Archives For The Dish Model

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:

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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.

The Psychology Of Clickbait

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 18 2014 @ 12:19pm

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 Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 11.28.15 AMwe’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.

(Insert: from Clickhole)

The Dish, Year 2: Renewal Time

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 15 2014 @ 9:20pm

[Re-posted from yesterday]

It’s hard to believe now, but it was only a year ago that a handful of us jumped off the cliff to independence and 25,000 of you caught us. After the first six eddy-dusty-rocks years as a one-man blog, and the next seven attached to bigger, corporate media, we decided to become a small independent company in one of the toughest business climates in journalism in memory. It’s been a wild ride – but entirely because of you, we made it through our first year, almost hitting our highly ambitious subscription revenue target of $900K (we amassed around $850K), and gaining 34,000 subscribers in twelve months.

What have we created? Every now and again over the years, I’ve tried to figure it out. A blog? A magazine? A blogazine? A website? But every year, it changes again, as the new media shift, and as the world turns and as small experiments – like the Window Views or the reader threads – become ramparts of the whole thing. Do we, the staffers, write this blog? Sure, we do. But so do you, every day, with emails and testimonies and anecdotes that bring dry news stories to vivid personal life. Do we curate the web? Sure. Every day, we scour the vast Internet for the smart or the funny, the deep and the shallow, the insightful and the abhorrent. But you send us so many links and ideas VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE every day that the creators of the Dish are better understood as a community, you and us, correcting, enlightening, harshing and moving each other.

What I hope is that we’ve created an ongoing conversation – about politics and religion and technology and nature and love and life and sex and friendship. And like all conversations, it has no fixed direction, just a desire to keep it going, and never to shut it down. And part of me believes that this spontaneous, free-wheeling but edited conversation is what the Internet is best at. I’m riveted every day by the conversation we continue to have – from the misery of miscarriage to the deaths of pets to the hopes of a new papacy. And it’s a conversation made possible by the simple quality and sincerity and anonymity that all of you bring to the table. It feels at times like a truth-seeking missile, if we only get out of the way of the arguments and insights we collate every day and night.

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But we’ve also pioneered a new business model online, if it qualifies for such a grandiose term. By “new” business model, we mean asking you to pay directly for what we do. Very few other websites do this, because very few websites have the kind of readership we do. And the good news is that we made a small profit in our first year (since I didn’t take a salary); we are indebted to no-one but you; we added staffers to handle business, technology and administration (which was done for us at bigger companies); and we ran a very tight ship, with just six staffers, and now three (amazing) interns, on the payroll.

We also decided everyone should have health insurance, including interns, and that we’d promote everyone from within the team – an often unsung group of some of the most talented young writers, editors and journalists of their generation. They’re all in their twenties and early thirties, and if you ever met them, you’d see why I’m so honored and proud to work with them. More to the point, we ran no “sponsored Supreme Court Hears Arguments On California's Prop 8 And Defense Of Marriage Act content”, no corporate ads, no gimmicks, and also showcased a prototype for publishing long-form journalism (Deep Dish), which we’d love to have the resources to continue and expand. In an era in which media has become desperate for revenues from any source, we decided to stick to the simplest option: asking readers to pay for content they enjoy.

It was a big gamble, but we felt we knew our readers and believed you’d be there for us, when we needed you. And you were. 25,000 of you signed up almost at once in an avalanche of support; another 9,000 of you have subscribed since last March. We remain blown away by the enthusiasm and generosity.

But it remains a fragile achievement. There’s a flip-side to this extraordinary wave of support. More than half of it came in the first week of 2013 – and all those early founding subscriptions are all up for renewal at once at the beginning of next month. None of them was on auto-renewal (which we were only able to execute once we had our own site operating and finessed the Tinypass software).

Here’s an exciting and yet also sobering graph of our total revenues since the day we went independent:

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Check out that massive sum at the very left. That runs out completely at the beginning of next month. After that, we have no assurance that the Dish can survive another year. That’s why the looming renewal moment is absolutely critical. What we’re asking now of our Founding Members is pretty simple: to turn your original membership into a stable, ongoing subscription that will enable us to budget, plan and work every day and night of the year to bring you the Dish for the foreseeable future.

If you renew now, your subscription will still last through your usual twelve months, starting when your current annual subscription expires next month (you can see the precise date you’re up photo(2) for renewal in the little box at the very top right of the page; if your date is 3/21/2014 or later you are already on auto-renew and don’t need to do anything for your subscription to continue).

You can pay what you paid last year if you want and we’d be very grateful to keep you as a subscriber – and the minimum is still only $19.99 a year or $1.99 a month. But we’re asking our Founding Members, if you have the resources, to set your annual subscription price for the coming years as generously as you can. We pulled off this year by the skin of our teeth, but if we are going to retain our staff, if I’m going to get a salary, and if we are to have a chance at getting the resources to get Deep Dish beyond the prototype phase, we need to more than replicate our first year’s budget. And yes, we’ve kept our expenses low: no office, but a weekly dinner at a local diner (that’s us from last week).

Ask yourself what you think the Dish has been worth to you last year and throw in some more if you can. The more you give us, the more we can do. And we’ll keep the promise we made to you this time last year and have kept: maximal transparency and accountability. Think of it not just as a way to keep the Dish alive but as a way also to prove that transparent, reader-supported journalism can survive in an era of listicles, sponsored content, algorithms and endless slideshows.  We believe it can; and we hope over this past year we’ve proved it.

But we need to get this on a stable footing; we need to figure out a budget; we need to plan. So take this as my last pitch for getting the Dish eddybowiefinally off the ground (once everyone is on auto-renew, these annual pitches will mercifully end). You kickstarted us last January and February; we need you just as urgently to put us on a long-term stable footing with one final act: auto-renewing your subscription before it runs out. The average Founding Member subscription price last year was $28. If every one of you added $5 or more to that, we could begin to expand Deep Dish, retain our staffers, pay me, and prove that independent, reader-financed journalism isn’t dead. It’s just beginning to rise from the ashes.

Renew today! Keep us alive. And thank you so much for this past year. You carried us; we hope you feel we deserve another year of your support. We can’t wait to get started. Please don’t wait to help us one more time. Renew here. Renew now.

(Photos of Francis and Edie Windsor from Getty)

The Dish Subscription Surge

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 31 2013 @ 9:00pm

One last note before the New Year begins. When I was asked a little less than a year ago what our ambition was for revenue in 2013, I grabbed a number out of the air. It was our combined editorial budget at the Beast in 2012, which was $900K. Maybe it was unreasonable to think we could make the same salaries independent as we did under a corporate umbrella; maybe I should have made the goal higher – because we also had to find staff and time and resources in 2013 to do all the administrative, business and technical work that the Beast had done for us; maybe I should have set the goal considerably higher if we were able to corrall enough resources to start commissioning and publishing more long-form pieces. But, hey, I didn’t know what to expect, and $900K seemed fair enough if I had to pick.

Well, we kinda did it. As the hours tick down on 2013, here’s a graph of our new subscriber revenue month by month, after the initial massive wave:

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That’s what you call a strong finish. We end the calendar year with gross subscription revenue of $851K. We have no debt. We have almost 34,000 subscribers. Almost 9,000 of them are now on auto-renew, and if our 25,000 original supporters renew next year in numbers comparable with the very beginning, then we’ll finally have a solid basis for a ongoing, entirely-online blogazine with no sponsored content and (so far) no advertizing.

To coin a very 2012 phrase: you built that. And we’re incredibly grateful to live in it.

Thank you. And a very Happy New Year from all of us – me, Patrick, Chris, Jessie, Matt, Alice, Chas, Brian, Brendan, Jonah and Tracy – to every single one of you.

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In a much-discussed NYT essay, Tim Kreider beseeches his fellow writers to stop working for free:

A familiar figure in one’s 20s is the club owner or event promoter who explains to your band that they won’t be paying you in money, man, because you’re getting paid in the far more valuable currency of exposure. This same figure reappears over the years, like the devil, in different guises — with shorter hair, a better suit – as the editor of a Web site or magazine, dismissing the issue of payment as an irrelevant quibble and impressing upon you how many hits they get per day, how many eyeballs, what great exposure it’ll offer. “Artist Dies of Exposure” goes the rueful joke.

Harlan Ellison has a great, if somewhat excessive, rant on this:

Development economist Chris Blattman pushes back:

I feel for Kreider, but he tells only his side of the story. Writers were, to a degree, protected by costs of entry and distance and communication. That protection is falling away. This is painful and disruptive, especially because it is so abrupt. But the other sides must be told.

One is that more people get a shot at an audience than ever before, from academic development economists to North African activists to precocious 20-year olds with talent. Another side is that more people get more information and ideas at a lower price than ever before. If good writing and ideas are valuable, surely making it cheaper and more widely available is a good thing? Especially for the people in the world who before could least afford it.

I’m pinioned between these two conflicting forces. Magazine writers were coddled in luxurious greenhouses for years and in some ways, the new desert we are struggling in is a tonic against some of the mediocre crap that used to be run at endless length in what were effectively gilded guilds. And yet, the new landscape is also more of a desert than a plain. There’s almost nothing to eat unless you do something other than writing as well. Some new media patrons seem to be filling in the gaps – in nonfiction, we have Bezos and Omidyar and Hughes coming to the rescue. Others may follow. But that would be – yes, I will retire this metaphor in this sentence – a bunch of precious, gilded oases, in a still-vast wasteland, rather than a viable, renewable ecology.

What interests me is finding a way to pay writers with money that comes from readers.

It’s that simple really. The end of paper and print as the delivery system should make that feasible in principle. After all, what the old media barons used to have on their side was their unique ability to pay for all that industrial-sized printing and mailing. Now, all those costs have disappeared. So where are the new journals and magazines and blogazines, founded by writers and aimed at readers? There are many online, and at the Dish we do all we can to find and promote them. But there is as yet no viable, sustained model for them to stand on their own two feet.

But we’re trying to innovate one. I’m not saying this to ask you to [tinypass_offer text=”subscribe”] if you haven’t (but I’ll take a new subscription any time). I’m saying it because the Dish model of small, renewable subscription payments is an obvious way forward.

Companies like Tinypass have begun to make this technologically feasible. Affiliate revenue – like the Amazon revenue a blog like Brain Pickings relies on for a great deal of its income – can also help. Banner ads can also be useful – but it’s hard (and ethically tenuous) for a lone writer to both do her job and also persuade companies to sponsor her. Remnant advertizing – breakthroughs in testosterone! – can work too. Put some or all of this together and you have a model that might provide more writers with a way to make a living as writers.

In other words, what makes my own job so exhilarating – and nerve-wracking – is the chance not just to create and constantly evolve an online blogazine, but to pioneer a bit of this new writing economy. Dish subscribers already pay six full-time writers and researchers (including interns) and give everyone health insurance; in the future, we’d really like to start using this still-new model to commission and pay good money for long-form journalism. We won’t be able to help book-writers (except for promoting, examining and talking about), but we hope to be able to help nonfiction writers more generally – and not just with eyeballs. That’s why subscribing to the Dish is not just about the Dish. It’s about trying to create a new economy for writing. Think of us as an ice-breaker ship. If we can find a new passage to viable new media, many many others can follow. So, yes, I’m not going to be coy. If you care about the future of writers in this economy and want to empower them rather than potential new corporate overlords, [tinypass_offer text=”subscribe here”].

(Photo by Hamed Saber)

An Award For The Dish!

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 23 2013 @ 4:00pm

It’s the Sidney Hillman Award for opinion and analysis for yours truly and the Dish as a whole. The awards are given “to journalists whose work highlights important social and economic issues and helps bring about change for the better.” I’m truly honored. The award usually goes to progressives and liberals, so I am a particularly grateful outlier. The citation:

Sullivan’s leadership in the fight for marriage equality is the principal reason he has earned a Hillman Prize. But this is not a single-issue award. Though there are many areas of disagreement between Sullivan and the Hillman judges, we commend, among numerous other things, his fierce condemnations of torture and the impunity granted to its perpetrators, his critique of the cruelties of the failed drug war and the policy of marijuana prohibition, his opposition to all forms cartoon-patrick-chrisof intolerant religious fundamentalism (including the American variety he correctly calls Christianism), and his campaign for reform and accountability in the hierarchy of his own beloved Catholic Church.

We commend him, too, for the creation and nurturing of a sturdy and consistently innovative journalistic institution—one that has recently embarked on a brave experiment: seeking to sustain itself purely on subscriptions from its devoted readers, without advertising or corporate backing. For those readers, The Dish is a source of almost addictive pleasure as well as a forum for stimulating discussion and a uniquely energetic and intelligent collator of news and opinion.

For courage and constancy in the struggle for marriage equality, for the defense and advocacy of humane values, and for imagination and creativity at the digital cutting edge, we honor Andrew Sullivan and The Dish with the Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism.

So I share this award with everyone else at the Dish (especially Patrick and Chris, my indispensable colleagues for the past few years) and with you, who have made this experiment in self-sustaining new media viable. Thanks.

And if you really want to help us celebrate, [tinypass_offer text=”subscribe!”]

The Dish Model, Ctd

Chris Bodenner —  Apr 3 2013 @ 1:09pm
by Chris Bodenner

German Funnies

Josh Luger at Business Insider interviewed Andrew over the Dish experiment:

BI: How do you wrap your ahead around the meter concept?

AS: Back in the day I would go to Harvard Square bookstore. When I was there in 1984, having left England, there was no way for me to know what was going on back home except in the British papers. I would go there and flip through the newspapers. At some point the dude had every right to say “Either buy the magazine or put it down.” That’s basically what the meter is.

That’s a good analogy but a tad exaggerated for the Dish, since about 80% of our content – the stuff above the read-ons – will always be free for everyone; we’ll never make you put down the Dish. But yeah, if you’ve enjoyed our work over the years for free and haven’t yet chipped in 2 bucks a month, we hope the meter will nudge you into doing so. As one reader puts it:

I have been reading your blog for several years (since it was at the Atlantic). However, I hadn’t subscribed until you offered the $1.99/month model. Why? Hard to say, really. Part of it is that I am a perpetually broke student. But mostly, I think it feels like a lower commitment threshold. Sure, $20 to enjoy a year’s worth of a blog I have enjoyed for six or seven years is not much of a stretch. But the bite-size $2/month just seems more manageable, particularly for the iTunes generation. Even though I’m paying more in the long run (and glad to do it), each small payment is so negligible that it feels like nothing – unlike $20, which feels like handing over a crisp $20 bill out of my dwindling wallet. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get more young readers signing up on the monthly plan. We’re much more accustomed to buying our media in single servings rather than handing over a lump sum up front, as in the dying magazine subscription model.

Anyway, thank you for your writing, Andrew. You have been a role model for me for what it means to grapple with being both gay and Catholic. Keep fighting the good fight!

More feedback from readers on the new pricing option here. Subscribe [tinypass_offer text=”here”] if you haven’t already. And thanks to everyone for their support and feedback, positive and critical. Another reader:

As a cognitive therapist, I’m always interested in people’s belief systems – and the actions they take to maintain them.

Along those lines, I imagine that many of your readers have an underlying belief that says, “Content offered online should be free,” or even, “Paying for content online is wrong. It’s a slippery slope. If we start paying for content, we restrict the flow of information.” Or something along those lines. If they make an exception for you by subscribing, they’ve weakened that belief system. And the mind resists weakening its self-protective beliefs.

In your “pitch,” you might want to invite a discussion about the underlying belief  system at work here. Should all online content indeed be free? If so, what else should be free? Coffee at coffee shops? Dinners out? Video games? Therapy sessions? Car repairs? Or just online content? And if so, why?

I myself waited a few weeks to subscribe, just to see how my mind would react to the process. I ended up realizing that I am an enormous consumer of your material and would probably value it at somewhere around $300/year. Compared to that value, a $20 price is a no-brainer.

You might ask your readers: What value (specific, numerical) would you place on one year of content from the Dish? If you value it at more than $20, how does that square with your belief system? At the least, it could be an interesting discussion.

Luger actually asked Andrew a similar question:

BIHow much would you pay for The Dish? How much do you think its worth? I ask because it’s very conceivable that, at some point, you may need to raise subscription prices on existing subscribers to hit your desired revenue goal.

AS: [Laughs] I pay $50 to Talking Points Memo so that will tell you something… I think its worth it. I’d happily pay $50 a year and I can prove that I did.  And I asked readers to do so.

I am too falsely modest to say how much I’d pay for The Dish and way too close to even understand the concept. It’s very hard for me to see The Dish as some option for me to read. I, generally speaking, hate everything I write and say its all crap. But, every now and then I go on vacation and I look at it and read it. And I go “that’s not bad, is it?” If I was a general reader and wanted to find out about the world, it’s pretty comprehensive and kind of fun.

Update from a reader:

Reading the discussions about how and why people pay how much for The Dish brings to mind a theory of mine about the value of technology, and how much people are willing to pay for it. I call this John Halbert’s Three Laws of Technology Economics:

First Law: People will pay trivial amounts for convenience, and be conscious of small differences. They will pay $1 for a newspaper, but not $2, for example.

Second Law: People will pay out of cash flow for enhancements to their existing abilities or equipment. They will pay $100 for more memory for their computer, or $50 for a software upgrade. This amount is roughly equivalent to what they carry in their wallet on a daily basis.

Third Law: People will make substantial financial commitments for the ability to do something that they could not otherwise do. In other words, they will go into debt for power. Buying a car, or going into debt for an education, are examples.

This theory is particularly useful when there is a differential between cost and value. For example, a plane ticket is Second Law cost (no one goes into debt to buy a plane ticket), but Third Law value: you can go somewhere faster than you otherwise could. The Internet is a two-law differential: First Law cost ($30/month for Internet access), but Third Law value: you can do many things on the Internet you could not otherwise do.

The Dish straddles the line between First and Second Law cost and value. For some people, $20 is a trivial amount, and they wouldn’t particularly care if it was $20 or $50. For some people, it’s also Second Law value: it’s not just convenience (First Law); it’s an enhancement to their existing abilities or equipment. There is a lot of information/discussion on The Dish that would be difficult to find anywhere else. If I absolutely had to, I’m sure I could find a good discussion of prosecutors vs. public defenders, but I doubt it would be as succinct as your recent discussion. So for some people, reading The Dish is a great timesaver. If you’re a high-powered lawyer who charges $800/hour, saving a couple of minutes a day adds up very quickly.

But for other people, it’s strictly First Law cost and value. Paying $20 all at once may represent the difference between going out on a Friday and staying home. It’s also something many people read occasionally, but that they don’t really need. They can read Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, or any number of newspaper sites. So those people are reading it for convenience, and they are conscious of small differences.

(Photo: A German boy leans against the wall next to a magazine stand to read a comic book, circa 1955. By Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)