Andrew Sullivan and his team are going back to their humble blogging roots and leaving The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. to set up Dish Publishing, an independent company that will publish Sullivan's popular Dish blog.
Sullivan announced the news Wednesday on his blog that he and his team would depart NewsBeast on Feb. 1, when the blog will return to its former URL www.andrewsullivan.com. In his post, Sullivan called the move a decision "to strike out on our own with no safety net below us but you." The biggest change will be a metered pay model although Sullivan has already taken pains not to call the subscription-based plan a paywall.
It's a meter, not a paywall! andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2013/01/a-decl…— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) Jan. 2, 2013
Readers will get an unspecified number for views for free on longer-form posts (quick posts and short blog links will remain free to help the Dish remain a formidable traffic referrer), but after that those who wish to read the Dish will have to pony up $19.99 per year. The metered pay model is being developed with a company called TinyPass, which helps create revenue solutions for online content creators.
Notably missing from Sullivan's model are ads, a choice he describes as a painstaking decision in creating the new model. On his blog, Sullivan writes:
"We know from your emails how distracting and intrusive it can be; and how it often slows down the page painfully. And we're increasingly struck by how advertising is dominated online by huge entities, and how compromising and time-consuming it could be for so few of us to try and lure big corporations to support us. We're also mindful how online ads have created incentives for pageviews over quality content."
At the Atlantic, Sullivan drew roughly 1 million unique visitors to the site before leaving in early 2011 for NewsBeast, a number that some sources close to Newsweek believe accurately reflects his current traffic there.
Sullivan's move is no doubt a blow to the NewsBeast franchise, which is digital-only with Newsweek ending its print edition (Sullivan notes in his blog that Tina Brown was helpful and supportive of the move), especially after she publicly touted record traffic numbers for the online arm of the publication in recent months.
In the waning days of 2012, some of the new media pundits were speculating and offering praise to reports that The Washington Post may be adopting a paywall model in the new year, indicating that even in the most entrenched traditional media circles, there may be softening on the theory that people will actually pay for journalism online.
While $20 per year (with the option to donate more if you'd like) may turn off those accustomed to the free nature of the Web, some devotees are more than ready to shell out for Sullivan's services.
@sullydish I just signed on for $30, because I want to believe in a world where a fella can make a living through good writing. Good luck.— josh chasin (@jchasin) January 2, 2013
Have been reading @sullydish in blog form since 2000. Where do I hit the "subscribe" button?— daveweigel (@daveweigel) January 2, 2013
I don't even read Sullivan that much anymore, but I just got a year's subscription. I appreciate what he's up to. I even paid an extra cent.— Josh Greenman (@joshgreenman) January 2, 2013
$19.99 a year seems like a really reasonable price to pay for @sullydish, I'm in— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) January 2, 2013
While we've already seen paid models at major institutions like The New York Times, 2013 may be the year where we see a noticeable shift in the reader's willingness to pay for online content as well as the time when personal media brands begin to cash in without the help of large publishing corporations. As BuzzFeed's Ben Smith pointed out on Twitter, Sullivan's move is in some ways similar to Glenn Beck's decision to work behind a subscriber model at The Blaze. While Beck's move to a smaller, more dedicated paying audience was criticized at the outset, it could be the beginning of a trend for well-read journalists looking for some autonomy and a larger cut of the earnings.