A New Media Model

The breakthrough in our attempt to go independent this time last year was when we discovered – well, Chas discovered – a small, newish company called Tinypass, that was able to run our meter system and take paid subscriptions from readers. Without any business staff, it was a godsend. Like us, it was a small group of people; and like us, we were refugees from traditional media, trying to start over. Throughout the last ten months or so, we’ve bounced around ideas, brainstormed problems, and shared reflections on this experiment. But we’re not alone, as this short video about the company and what it offers writers, journalists, musicians, artists and bloggers demonstrates (with a small cameo from yours truly):

With your help, and with six weeks to go, we’re now at $807K in our first year revenue, closing in on our goal of $900K. Tinypass made that possible; you made it happen. If you are a regular reader of the Dish, all we ask is that you consider if what we provide each day is worth $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. If it is, please [tinypass_offer text=”subscribe”]. As you can see, this model is not just about us. It’s about building a future for a whole range of new media on the ashes of the old. [tinypass_offer text=”Help us get there.”] For subscribers who want to support us further, you can purchase a gift subscription for someone who might like the Dish. If you want to revive the future of actual content online – rather than ever-invasive ads and advertorials and traffic gimmicks – this is a place to start. A reader writes:

When you went indie and started your new website, I agreed that the only sustainable way of doing what you had planned was to start charging for the site. Yet, I never subscribed. Until today. Why? Still working on my dissertation with limited financial resources, the yearly fee was holding me back. Or more precisely, the subscription model was holding me back. I don’t like to subscribe. I currently don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines, though I have in the past. And it wasn’t the $19.99. That’s a more than reasonable amount. It was something else, too. I often read posts that I didn’t agree with, that held me back from subscribing. Do I really want to pay someone who held some views I was opposed to?howler beagle

What changed? I realized that just as with any newspapers and magazines I buy or bought in the past, I just wouldn’t agree with everything. I love the Economist but I have serious reservations regarding some of their views. Looking at your blog the same way as a magazine, I figured out that I could disagree with some posts, ignore others, and skip over those that didn’t interest me.

So, my reservations are gone. Actually, I feel like I have to subscribe to The Dish because I want to support a journalistic effort that pays its employees fairly. And one that takes care of its interns. Having been an intern myself and never having gotten any pay (whether it was at museums, theaters or interning for a member of the European Parliament), I really appreciate this aspect the most. Your monthly subscription model is also an incentive and allows me to give more, as it’s easier to pay $5 a month than $50 or 60 once a year.

What finally made me commit though was setting up a website for my photography. After having done that, I visited The Dish and discovered that you were also hosted on WordPress. And I could press the follow button. But I could not in good conscience do so while not subscribing. So I subscribed. And then I clicked that “follow” button.

A few more emails of new media pioneering are below. But first a dissent:

Count me as a paid member who will not be renewing his subscription next year. I have enjoyed your blog for a long time, but increasingly it seems you are using your public “voice” to push your agendas.

I enjoy spirited debate as much as the next guy, but that isn’t what we seem to be getting at the Dish anymore. Sure you post a few dissents and opposing opinions, but it occurs to me that those posts are chosen at your discretion. Are you really blogging both sides in your “debates”?

Enough with Pope Francis already! Is legalizing pot really worth the time you give it (medical benefits … please!)? Bush and Cheney are war criminals, always and forever, but Obama is nuanced and not given a fair shake. Sure Obama lied about the details of the ACA, but that is ultimately ok because the good outweighs the bad. Sounds like an excuse for torture as well! And I have yet to hear from one animal scientist or reputable meat industry professional in your crusade agains the meat industry (not concentration camp, torture industry). Your anthropomorphic inclinations are clouding your judgement and your perspective is suspect given the fact that your only dealings with animals seem to be your relationship with a house pet. Yeah Yeah … everyone has a right to their opinion, I know!

I refuse to lend my hard-earned dollars to a site that is pushing agendas. You can dismiss me. You can chastise me. You can call me ignorant. What you can’t do is have my membership or endorsement anymore! Doubt this will make it on your blog.

Another reader points to a new media writer trying to make it with a subscription model as well:

I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for about 4 years now. I first learned of you while I was living in China, and your blog was a great source of American news for me, especially since your blog pretty much flew under the radar of the Great Firewall. When you first started collecting payments for your blog, I wanted to help, but I was unemployed at the time, and I needed to save money. I kept telling myself that when I got my job, I’d sign up. But I got my job back in June, and I kept putting it off. I’d find reasons to do it later whenever I hit my limit. Though reading on my phone and on my PC gave me a little extra breathing room. I don’t know why I kept putting it off, maybe there was some part of me that just didn’t want to pay for web content (I know, it’s selfish).

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bill Bishop over at sinocism.com, he runs a fantastic China-focused newsletter. It’s mostly a collection of English and Chinese news about the country, but he clearly puts a lot of work into it every day and adds commentary whenever he can. He has been asking for donations and subscriptions for a while, since it takes a significant amount of time every day. He recently made a make-or-break request. He was looking to hit a certain threshold of subscribers so he could justify the time he put into it, but he only made it a little over halfway his goal. So, he announced that at the end of the month he was going to transition from a daily newsletter to a weekly one. Although I like reading his newsletter and will be sad to see it less often, I can understand his reasons.

I wouldn’t like to see your blog go the same route. I feel incredibly guilty for free-riding off your content for so long. So I’ve subscribed finally. Keep up the good work!

Another plug for new media pioneers:

I am a big fan of yours, and as a journalism teacher, I’m also a big fan of your new publication model (and I’m hoping it will work, so I can show my students that they can do this successfully too). I have purchased my own subscription and I’m thinking about buying one for my father-in-law, who is quite conservative but whom I have spirited, if still cordial conversations with.

I am also a fan of a man named Dan Carlin. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him, but I think you’d find him particularly interesting. Carlin is a podcaster. He’s a former TV reporter who then became a radio host for a few years in the Pacific Northwest, but eventually left that world because, being a staunch independent in what I think is the truest sense of the term, he didn’t quite fit the ideological mold. So he became an early adopter of the podcasting format not long after you hit it as a blogger.

Carlin does two podcasts. His “baby” is “Hardcore History,” where, as a self-professed “fan” of history and not a scholar, he tells stories on historical subjects. These are like extemporaneous audiobooks or long-form essays, and his storytelling is incredibly thorough from a research perspective while also being phenomenally entertaining.

His other podcast is called “Common Sense,” which is a current events podcast where he discusses his point of view on the current political topics of the moment. He reminds me very much of you as an independent thinker who has become disillusioned with the current political state of play in Washington and has ideas on how things can get better.

I’m sure you have more than a few Dishheads in the mix who, like me, are also fans of Dan. I also think it’s worth pointing out the remarkable similarities between your current model and his. As a loyal fan of both you and him, I encourage you to check out a few of his podcasts, which are available for free on iTunes: Common Sense and Hardcore History. (If you’re looking for a good sample of both, I particularly encourage you to listen to “Show 42 – Logical Insanity” from Hardcore History, and “Show 258 – Snow Storm” from Common Sense.) Carlin’s antiquated though reportedly soon-to-be-updated website is here.

I don’t know how ultimately useful you will find this information, but at the very least, I believe there’s a new media kindred spirit-ship to be found between the two of you.