We guarantee you two things: we’ll keep giving you the sharpest, independent brain food out there, and, as long as you subscribe, we will never make you sit through or be distracted by an ad, let alone corporate bullshit dressed up as an article. If that’s worth something to you, subscribe!
Derek Thompson explains why readers tend to prefer light fare to hard news:
The culprit isn’t Millennials, or Facebook, or analytics software like Chartbeat. The problem is our brains. The more attention-starved we feel, the more we thirst for stimuli that are familiar. We like ice cream when we’re sad, old songs when we’re tired, and easy listicles when we’re busy and ego-depleted. The Internet shorthand for this fact is “cat pictures.” Psychologists prefer the term fluency. Fluency isn’t how we think: It’s how we feel while we’re thinking. We prefer thoughts that come easily: Faces that are symmetrical, colors that are clear, and sentences with parallelisms. In this light, there are two problems with hard news: It’s hard and it’s new. (Parallelism!) Fluency also explains one of the truisms of political news: That most liberals prefer to read and watch liberals (because it feels easy), while conservatives prefer to read and watch conservatives (because it feels easy).
Maybe the Dish is an anomaly: Of yesterday’s five most-read posts, three were about Iraq and two were about Hillary Clinton. In the last month, the top posts were about transgender politics, the right’s response to Bowe Bergdahl’s capture, and increasing polarization. And judging by the inbox response, we’re not massaging anyone’s biases.
Why do we buck the trend? One reason may be that in the last year and a half, we are not trawling for pageviews as our core metric of success. Our subscription-based model both helps us avoid dumb clickbait tricks and to cultivate a readership that actually does want an oasis of some seriousness online. Not that we don’t beard-blog and beagle-blog and host a weekly contest. It’s just that the many mental health breaks we provide don’t drive our traffic – or undergird our financial stability.
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.
First up: our monthly update on the independent Dish. We’re now at 28,532 subscribers, edging toward 30,000. In the twelve months since last April 30, we have had revenue of $900K for the first time. So we hit our target four months’ late, if you’re not counting affiliate income. The merch moment is looming fast, so stay tuned for t-shirts and mugs. And we’re moving toward putting some form of video ads on the site for non-subscribers, even as we remain completely committed to an ad-free site for subscribers. So if you want to avoid seeing any ads ever, you know what to do. Subscribe!
Here’s a graph of our revenue for the past three months:
The big hump is the second wave of newly subscribed Dishheads, renewing after one year. The red line is for recurring payments, either monthly or annually, and April’s total intake was a little over $34,000. Over time, the red proportion should grow and grow. As for traffic, well over a million individual people read something on the Dish in April, our third best month in the past year. The two most popular posts in April were “The Hounding Of A Heretic” and “Jo Becker’s Troubling Travesty Of Gay History.”
As you can see, our revenue remains comfortably above last year’s – but not by much. As a consequence, we simply don’t have the budget to commission, edit and nurture long-form journalism by non-staffers just yet. So the full potential of Deep Dish will have to wait a bit. But with our extra revenue, we have been able to hire two interns as staffers, Tracy and Jonah, and use their skills to deepen the regular Dish. You may have noticed that our aggregation has become much more comprehensive of late. Take a post from today on Donald Sterling. It has eleven separate voices adding to the debate, a majority of them after the jump, both from the blogosphere and the in-tray. That follows a post with seven voices; and a personal grilling on the comparison with the Eich case. Our reader threads are also longer and deeper than in the past – again, primarily visible after the jump. Our thread on Truvada and the potential of a pill to prevent HIV-transmission was in many ways more informative than a long essay – with eight separate posts, including my views, Dave Cullen’s input, and many readers. Also, rather than let small reader comments – ones that wouldn’t necessitate a new post – fall by the wayside, we’ve been adding them as updates more and more, in order to feature as much of your input as possible. Even the window contest is getting beefed up. And don’t forget the resuscitated Book Club, which adds another layer of depth to the Dish experience – and the affiliate revenue helps pay for it.
So we’re focusing on making the Dish itself deeper until our budget grows to accommodate more commissioned pieces. But I’m still at work on one long-form essay and planning more. More podcasts are scheduled. Our goal is to do more and more to reward subscribers. But we remain committed to gradual evolution rather than big sudden leaps. It has served us well over the last fourteen years, and we see no reason to change course now.
Updates you might have missed: readers debated the fairness of Sterling getting fined $2.5 million dollars for his bigotry, more readers in the banking industry provided their expert take on the crackdown on porn-star accounts, and yet more readers added to the debate over Jesus’ apocalyptic views.
Thanks again for being the best readership any bloggers could ask for – and sustaining this enterprise unlike any other on the web. Thanks to you, we are truly independent, and our business model is not aiming for a future moment when we will (somehow) break even. We are breaking even. And we’re doing that without ads yet! That’s something we’re proud of. As you should be too.
We passed that milestone in subscriptions a few minutes ago, marking a great end to a great February here at the Dish. Revenue for February is up 25 percent over last year; and traffic hit a post-independence peak of 2.2 million unique visitors and 6.6 million pageviews this month, fueled in large part by interest in the anti-gay religious liberty bills in Kansas and Arizona.
Thanks for making this experiment in subscriber-supported online journalism possible. And if you are still procrastinating on subscribing, it couldn’t be quicker or easier. Subscribe here and help forge a web with fewer ads, ads masquerading as articles and countless distractions.
Update from a “nutty Kansas Democrat” and Founding Member of the Dish:
I renewed last night for $4.48 a month. Given what the 48th state (Arizona) did on Wednesday just seemed right. It’s amazing how fast this is changing isn’t it? (Wasn’t it just 10 years ago that Bush had a primetime speech pushing for marriage protection?) I think what you’re doing is worth a cup of coffee a month. Keep up the good work.
Now make me some Dish swag!
We’re on it. Another Dish supporter:
I know you have probably receive a billion letters from subscribers and I’m a bit late to the party, but I’ve been really busy recently, which I’ll explain below. I’m a “founding member” subscriber and have been following your blog since the white-font-on-purple days, a somewhat liberal Democrat who found your approach to conservative thought refreshing and eye opening. What caught me most at the time was your push for marriage equality, which as a gay man I yearned for.
I still remember coming out of the closet in 1986, a twenty-year-old college student who realized he couldn’t ignore who he was or would risk being alone his entire life. The only grief I felt during those first exhilarating and challenging steps of coming out was the knowledge I would never be able to marry the man I loved, no matter who that man would turn out to be.
I met the love of my life on Valentine’s Day in 2006. In November of 2012 we drove from our home state of Arizona to Iowa and were married in the city of Clinton. We drove because my husband-to-be is a Mexican national who let his visa expire years ago so we could remain together here in the States, so attempting to fly there was too big a risk. We didn’t know what the future would have in store for us, but we knew we wanted to spend our lives together and marriage was important to both of us.
Just a quick note. I have read your blog for many years now. I was an initial subscriber and also re-subscribed (for $40) for the new year.
I’m getting spoiled by the no ads. In fact, since I’m so used to no ads, it is getting annoying to read other online content with ads. I regularly (at least used to) visit the Huffington Post. It is getting ridiculous how slow their site is becoming with all the extra crap. It’s getting to the point I don’t visit as much. I have a very fast machine with very fast Internet. It doesn’t help. It will sometimes take 30 seconds before all the content loads and I can actually scroll down and read the story.
In short, thanks for keeping your site clean. It is SO worth the subscription.
We feel the same way. Because so many other sites do not have any actual subscription revenue, and because revenue from ads keeps declining, the prevalence of sponsored content and ads and sponsored links will, I’m pretty sure, continue to proliferate. We started with the luxury of a very loyal readership, which enabled us to head off in the opposite direction to the herd when we went independent. That was a high-risk decision at the time; it’s been a high-reward move a year later.
As for an update, the revenue renewal rate is pretty steady at 105 percent over 2013. February’s revenue is now higher than last year – and we have a week to go. And our traffic in February – just under 2 million unique visitors so far – is currently the highest since we went independent. The potential for creating a space for vibrant, accessible, online journalism that is not overwhelmed by advertizing or pseudo-advertizing is real. Subscribe here – and help us maintain one of the highest signal-to-noise ratios on the web.
Update from a reader:
I’m rather red-faced that it’s taken this long, but I finally renewed my subscription. In honor of the age I’ll reach in three months, I renewed at $60. Why did it take so long? Who knows. Laziness, an attitude of I’ll-do-it-later, maybe a naïve assumption I didn’t click on READ ON all that much. Well, let me tell you something – these past few weeks have reminded me I click READ ON all the time. I was going through withdrawal not being able to read the full text of just about everything in The Dish. Being part-Ukrainian, and trying to devour your news about the protests in Maidan, I had to act. Withdrawal symptoms are lessening now.
That’s the number of auto-renewing subscriptions the Dish now has. I know we’ve been pestering you through this renewal process, but I hope you understand it’s because we needed to create a solid base to build and grow this community and conversation. We’ve now got the foundations for long-term survival as an independent site. We took the hardest route to get to the most solid ground. We are not in a daily desperate search for page-views and ad dollars, like so many other sites. We are incentivized entirely to make sure readers want to renew their subscriptions each year and don’t want to cancel.
I don’t know of another news and opinion site online that has close to 25,000 subscribers. I don’t know of another that has no ads. So I just wanted to thank you for this unique achievement. And to pledge to you we will use every penny to make the Dish the best single source for news and opinion on the web. We cannot begin to express the gratitude we now feel, and the excitement for what we are about to build.
Today is the Dish’s first anniversary of going independent on our own site with our own company. We launched for real on February 4, 2013. And that’s when I, along with a large swathe of you, started my subscription. Today it expires, and sooner or later, if you haven’t yet renewed, you’ll have the irritating prospect of being blocked by our meter system. We always promised transparency so here’s the state-of-play of the last thirteen months as of this lunchtime:
As you can see, we matched January 2013’s total in January 2014. Actually, we beat it by a smidgen last Friday night. That’s a pretty extraordinary result and an amazing start for the year. But it’s not enough to sustain us for the year ahead with even last year’s budget and February remains a critical month for us, as you can see from the graph above. More to the point, we know there are many of you out there who subscribed last January and February and who’ve understandably been putting off renewing until you absolutely have to. I get that, because it’s the kind of procrastination I’m pretty good at myself. But the moment when you actually have to renew in order to avoid any future interruptions is now here. Today is the last day you can simply renew your subscription and never get your reading intercepted by our meter. After today, you can still subscribe, of course, but you’ll have to start again as a new subscriber.
So if you’ve been procrastinating on this but always intended to renew – and we totally understand why – count this as a friendly nudge to get it over with. It’s a truly simple and quick process, and you can get it done in a couple of minutes tops. Take a moment to ask yourself what the Dish is actually worth to you over the year – and plug it into the renewal box. It’s still only a minimum of $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year – but many renewing subscribers have picked price points more tailored to them. It could be the double chai option of $3.60 a month; or a pledge to support our coverage of the marijuana legalization debate at $4.20 a month; or a decision to back this new model for online journalism by upping your subscription to $100 a year (541 hardcore Dishheads have so far); or just a simple renewal at the same minimum price as last year. Our most popular price point right now is $25 a year; but the $50 a year is our fifth most popular, and our average price this year is still around $37.
We’ll leave it to you to create a price point tailored to you. And we’re thrilled to have you along for the ride at whatever price point you can afford. But today is the last day you can simply renew and avoid any future hassles or interruptions.
So renew here! Renew now! And make sure your Dish reading experience is never interrupted again. If you run into any problems renewing, please email us at email@example.com.
Update from a new subscriber, who throws another price-point in the mix:
Following in the new tradition of adding a tip to the bill, I paid 31.41 – because I’m a nerd.
Another reader’s formula:
I renewed my subscription at $32.99 because the Dish it is the first thing I check every morning and several times throughout the day. I think it is probably worth $40.00 a year, but I deducted $7.00 for the God stuff and a penny for the dogs. I hate dogs.
One more reader:
Yes, I was a straggler. Part of it was procrastination. Part of it was just wanting to push you to the edge (sorry!). Part of it was money struggles. But today I put fifty bucks into your till because, frankly, you’re irritatingly worth it. And I really don’t want to miss Deep Dish.
Keep up the good (yet sometimes infuriating) work. Thanks to you, Andrew, and the entire team. You help keep me sane.
A subscriber, by sending the above photo, panders successfully:
I just renewed and bumped up the price to $25 for now, and likely more to come later. I’ve been a reader for a solid decade, and for a busy person with limited reading time, the Dish offers an incredible value with a great balance of breadth and depth. We’re all richer for it.
Holy shit. It’s taken me this long to figure out that the Dish and my firstborn have the same exact date of birth (one year ago today). I’ve been procrastinating on the renewal, but obviously the universe wants me to knock it off. Anyway: I renewed for $23.273 (which I rounded up to $23.28), which is how you spell “beard” on a standard keypad.