Dish Independence

“Present and Future Business Models for Monetizing the Newspaper Industry” is a jingle from NPR’s On the Media that trumpets a recurring theme on the show (and a theme for anyone interested in making a living in the media). Well, that’s the jingle I heard in my head when I came across the following.

Openly HIV-positive and gay blogger extraordinaire Andrew Sullivan announced on January 2 that starting February 1 his blog The Dish will become ad-free and start charging for access to some of its content:

the_dishAnd so, as we contemplated the end of our contract with the Beast at the end of 2012, we faced a decision. As usual, we sought your input and the blogosphere’s – hence the not-terribly subtle thread that explored whether online readers will ever pay for content, and how. The answer is: no one really knows. But as we debated and discussed that unknowable future, we felt more and more that getting readers to pay a small amount for content was the only truly solid future for online journalism. And since the Dish has, from its beginnings, attempted to pioneer exactly such a solid future for web journalism, we also felt we almost had a duty to try and see if we could help break some new ground.

The only completely clear and transparent way to do this, we concluded, was to become totally independent of other media entities and rely entirely on you for our salaries, health insurance, and legal, technological and accounting expenses.

The URL will revert to andrewsullivan.com. Founding members are asked to pay $19.99 for one year, but Sullivan encourages folks to give more if they feel like it:

No member will have any more access or benefits than any other member, but if hardcore Dishheads want to give us some love for the years of free blogging and for the adventure ahead, we’d be crazy not to take it.

And here are some of the details on how it will actually work:

Our particular version will be a meter that will be counted every time you hit a “Read on” button to expand or contract a lengthy post. You’ll have a limited number of free read-ons a month, before we hit you up for $19.99. Everything else on the Dish will remain free. No link from another blog to us will ever be counted for the meter – so no blogger or writer need ever worry that a link to us will push their readers into a paywall. It won’t. Ever. There is no paywall. Just a freemium-based meter.

Sullivan doesn’t rule out advertising in the future if subscription revenue isn’t enough. “But it would be a great missed opportunity, in my view, not to try,” Sullivan says.

Full disclosure: I visit The Dish regularly and I wanted to support this experiment, so I paid the minimum. In just a few hours after his initial post, Sullivan reports that a third of his readers have subscribed giving more than the $19.99 minimum.

Sullivan cites mixed reactions to his announcement across the blogosphere. Obviously, I support the concept.

The Dish is in a unique position because of its loyal and large following, but this model does seem to have potential for even one-person blogs. Micropayments work, so why shouldn’t bloggers try?