New Dish, New Media Update

Here is a snapshot of the Dish’s pay-meter at the end of last month:

Meter Peak Pie

As you can see, in February, only four thousand readers hit more than seven read-ons and were asked to pay. That’s only 0.4% of the total monthly unique visitors and 1.2% of the readers who hit at least one read on. Here’s a breakdown of the readership that didn’t hit more than seven read-ons:

Meter Peak Bar

When we set the meter at seven read-ons per month we knew that seven might be too high, but we wanted to err on the side of generosity. The good news is that our overall traffic didn’t decline in any way from being free to all to being metered: over a million people visited last month. But what we didn’t fully account for is that a high percentage of readers consume the Dish on multiple devices (work PC, home PC, smartphone and/or tablet) and that each of these devices gets seven free read-ons, thus many readers got 14, 21 or even 28 free read-ons. As one recently wrote:

I feel tremendous loyalty to the Dish and, as soon as the new revenue model was announced, I knew that I would subscribe. I waited to do so, however. I have been involved in several start-ups and other small businesses and I am always curious to learn more about them, so I planned to wait to be prompted to subscribe to see how the mechanism worked. I continued to read the site daily using the same practices I always had. I expected to be prompted to subscribe soon after February 4. The prompt never came.

Another was more succinct:

Early subscriber, daily reader, have never hit the subscription request.  I have four devices that I tend to use depending on how my day goes, so my presence on the site is clearly under reported.

So after reading dozens of similar emails and looking over all the data with the Tinypass team, we’ve decided to lower the meter to five free read-ons and extend the reset period from 30 days to 60 days. In all other respects, the meter will remain the same.

We want for the Dish to be as accessible as possible. But, since we’ve launched, for the vast majority of readers, it’s as if the meter doesn’t exist. Given how lax the meter has been, it’s remarkable how much of the readership has subscribed. Nevertheless, in the following chart of daily sales figures since the meter launched, you can clearly see how sales flat-lined once the meter reset for most people after March 8:

Sales Since Launch

So far, we have brought in around $644K in gross revenue, which is an incredible start to our goal of $900K for the year. We are immensely grateful to all the readers who have invested in the Dish with $19.99 or more. But we are eager to begin commissioning long-form journalism and other projects like podcasting, and we can’t begin that in earnest until we have our basic operations funded.

Now to reader reax on various aspects of the whole endeavor. Yes, I took a deep breath before reading some of these.  One writes:

I know that the irritation is a deliberate part of the subscription model, but why can’t ‘Read On’ be automatic for subscribers like me?  That would be something worth paying for in itself, turning a bug into a feature.  (If you think some people enjoy the extra clicking, you can make a toggle setting for it, and learn the truth by monitoring its use.) Your recent feminism post is a good example of what I worry about – a long post that’s mostly available but with a tiny bit at the end held off for no reason than apparently to nag for subscribers.

For years the Dish has used read-ons for an editorial, non-commercial purpose: to tuck a portion of a long post behind a read-on so the front-page isn’t excessively long. The toggle feature the reader recommends probably would not be worth the time and money it would take to develop, but please keep the ideas coming. Another reader:

Hope this finds you well. I am a long-time Dish reader, probably should subscribe, but haven’t. I always talk myself out of spending more money that I don’t have. But to be honest, being a (relatively) poor 20 something living in New York City, I get excited about finding ways to get things for free.

Hence, Google Reader.  I figured out a while ago that simply subscribing to your blog via Google’s Reader service allows me to access all of the content behind the jumps, thus basically making your pay wall irrelevant. I love Reader because it brings all the blogs I love in one place for easy access. However, it is not nearly as aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable to read your blog through Reader, and I prefer to read the content on your site. However, because of the pay wall I feel like I resort to cheating and anytime I am requested on your site to become a member, I simply switch tabs and continue reading.

Not sure why I am giving up this gem – maybe out of principle or respect for you and what you are doing. I love the concept you are going for, and while it’s nice to get things for free, I feel like you should know. I waited nearly two months for you to find this error and expected it to finally get changed, but hasn’t.  I guess I am turning myself in and letting you know.

Our reader must have missed our early posts where we acknowledge the free and unfettered access offered through our RSS feed. Though intended that from the beginning, we have recently discussed whether we should try to meter the RSS or opt for RSS-specific advertizing. But that debate might be irrelevant now that Google Reader is shutting down soon. Another reader:

After reading your post today updating your readership on the State of the Dish (my phrase, not yours!), I finally broke down and subscribed. I didn’t have to. I have read the Dish for years in my Google Reader. When y’all switched over, my access didn’t even stutter. I didn’t really want to. I am 29 years old. I am a digital native. The idea of paying for online content is almost anathema to me. On top of that, like many members of my generational cohort, I am seriously underemployed at the moment.

But I subscribed anyway. Why? Because I value The Dish. Because I rely on you and your staff to collate large chunks of the Internet for me and point me in the direction of stuff that interests me. Because, like many members of my generational cohort, I hate that we are labeled “freeloaders” by many outside of our cohort. Because you asked.

So I got out my credit card and spent $20 that I don’t really have to, in order to show that I care (I hope you appreciate the extra cent!). So even though I added another $20 to my debt load, it might actually, dollar for dollar, be a better value than my $60k in student loan debt. Thanks for keeping me informed.

Another adds:

That is one of the reasons I subscribed to the Dish (besides the great quality of your blog): as long as you continue to offer full posts in your feed, I will continue to subscribe.

Another reader who helped us get some valuable perspective on the new meter:

I’m no revenue person, but I’ve conducted a lot of mail surveys over the years, and the response rates are often similar to what you’ve shown in your graphs. Based on a quick scan of your sales numbers and a general knowledge of your readership (which are similar to the groups I tend to survey in terms of education), I’d recommend you tighten that meter sooner rather than later. I think you are right to worry that subscriptions will not maintain the pace of the first month’s rate, just as the high number of “early subscribers” (people who paid as soon as they heard) and “over-subscribers” (people who paid more than $20) gave you your biggest revenue gains before the meter even began.

I don’t know how much your subscription rate will diminish over the next few months, but I’d be surprised if you managed to match half the rate of the February numbers by mid-summer without some meter tightening. I’d expect something closer to 10 or 20% of your February numbers by the end of next year. The committed have had over two months to join, so you are now working on the slugs who are still waiting to see if they can freeride. They will need a bigger push (or you’ll need to collect more from the rest of us in the future).

On a final note, I really appreciate all the transparency. It’s the only way I would have subscribed in the first place.

Many thanks for all the feedback from readers; we couldn’t do this without you.