January 3, 2013

Andrew Sullivan reaffirms the value of independent blogging.

After years of selling his traffic-pulling work to corporate enterprises — first The Atlantic and then The Daily Beast — announcing that he's going independent again, he acknowledges what really matters about blogging:
When I first stumbled into blogging over 12 years ago, it was for two reasons: curiosity and freedom. I was curious about the potential for writing in this new medium; and for the first time, I felt total freedom as a writer. On my little blog, I was beholden to no one but my readers. I had no editor to please, no advertiser to woo, no publisher to work for, no colleagues to manage....

For the first time in human history, a writer - or group of writers and editors - can instantly reach readers - even hundreds of thousands of readers across the planet - with no intermediary at all.

And they can reach back....
Is he going independent again to reconnect with these essentials? It's really more about the endless, frustrating search for a workable business model. I guess he wasn't getting enough from big media, in relation to what he gave. And yet, what is the alternative? Making even less? The new experiment is to make his blog into a subscription site. No ads. Sullivan reminds readers of the old adage: "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product being sold." He wants us to pay $19.99 a year. I don't know what his traffic is, but if my readers did that, I'd make $700,000 a year. He has many more readers, but also 7 employees to pay. He's not going to get all his existing readers to fork over $20, and putting up a wall will affect his traffic. But what does traffic matter if you're not selling the "product" of readers' eyes to advertisers? It matters in the way stated above, reaffirming the essentials of blogging.

Hence the purest, simplest model for online journalism: you, us, and a meter. Period. No corporate ownership, no advertising demands, no pressure for pageviews ... just a concept designed to make your reading experience as good as possible, and to lead us not into temptation.
But of course, the new temptation is whatever is needed to keep that subscription money flowing in. And no one has ever figured out what that is. And there's an escape for tight-fisted readers: You don't actually have to pay $20. You can pay whatever you want. Sullivan argues that you should want the writers you read to make money. They deserve to be paid for their work, and they work hard. I agree. And I must say that I like the mechanism he's using: TinyPass.
The point of doing this as simply and as purely as possible is precisely to forge a path other smaller blogs and sites can follow. We believe in a bottom-up Internet, which allows a thousand flowers to bloom, rather than a corporate-dominated web where the promise of a free space becomes co-opted by large and powerful institutions and intrusive advertising algorithms. We want to help build a new media environment that is not solely about advertising or profit above everything, but that is dedicated first to content and quality.
Even though I think Sullivan wants to grow his project into big media, I would love to see this model work. I especially like the way it's set up:
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. We've tried to maximize what's freely available, while monetizing those parts of the Dish where true Dishheads reside.
That's really well thought out. I have no idea if he'll make enough to sustain a 7-person staff, but I wish him luck.

And I wonder if Althouse should set up a TinyPass business model like that too. What if I cleared out all the advertising and switched to a system like that?

146 comments:

Rusty said...

I think the free market will decide if he's worth reading or not.

Shouting Thomas said...

I'm not a Sullivan fan, and have no interest in reading him. Even putting that aside... I'm wondering what in the hell he has to sell.

I suspect people won't cough up the money. I stopped adding on subscription fees to various services a long time ago. That 5 bucks for one service, plus 20 for another starts to really add up. I'm currently considering whether I want to spend 10 bucks a month to follow Illinois sports on the Big Ten Network, and I'm leaning toward "No."

Political opinion is pretty weak stuff. All Sullivan really has to sell, in my opinion, is the veneration of the gays BS. Maybe I'm wrong, but how many people will pay for that martrydom mythology?

Is the victim whining really that compelling a commodity?

Jim said...

It seems to me that you have all the freedom you want already, Ann. I'd rather you didn't switch to a subscription model, but I certainly wouldn't hold it against you if you did.

EMD said...

Can you find him at sulliv.an?





(That's Netherlands Antilles)



Ann Althouse said...

"I'm not a Sullivan fan, and have no interest in reading him. Even putting that aside... I'm wondering what in the hell he has to sell."

He has a huge number of readers, many of whom have been reading him for over a decade. He's a writer. The product is text. You don't think that's a real, valuable product in this world?

You are a musician. Is your product, which can be gotten for free, something that can also be bought? Should music be an amateur operation? (Amateur = for love)

Rusty said...

Jim said...
It seems to me that you have all the freedom you want already, Ann. I'd rather you didn't switch to a subscription model, but I certainly wouldn't hold it against you if you did.

A not so subtle request for more donations?
Throw a couple of sheckels in her hat.

Shouting Thomas said...

As to you own case, Althouse, I would predict that 5% or less of your readers would subscribe at $20 per annum.

That's still a lot of money, but it's also a huge decrease in readership.

rehajm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveR said...

Seems easy to figure this noble adventure out. $$$ or perhaps more precisely that the recent and present sources are going/have gone dry and rather than get a real job he wants to hang on to the fantasy.

Ann Althouse said...

"It seems to me that you have all the freedom you want already, Ann. I'd rather you didn't switch to a subscription model, but I certainly wouldn't hold it against you if you did."

Note that you'd still be able to read the whole front page, as much as you want, for free. When you clicked into post pages, a counter would keep track and at a certain number, you'd be prompted to subscribe, and the price would be a suggested price, but you could also choose a lower price.

That might actually improve the comments section, as the good-faith regulars would sign in, and think a bit about what they should contribute. Bad faith regulars would still sign in, but hit and run types wouldn't.

Jerry said...

I.

If he has seven employees creating his content, is he really writing a "blog", or is it really that he has his own magazine presented with a relatively poor content management system?

II.

Tinypass' page is fairly craptacular. It tells of of their mission, woohoo, but not how or what they do. Then stating they are refugees is an appeal to sympathy, but while I do sympathize, lack of knowledge how they work makes it difficult to sympathize too much.

III.

Tinypass is going to fail as you have described it. NOW, if that tinypass were tinyaggregation, and payment of $5, %10, $20 bucks bought me access to all Tinypass sites they might be more likely to succeed.

While many people want these sorts of experiments and small content providers to succeed, no one wants a zillion paypal donations to track.

rehajm said...

What's most interesting to me in the quest for the viable business model is the tension of desires. Money yes, but also influence. Move behind the wall and you gain one but lose some of the other. So you poke some holes in the wall. You poke some holes in the wall?

1/3/13 9:00 AM

EMD said...

I'm curious to see how long he can sustain the model.

mikee said...

Sullivan lost me as a reader long ago, when his conservative credentials turned out to be fluffy marketing, rather than any principles recognizable by mere mortals.

Plus, his amazingly inappropriate fixation on Sarah Palin's uterus.

Shouting Thomas said...

Musicians are really struggling to figure out how to get paid for their product.

In most cases, they don't get paid. The ratio of freebies to paid gigs can be as much as 3 to 1.

No, text doesn't seem to be a particularly saleable product to me.

If you look at the average income of writers, I think you'll see that writing and text aren't exactly in demand. Most newspaper writers make so little money that you wonder why they do the job. Ego and lack of other skills seems to be the answer.

bpm4532 said...

I'm not sur TinyPass offers much new. It depends on the value before ad after the "read on" link.

sparrow said...

"That might actually improve the comments section, as the good-faith regulars would sign in, and think a bit about what they should contribute. Bad faith regulars would still sign in, but hit and run types wouldn't."

True but I expect it would narrow the ideological range of comments and reduce the interaction, which it a great part of the site's draw.

Scott said...

Didn't Josh Marshall try (and fail) developing a paid subscriber base years ago? He's using advertising for revenue now.

Sullivan will fail if he uses a subscriber paywall model. He's like pizza -- even if you love it, it isn't difficult to live without it.

J.P. said...

If a blogger is going to a subscription model, he'd better have quite a subscription on offer. I know of a few bloggers that have made it independently, but they don't charge money for the blog - instead the blog is a loss leader on their money-making efforts, which can be advertising, explicit sponsorship, Amazon affiliation, books, and other products.

I think the book method is very useful because a book is a large enough chunk of value that people can get over the cost of making a decision and plunk down $5-25 for it. A year's subscription to a blog means you're committing to a year of value but you only see a few days' worth during the time when the decision is fresh. A micropayment model forces you to make the payment decision over and over again, which I think is why it failed.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Sullivan uses way too many words to say he wants to be his own boss so you should support him because he wants to be his own boss.

And calling his blog "The Dish" is about as fay as it gets.

Pogo said...

Healthcare will drift to subscription models.

Keep the National Health Service (and get in line), or pay and actually get seen.

A true two-tiered system, just like the Democrats railed against, brought to you by Democrats.

Levi Starks said...

I'm sorry Ann,
But I couldn't with a good conscience allow myself to be a party in putting you into a higher tax bracket. You don't deserve that kind of treatment.

Michael K said...

I used to read his blog regularly and comment. I quit when he seemed to lose his mind over Bush and Palin. I really wondered if he was getting AIDS dementia. I haven't read it in years.

The LA Times lets you read for part of a month then requires a subscription. I used to subscribe just for football season but they screwed that up when they got their billing messed up. I was getting dunning notices before the paper was delivered. The web site isn't worth subscribing.

I do subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. I haven't seen the subscription model work yet except for the journal.

The Farmer said...

Shouting Thomas said...
Musicians are really struggling to figure out how to get paid for their product.


Not really. In regards to recorded music, the overwhelming majority of them are sitting there taking it when sub services pay them fractions of a penny for a play, because they rationalize "It's better than nothing." But it isn't better than nothing, because it feeds a system that radically undervalues their work. Long-term, it's bound to lead to less money.

In most cases, they don't get paid. The ratio of freebies to paid gigs can be as much as 3 to 1.

That may be true if you count every single hobby band and weekend warrior, but every working band I know gets paid for their gigs, even if the pay is lousy. I haven't played a gig for free since the early 90s, and that was a benefit.

Ann Althouse said...

"As to you own case, Althouse, I would predict that 5% or less of your readers would subscribe at $20 per annum. That's still a lot of money, but it's also a huge decrease in readership."

It wouldn't decrease readership as much as you think, if you understand the details I've already explained.

If the prediction you make there is correct, it would bring in something like $35,000 a year. But what if there's another 20% or so that would pay something, but not $20. They might pay, let's say, an average of $7. That would be $50,000.

What if 50% of the readers would pay an average of $4. That would be $70,000.

That suggests that it might be better not to go with pay what you want, but a low amount that's only for clicking past the front page, into the post pages, and after, say, 20 click-throughs a month, you must sign up for a monthly payment of 50 cents. The worst part would be entering your information to TinyPass, but after that, the micro-payment from your perspective would be like the coins you dump in the tip jar in one visit to your local coffee house, and for a whole month. Totally painless, yet it would be really, genuinely paying me for the work of writing and maintaining this discussion forum.

Marshal said...

Sullivan Reaffirms the value of independent blogging....Is he going independent again to reconnect with these essentials?

Sullivan is doing nothing of the kind, he's trying to become rich from blogging. If he can that's fine, but let's not pretend we believe this is some high-minded exercise. I wonder whether the Newsweek cuts have him jumping ship before they reach him.

Surfed said...
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rhhardin said...

Althouse isn't the same deal. The posts are places to start talking.

You get to put in a comment to build on another, and be built on, revising until it's right.

The attraction is the comments.

Sullivan is a talker-to, and always gets it wrong. He depends on a choir.

I doubt it will work unless he's really got the choir figured out as to their hot buttons. But it's his stuff and not theirs that has to work.

Surfed said...

I'd send you $10 Professor. I like the little world you've created here. I'm comfortable with your world view and how you articulate it, the Meadster and whatever animals wander in to blogging view. I even like the commenters. It's the only blog I post comments on and you allow me to pass without...excessive...derision. I don't pay attention to the ads anyways. Ads are for the 18 - 54 demographic. So I'd probably be good for a Hamilton.

wyo sis said...

I would pay through Amazon portal type arrangements, but I can't see myself paying to comment. Money is tight and getting tighter.
People are going to be giving up non-essentials. It doesn't get more non-essential than Andrew Sullivan.

john said...

How about a "free to read, pay to write" model? No firewall, so you wouldn't be consigning yourself into eventual oblivion. Readers and commenters would self sort. If I had a comment that just had to be written and seen by all, it would cost me. If I want to be passive, I can still read the blog and comments for free.

I kinda like it.

The Farmer said...

Anyway, I think it's crazy to try to charge for your work when you don't even have an audience, but it's even crazier not to charge when you do. Something's gotta give. This idea that everything on the Internet is or ought to be free can't last, because it's not true. Maybe Sullivan will be the one to figure it out, maybe he won't, but sooner or later people who do good work are going to get tired of doing it for free, and people who read it are going to realize that you get what you pay for.

I would subscribe to Althouse's blog for 20 bucks a year in a heartbeat. And I really don't have a lot of disposable income. We have a Sunday-only subscription to the Wisconsin State Journal that costs like 4 times as much and it's literally only for the coupons. Nobody in the house reads any part of the paper. Sometimes I use it to clean windows. 20 bucks a year for a blog I read multiple times a day, and that is one of my primary news sources, plus features commenters with cool and interesting moustaches? It's a no-brainer.

kentuckyliz said...

Who will pay the commentariat for the value that they add?

I don't read Sully now. Certainly won't pay to read him.

Shouting Thomas said...

I can certainly understand your frustration, Althouse, at doing all the unpaid work.

2Blowhards was an enormously successful blog for a couple of years, attracting huge traffic and copious comments.

The proprietors got tired of doing all the unpaid work, apparently couldn't think of a way to make money, and shut the damned thing down.

I understood completely. The emotional drain of being the focus of all that public angst is hard to take unless you're making a lot of money.

AllenS said...

I'd rather watch Al Jazeera.

wyo sis said...
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Scott said...

The demand curve for any blogger's product at a given price point must be exponentially negative.

The newspaper industry is strewn with dead paywalls. Yet a blogger who is a precious national treasure like Sullivan expects to succeed? I think not.

Tank said...

In 2011 I made a contribution of more than $20. In 2012 they would not process my card for unknown reasons, so I used Amazon (what % does AA get, I don't even know?).

If I HAD to pay $19.95, I'd probably resent it and not do it, even though that would be a dick move. I'm not sure I'd react to a more complex system better.

wyo sis said...
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Bob said...

I'd rather go to the dentist.

campy said...

I don't read Sully now. Certainly won't pay to read him.

If reading Sully were made mandatory, I'd pay a bribe to some politician to get a waiver.

Tank said...

The only thing I pay for on the internets now is WSJ. Anyone pay for anything else?

chrisnavin.com said...

I give credit to Sullivan for pioneering the blogging model, transferring old publishing to the web, and being out in front on a lot of issues, including how to get ad money for what he does.

He's got a stable of people working for him and he's trying to figure out doing what he has a talent for and has worked at and to get paid for it.

I don't give credit for his being messianic, a "Sullivanist," dishonorable at times (Iraq war) and basically cultivating a kind of cult following, so I mostly don't read him.

He does put out a good product, though, so good luck to him.



wyo sis said...
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Bob Ellison said...

This thread is full of good stuff. Shouting Thomas said "I suspect people won't cough up the money. ...Political opinion is pretty weak stuff."

Ann Althouse said "You are a musician. Is your product, which can be gotten for free, something that can also be bought?"

Opinions want to be free. People will pay for information; that's how Michael Bloomberg got rich. They won't pay for opinions; that's why National Review and The New Republic still struggle, after all these decades.

I make music and have opinions. They're both free.

Sullivan will probably flail in this new endeavor. ST said "Althouse, I would predict that 5% or less of your readers would subscribe at $20 per annum". That's naive. I'd guess not 1% would, no matter how addicted they are to this blog.

It's all according to Bob's Fifth Law: On the Internet, the numbers are different.

chrisnavin.com said...

First came the Beatles, then Hitchens and Sullivan, Tina Brown and sadly, Piers Morgan.

I'll keep Hitchens, but what have we done to deserve this?

Marshal said...

kentuckyliz said...
Who will pay the commentariat for the value that they add?


It seems there's already a model for that. Ask the unpaid Huffpo contributors what they received when Arianna sold Huffpo to AOL for 315 million.

Surfed said...

Ya' know why wait? Done.

Bob Ellison said...

Good job, Surfed.

Scott said...

"Note that you'd still be able to read the whole front page, as much as you want, for free. When you clicked into post pages, a counter would keep track and at a certain number, you'd be prompted to subscribe..."

That model is borrowed from the porn industry.

chrisnavin.com said...

Bob, that's a good law. Everyone's got an opinion.

People can make money on the web, radio, and TV by by offering opinion AND information, or entertainment with well placed products and talk radio, but that's not easy.

You have to add value and give people what they want, not what you want, as Althouse linked to.

You can also make money on the web by selling the idea of how to make money on the web.

There's a guy who wrote an ebook on how to pass a certification for LEED building. Makes a killing.

edutcher said...

Sullivan only did this after Tina Brown gave up the Beast, so his reasons may not be all he says they are.

PS Don't go to subscription. It will just become a chi-chi little club and you'll get bored.

Besides, how will all the seniors trying to keep their minds sharp in the face of Alzheimer's by diving into the fray at Althouse afford you on fixed incomes?

Clayton Hennesey said...

Which Balkanized, hermetically sealed tribal cult of personality will you now become a paying drone within in order to receive its exclusively delivered wisdom?

The Sullivan Clan of "Andrew"?

The Althouse Clan? - well, she's still an open shop, and not yet a single-name cult of personality, thank God.

The ???????? Clan of ""?

EDH said...

My advice to Sullivan: Put Al Gore on it. "He's a sneaky little shit just like you."

Strelnikov said...

Of course, he remains a complete asshole.

Jim Howard said...

Has Sullivan never heard of the 'incognito' browser mode which will certainly defeat his 'counting' system?

In the case of our Professor's blog, I'd pay 99 cents a month for it.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ya' know why wait? Done."

Thank you. That's something Meade used to do in the years before I met him. Just hit the PayPal button in the sidebar for $10 once in a while, like once or twice a year. $10 doesn't seem like much, but if the regular readers would just do that, it would really add up.

Here is the PayPal page if you're inclined to do that.

Maybe I should forget about TinyPay and just push the PayPal button now and then.

But really, if the regulars, the people who really get something out of this blog would show their appreciation that way now and then, it would be a viable business model!

The Amazon thing is also really good, better than the advertising, so I thank everyone who goes into their Amazon shopping that way. (The link is always at the top of the blog, in the banner under "Shop Amazon.")

Ignorance is Bliss said...

That might actually improve the comments section, as the good-faith regulars would sign in, and think a bit about what they should contribute. Bad faith regulars would still sign in, but hit and run types wouldn't.

Bad faith regulars are far worse than the worst of the hit and run types, and I suspect they would pay. And you would surely lose some valuable commenters who would choose not to pay.

And for me at least, what you are selling is not your writing, but your comment section. Obviously your writing draws commenters, and influences the comment atmosphere. But if a payment scheme causes you to lose some valuable commenters, then others who would pay for access the the comment section you currently have might be unwilling to pay for a diminished comment section, and the whole thing could collapse.

We love you(r comment section ) just the way it is. ( minus a couple of trolls. But then, if you could solve the problem of internet trolls, and patent it, you'd really be bringing in the big bucks. )

Paco Wové said...

I would heartily support a "pay per comment" scheme.

Icepick said...

He has many more readers, but also 7 employees to pay.

So one always has to ask, "Am I reading Sullivan, or am I reading a lackey?" Having a staff kind of kills the idea of the writer connecting directly with the readers, doesn't it? This whole thing reminds me of Salvidor Dali's factory.

Bob Ellison said...

How about a Google-like comment payment system? Bid to get your comment higher up in the list. For only a dollar, yours might be the top comment!

Damn. I'm gonna have to work on this one.

Paco Wové said...

How about a progressive comment fee -- the first comment on a post is some trivial amount, the second costs a little more, then each successive comment costs some multiple of the previous one. Just think how much you could make off Inga and Ritmo alone.

Richard Dolan said...

Blogs are still trying to figure out what they are. What they are not is, mostly, a business. The subscription model is borrowed from print media, where the costs of production (paper, presses and distribution, as well as labor) were a barrier to entry. Blogs have no equivalent costs of production, and no such barriers to entry. Anyone can do it, for free, even though some are better than others. And, it bears noting that the subscrition model is dying where it first arose -- print media is in deep, deep trouble across the board.

Where there are no barriers to entry, it is easy for substitutes to arise and compete. Whatever impelled Ann and others to start and keep blogging all these years, without charging a subscription fee, will impell others to do the same. Increasing the cost of using one blog will cause readers to seek substitutes, and thus drive traffic to new bloggers, giving rise to new voices, new perspectives, new blog-communities. The market will find its price, and I suspect it will be close to zero for blog-users.

The 'pay what you want but you must pay something' approach was tried for years in various not-for-profits -- the Met Museum in NYC being a prominent case in point -- but their experience with it was pretty negative. For a while, they tried to shame people into paying the 'suggseted' entry fee, but it was all a miserable failure. I suspect that bloggers who take the same approach are likely to have a similar experience.

The ad model fits blogging (as it did for many years print media and 'free' TV) because it hides the cost by shifting it, and in all events makes the cost to users (having to put up with the ads) easy to ignore. Besides, as many have noted, the ads are some of the most creative and interesting stuff (certainly on TV).

Reading Ann's description of Sully's venture, it's easy to hear an echo of every aspiring writer's daydream that, if someone like JK Rowling can make such a bundle, then why can't I do the same. the answer is that every now and again, someone wins the lottery. Unfortuantely the odds are it will never be you. And it has nothing to do with one's merit or talent.

All of that gets back to the basic question -- what are blogs, what draws and keeps people coming, why do some thrive and then wane, and others keep going. Ann suggests that they are really platforms featuring the writing skills of the proprietor. RHH suggests that they are mostly discussion forums, the platform being of secondary interest to the commentary it gives rise to. I suspect the reality is more complex and less stable, with considerable variance even among the successful blogs. Instability and uncertainty are both highly problematic in any business, so beware if that's the route you want to take. But it's a new world, and still in the process of forming. Experiments like Sully's, even if it fails as I suspect it will, are part of that process.

Meade said...

I hear all this, you know, 'Well, this is blogwarfare, this is whatever.' No. There is nobody in this blogosphere who got rich on his own — nobody. You started a blog out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your pixels to market on the tube the rest of us paid for. You roped in commenters the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe behind your tinypaywall because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands of shilohs and ritmos and titusmos would come and seize everything at your blog — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you started a blog and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social networks contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next blogger kid who comes along.

The Farmer said...

Bob Ellison said...
Opinions want to be free.


I'm so tired of hearing this. Opinions don't want to be free. Information does not want to be free. They don't want anything. They're not independent, sentient beings.

If you want to give away your music, enjoy, but don't try to sell the rest of us on that hippie nonsense. My music doesn't want to be free. If it could want anything, it would want me to live in a gold house and drive a rocket car.

Patrick said...

Meade FTW.

tiger said...

Professor? I think you wrote that Sullivan has a 'huge' audience. Based on your figures for his gross it comes out to be 350,000.

Is that huge for the internet because it's NOT huge for any print or broadcast media.

That figure won't keep a magazine or newspaper being published or a TV show on the air - at least not for very long.

Especially if you've got 7 people to pay.

Pete said...

A paywall is a paywall is a paywall. If I have to pay to visit, it better be good stuff. Sullivan's stuff isn't good enough to pay for.

Bob Ellison said...

Paco Wové said "How about a progressive comment fee..."

You're on to something there, but it should be regressive. The first comment costs a penny; each successive one costs a penny more. The Professor could make...let's see...one million dollars!

deborah said...

This blog is Althouse and the things that interest her, plus her commenters. Don't change a winning game, but do write a book to generate revenue.

Icepick said...

The only thing I pay for on the internets now is WSJ. Anyone pay for anything else?

I used to pay for a membership to the Internet Chess Club, which in my opinion is the best site on the net for playing chess. I don't anymore because money is tight so I content myself with the Free Internet Chess Service instead, which is the best of the free sites. When I had the money it was worth paying for the extra service features.

But that's the only web-based service I've ever paid for.

Joe Schmoe said...

I get the difficulty of expending so much effort for so little. But in your case, Ann, I visit pretty much exclusively to read comments for blog posts of certain topics. I don't read all of your posts, maybe a third or a quarter at best, because of lack of time and lack of interest in many of the things you post about.

Don't get me wrong; you're a well-read, erudite person who has a lot of good things to say. But if forced to pay, there are other sites I can go to for provocative posts that are free.

As others have said above, Sullivan is counting on people paying to read just what HE has to say (or his ghost writers). I don't think his comment section is nearly as lively as yours, and I don't think he's saying anything that original that I'd pay $20 a year just to read it.

This whole online thing is a conundrum for people who traffic in writing and other knowledge-based activities. The free online learning thing has got to be scary for professors. If one superstar professor at Stanford offers his class for free online to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, why do we need other professors? But what about the professors like you who have spent their lives developing not only their knowledge of the subjects they teach, but also how to deliver it most effectively to their students?

I don't have the answers yet.

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

Sullivan employs 7 people?

Seven?

What the hell do they do all day?

Bob Ellison said...

I pay for Amazon Prime. Something like $79/year for mostly free shipping, free videos, etc.

That might be the model. Althouse Prime: free commenting for $1.99/year. Otherwise a penny per comment. Maybe one free comment per month.

See, Professor, this is one of the many reasons that you should long ago have left blogger.com.

Icepick said...

The ???????? Clan of ""?

I'm joining the Sixth Congregational Church of Rodney.

Seeing Red said...

I know I seem like a free-rider, but I keep forgetting about Amazon & my PP account was hacked once. The vermin deleted a CC and set up pkgs to ship to Eastern Europe. I'm assuming it was a test case because the post office got involved.

I just tried to donate and it stalled my machine.

Happy to send you cash.

Larry J said...

Ann Althouse said...

He's a writer. The product is text. You don't think that's a real, valuable product in this world?


As others have noted, Sullivan writes about his opinions on subjects. For that to be valuable to me, I have to respect his thought processes and subject matter expertise. Someone can be a good writer but if they don’t know what they’re writing about, their opinion has no value. For example, Charles Krauthammer writes well about politics but when he ventures outside that domain into areas that I know well (as he did in some writings about NASA and space), his opinions are at best uninformed and are often quite ignorant.

Sullivan's derangement over Sarah Palin convinced me that his thought processes are, well, deranged. For that reason, his product has no value to me. If I can't respect him, I have no need for his opinion. You couldn't pay me to read his stuff anymore even if it were free. The cost (of my time) is too high.

By way of contrast, I have respect for writers like Victor Davis Hanson and Thomas Sewell, so I value their opinions because of their subject matter expertise.

Michael said...

I would certainly pay $20 for an annual subscription to Althouse and would consider it a bargain. I expect it would drive off many of those who do not comment in good faith or who confine their comments to the snide and irrelevant. Hell, I would happily pay for certain commenters if they were short of cash.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Joe Schmoe,

I don't think his comment section is nearly as lively as yours, and I don't think he's saying anything that original that I'd pay $20 a year just to read it.

Sullivan has not got a comment section at all. Not last I checked, anyway. He (or someone) picks through his email and posts excerpts from it, but there is no way for readers to interact with him or one another except by his own choice.

Which means that unless you're really into Andrew Sullivan, there's not much point reading his blog. I read him daily a decade ago. Not any more; let's just say a lot of things have changed. The Palin obsession was the last straw.

I did enjoy the View From My Window contest -- not trying it myself, but reading the answer each week and seeing how the winner reasoned it out. Would I pay twenty bucks a year for that? I would not. Althouse? I think I would. McArdle? Probably. Volokh? Almost certainly.

Chip Ahoy said...

Jenny say pa, Madam.

Joe Schmoe said...

I have a hard time signing up for something else that costs X dollars a month or year because I get dinged enough for everything else in my budget. Cable service has all these add-ons for phone and internet, add-ons for renting the cable company's equipment, add-ons for different cable packages and SPEEDBOOST! internet download speeds. Cell phones are nice, how about add-ons for adding other lines to the account, add-ons for data, and then add-ons for music services like Spotify, and one-time add-ons for different apps, etc. Same deal with houses, security systems, cars, GPS systems, insurance, etc. Bloggers unfortunately are up against a massive atomization of our finances as we try to keep up with an ever-growing list of fees and expenses.

jr565 said...

You are a musician. Is your product, which can be gotten for free, something that can also be bought? Should music be an amateur operation? (Amateur = for love)

actually for music it's the opposite. Is something which can be bought also something that be gotten for free? Yes, and so for many musicians they are doing it as a hobby.
Such is the state of affairs in the biz right now.


Which makes me wonder why Sullivan thinks people will pay for his stuff. Howard stern bitched and moaned about all of his fans who didn't follow him over to Sirius radio when they had to cough up bucks, and Sullivan is no king of all media.

Kevin said...

I'll only contribute to Sully if he keeps up his regular reporting of scandals regarding Trig.

I assume one of his seven employees has the Palin uterus beat.

MommyLydia said...

The only web forum I've subscribed to on a regular basis so far (at least in the remember-able past) is a Pampered Chef forum (and NOT the one run by Pampered Chef)

They have a charge of $5/yr or $20 for lifetime access. I've paid it at least 3 different years, though I don't currently have a paid membership. You can read a few posts without paying. And then have to pay to continue to get access.

The value is there and the price is low enough that, even though I don't sell Pampered Chef nor do I intend to start, I have paid.

I have been tempted to buy a membership at another forum (car-seat.org) because I supported what they were doing even though it was entirely voluntarily. But never managed to actually hit the button on it seems.

rhhardin said...

My only internet pay is $5 weather underground (to get long local radar loops, in order to estimate rain versus bike trips), a DSL provider and a dial-up provider as backup for when one internet or the other is down.

B.S. philosopher said...

I'm one of those people who have been reading him for over a decade. After 2004, I no longer read him for any of his insights.

I now read Sullivan when I want to see how the Obama white house wants something spun.

I'm turned off by his selective posting of only sycophantic e-mails. Whenever he does post an e-mail with some push-back, inevitably he refuses to see any error in his ways other than perhaps being a bit overenthusiastic in his pursuit of the truth.

Sullivan is a hack. He believes that he can justify his stances as "conservative" by simply plopping the adjective "Oakeshottian" onto it.

I will never pay for the privilege of reading him.

If I want to hear a crazy man rambling about marijuana, gay sex, and how the Jews control the world, I'll go down to the bus station and talk to the guy who wears a Reynolds wrap helmet for free.

Mike said...

The only thing I pay for on the internets now is WSJ. Anyone pay for anything else?

I too pay for WSJ online and recently was subscribed to Ricochet.com, but gave it up when they indicated the monthly fee was going to double. They have an interesting model in which readers see the contributor feed for free but must join to comment or see the member feed. The contributors were good too -- John Yoo, VDH, Rob Long, Peter Robinson, James Lileks -- but at year-end they put up a special post saying they needed to double the subscriber base from 1% to 2% or the site would fail. Yes, 1% subscriber rate for a really slick, good site! As of yesterday it was still there.

Mike said...

Ricochet also produces several excellent podcasts that are now behind the paywall, in which Lileks, Robinson and Long would discuss the week's events with guests like Jonah Goldberg or Jay Nordlinger. The "Acculturated" podcast with Camille Pagliua was fantastic too. But like many 0others here we are cutting back on all the micropayments we make in addition to reigning in other expenses. Tough times ahead, folks.

Surfed said...

Well I have an ersatz (though not inferior)continuity in coughing up cash for your type. My girlfriend before last could have been your fraternal twin. Attitude, intelligence, looks, hair color & style, age, etc. She even commented that I favor Meade (poor bastard) in demeanor if not looks. And she was a lot smarter than me (admittedley a low bar).

Lyle said...

It's not going to work in my opinion. What subscription based online journalism site is profitable or profitable without advertising?

He's going to have to advertise at a minimum.

I also no longer read him regularly. I stopped when he did an about face on the Iraq War and then had his Palin issues. I don't like that he moved to the Daily Beast, and I've never liked Patrick Appel and some of the people who help him create content.

cubanbob said...

I'm in with The Farmer. Sign me up for $20.00
But please don't lose the '"trolls". Although they can be rather irritating at times they do add spice to the joint. None of them are actually morons and periodically do make intelligent comments ( with one notable exception, and that one is more of an issue of crazy rather than stupid). There aren't that many regular trolls so perhaps you might pick the better ones and give them a free subscription just to kept the comments from becoming an echo chamber.

Scott M said...

Sullivan reaffirming the value of independent blogging, as he goes independent, smacks of Vader saying, "I totally meant to let them blow up the first death star".

As to ST's No, text doesn't seem to be a particularly saleable product to me.

??? There are many, many, many people making livings of various fabulous by doing nothing more than presenting text to the buyer.

Roy Jacobsen said...

Why, given his track record, does anyone pay attention to Andrew Sullivan? (The same question could be asked of Tina Brown, for that matter.)

ambienisevil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baron Zemo said...

If you go pay per view your commenting community will be reduced to edutcher and shiloh.

Not a good idea.

Baron Zemo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

"Nobody in the house reads any part of the paper. Sometimes I use it to clean windows."

If you ever get angry and need to cancel your subscription, I would highly suggest you use a good squeegee (now that's a fun word) to clean the windows. You'll need a strip washer. And 0000 Steel Wool too, for any marks that the strip washer didn't wash off you see after you have squeegeed. Juse use a little Dawn or Palmolive dish soap in a bucket and have a blast! Remember, many 2nd story windows in newer homes tilt-in so you don't need to hop on a dangerous ladder if you don't want to.

Check out Amazon through your current host for Ettore maybe to get started.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"Nobody in the house reads any part of the paper. Sometimes I use it to clean windows."

If you ever get angry and need to cancel your subscription, I would highly suggest you use a good squeegee (now that's a fun word) to clean the windows. You'll need a strip washer. And 0000 Steel Wool too, for any marks that the strip washer didn't wash off you see after you have squeegeed. Juse use a little Dawn or Palmolive dish soap in a bucket and have a blast! Remember, many 2nd story windows in newer homes tilt-in so you don't need to hop on a dangerous ladder if you don't want to.

Check out Amazon through your current host for Ettore maybe to get started.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

To be clear, I am unsure, but trying to figure out, by delving into my own putrid soul, what Juse, Jews, Jooos, and others, use to clean windows, but you should just use Dawn or Palmolive.

sydney said...

I don't think it would work for him. He's not worth $20 a year.

sydney said...

Also, if I were to pay $20 a year for something, I would expect a much higher quality product than what currently occurs on most blogs. When it's free, it doesn't matter so much if the blogger has a couple of off days or weeks when the content isn't so great.

James said...

Has Sullivan never heard of the 'incognito' browser mode which will certainly defeat his 'counting' system?

Exactly. Plus I use Firefox with NoScript Plus and AdBlock enabled. So while browsing, all I see is plain text on a white page except for those rare occasions when I relax the security.

Lydia said...

Why on earth would anyone pay $19.99 to read the bitchy whines of @sullydish ? Hilariously deluded vanity flight into obscurity." -- Piers Morgan tweet today

I think that almost earns Piers a mini-reprieve.

Aridog said...

AllenS said...

I'd rather watch Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera-America will have the little twit Brit as soon as his Tiny-whatever fails...just like the former Current TV has all the other failures and raving lunatics. Al Jaz just bought Current TV from the Goracle & partners.

Whoopeee....soon we can all get our LBGT news with updates from Al Qaeda and Hezballah.

Warms yer heart donnit?

sydney said...

Hilariously deluded vanity flight into obscurity.

Beautiful. The British are great at witty insults.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

If I could have the vegan Althouse website--Meadeless--I might pay for that.

But the risk is if you try it and lose what appears to already be a winning proposition you might never again recapture the thing you had.

Blog in the hand...

Rusty said...

Just hit the PayPal button in the sidebar for $10 once in a while,

Madam. I've been over paying you.



It isn't information we want from the internet. It's entertainment.

Leland said...

I've never read Sullivan, other than excerpts on other blogs. Through the excerpts, particularly here and at Instapundit, I've been able to follow along on Sullivan's various progressions. My conclusion is he has some sort of deranged hate of Palin, and his idea of conservatism does not match mine.

Still, I think his concept for the blog is well considered. I think it will fail, for various reasons already stated, but particularly because advertising works better everytime. There's a long history of this, and its not confined to blogging. The original cable channels (back in early 80s) were something you paid extra for to avoid commercials, yet they all advertise now. Althouse mentioned musicians, but most people still listen to music on the radio or stuff like Pandora, which for free still has advertisements.

However, I rarely is ever click the ads. I don't mind them as displayed on this blog and several others, but in your face stuff, such as Forbes, turns me off. I'd rather pay a small subscription fee. $20/annual doesn't seem much, but there are few I'd pay that sum. $5 wouldn't bother me at all for the blogs I read daily. If that amount got rid of some drive by commenters, I'd pay it.

Unfortunately, I think doing so would actually devalue the content of the blog in sort of the way cubanbob explains. Indeed, Althouse says the charge would be when one expanded the post. Most people expand the post to see the comments others made. A premium price would decrease comments made. It is basic economics. I do think viewership with pay at Althouse would be far better than 5%, probably less than 50%. The question would be if it grew after the initial drop off?

Leland said...

BTW, I tried to contribute $5 via the contribute button. I got some sort of error with paypal. I'll try again later. I made it a point during the holiday season to buy something from Amazon via the blogs I read daily. I do appreciate the content and work performed.

Geoff Matthews said...

I'm predicting that he'll be influential among the upper-level thinkers (who will pay for access), but he'll lose a lot of general-level influence.
Maybe some of it will trickle down.

Rabel said...

“Whatever it is I’m doing, I love doing it. And doing it the way I love doing it is getting me a lot of readers, so I’m not doing it any other way.”

A. Althouse


"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Paul

creeley23 said...

Along the lines of Joe Shmoe...

It's the interaction of Ann, her prompts and the commenters that bring me to this blog. Without the conversation I would occasionally click to Althouse through an Instapundit link, but that's all.

However, if commenters are supplying much of the value at sites like this, I'm not clear how well the hosts' claims to payment are justified.

I find it hard enough to justify the time I spend reading and writing comments myself. Sure, I would like to be paid too, but I hardly expect it, and I certainly won't pay to read comments and write them.

Blogging can be a path to modest national recognition or even a gig like Megan McArdle's at The Atlantic. I suspect that's as good as it gets, at least until the economy starts roaring again.

If Sullivan or Ann or anyone can persuade people to pay for their blogging, more power to them. But it's a very steep hill -- like that faced by any writer looking to get paid.

Levi Starks said...

Ok, here's a deal I could live with:
Figure out how to get me Turner Classic Movies "a la carte" and in return I'lI contribute some of the money I'm saving by not paying for 199 channels I don't watch.

Rockport Conservative said...

I used to be an avid reader of his work. I really liked him for a while. But he changed, he began to believe wayyyy too much in his wisdom. I began to see he really had no wisdom, his joy seemed to be gone. I no longer read anything of his. I would be surprised to see something I liked from his writings. I tried. I gave him up.

Rockport Conservative said...

I used to be an avid reader of his work. I really liked him for a while. But he changed, he began to believe wayyyy too much in his wisdom. I began to see he really had no wisdom, his joy seemed to be gone. I no longer read anything of his. I would be surprised to see something I liked from his writings. I tried. I gave him up.

Smilin' Jack said...

If you put up a pay wall I hope it's a really dumb one like the New York Times has, which is actually much easier to get around than to pay for.

George said...

I can see a blogging enterprise like his supporting himself. I cannot see it supporting a staff of seven.

creeley23 said...

Sullivan is a good writer. I read him in the early days after 9-11. Then he became fixated on gay marriage and from there turned his politics upside (however much he still insists he is conservative).

I wondered back then if his change of heart was not based, unconsciously or consciously, on the need to stay connected with the gay community and to get paid for his writing.

Reading his wiki entry, I can't see a clear source of income for Sullivan after he was fired from The New York Times Magazine in 2002 until he was picked up later by Time, then Atlantic.

When I was younger, I took public intellectuals seriously. These days I'm aware that unless they have a trust fund or are backstopped by some large organization, they are in a precarious financial position, and they've got to keep hustling to keep the money coming in.

Aridog said...

The new "dish" will be like the old and advertising will be introduced within the first 6 months. Paying a subscription fee does not do away with advertising anymore than it did with cable television...or with the Wall Street Journal...today covered with ads for AIG and E-Trade, among others.

With the WSJ (which I subscribe to) and other "news outlets" you are buying about 20% news and 80% opinion. Here we get a forum and that is entirely different....because is is instigated by the host and hostess, but fulfilled by the commentariat. It is worth preserving...e.g., step up if you enjoy it.

You want to keep this blog, or any other like it (such as Legal Insurrection, etc.) free of all that interference...step up now and then and hit the pay button voluntarily. That always feels better.

The preceding opinion(s) is/are worth precisely what you paid for them.

Joe Schmoe said...

Sullivan has a face for blogging.

Erika said...

I donate $5 a month to Opacity because I like to support excellence, creativity, drive, dedication, general awesomeness, and I loooooooove me some quality abandoned photography.

Maryland Geezer said...

This may be painfully obvious: Andrew Sullivan is engaging in Market Experimentation. Neither he, nor anyone else, knows how much economic value he creates by publishing his blog. When sponsored by advertisers or a publisher, they may have some sense of the economic value added by his blog. As every economics student and teacher knows, the demand curve slopes down: people buy more at lower prices than at higher prices, ceteris paribus.

The model he is adopting, you described, gives reader a certain level of access for free, but what will really be important in Sullivan's new business model is how many paid subscribers her will have and will that be sufficient to compensate him and his staff.

Although I have very little interest in Sullivan's views and rarely read his blog, he deserves credit for having the courage to take the risk of going independent. I would say he has the courage of his convictions. Only he and his staff know how much revenue they need to justify their move. Suffice it to say that there are many struggling writers, musicians and artists who daily engage in this experiment. Some succeed, some do not. The market holds the answer, and there is no other way to access that answer than to try it.

Darrell said...

Charge $20/yr for an APP that hides comments from Shitmo, Shitloh, Garage and the rest and you have a winner right there.

el polacko said...

what paywall model has, other than porn sites, been successful? (god forbid that sullivan is planning on showing some skin!)

el polacko said...

@darrell: you forgot shinga-the-mighty-thread-destroyer.

Sam L. said...

Lessee, here, how many people really care about Sarah Palin's uterus? Or the one guy who does, other than Sarah's gynocologist?

I still come up with one (1). Andy-boy's going to have to raise that freemium to, I'm guessing, $500 to make enough.

I really do think he should charge Tiffany prices for his gems.

LoafingOaf said...

Has Sullivan never heard of the 'incognito' browser mode which will certainly defeat his 'counting' system?

I doubt most folks would bother. Because, for example, most people endure ads even though you can get effective ad blockers for browsers for free, like AdBlock for Chrome.

Sullivan is just asking his most faithful and hardcore readers to pay. They are the people least likely to try and get around the meter in shady fashion.

----

You are a musician. Is your product, which can be gotten for free, something that can also be bought? Should music be an amateur operation?

But musicians can sell tickets to their live performances plus sell their t-shirts and junk. I dunno, I guess a blogger who has a ton of readers could try and go on tour and have speeches/parties with admission charged, but I doubt it would work. And who wants blog merchandise? Unless it's a neat idea like Sullivan's View From Your Window book.

I think Sullivan will succeed but few bloggers will be able to follow in his footsteps. Will be interesting to see how it plays out though.

Aridog said...

I mentioned I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal....trust me it is NOT for the on line content.

It is for the paper print versions. Detroit has no newspaper of any value anymore is one reason...the other is after decades of traveling I have the habit of needing to read something while I eat breakfast or lunch, usually alone. I'm retired now and The WSJ suits me fine nowadays...in the past when traveling I'd read magazines of groups I belong to or local newspapers of merit...which did NOT include WaPo or NYT.

Mainly, I absolutely must have reading material that is succinct to read while dining or I can't begin to eat.

ampersand said...

Why buy the milk when there are plenty of cows passing out free cheese?

Emil Blatz said...

What's all this about tiny pants?

Kirk Parker said...

Aridog,

So what's your local Arab neighbors' take on Al Jazeera?

Kirk Parker said...

MDT,

Volokh? With their current disaster of a comment section? Really???

I hardly go there any more, it's such a mess.

Elize Nayden said...

Andrew Sullivan reaffirms the value of independent blogging.

All this means is, that Sullivan is trying to get away from editors for good. It must have really pi$$ed him off, when the Atlantic folks told him to give up the Palin witch-hunt, because it was embarrassing to the magazine. Would be interesting to know what kind of stuff the Daily Beast kept from being published.

Sullivan craves unsupervised nuttiness

Aridog said...

Kirk Parker said...

Aridog ... So what's your local Arab neighbors' take on Al Jazeera?

The news hasn't been out there long enough for it to come up in conversation yet.

I suspect they will continue to pull in Arabic Al Jeezera from Middle East and Europe ... e.g., the "American-English" version won't draw much with them as it is aimed at gringo Yankees. Perhaps it will attract some of my neighbors like Israeli "Haaretz" does.

Mostly, the houses here have two three or more roof top or side mount satellite dishes aimed to pick up Arabic broadcasts from far away.

Leland said...

Professor, your contribute link to Paypal is broken.

Meade said...

"If I could have the vegan Althouse website--Meadeless--I might pay for that."

Cruel Ruthless Anne

Ann Althouse said...

@Leland Thanks. I guess that wasn't a stable URL, just the result of clicking on the PayPal button which is always in the sidebar. Or under "contribute" in the masthead.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why buy the milk when there are plenty of cows passing out free cheese?"

Because there's one cow with the cheese you love and you want to keep that cow going.

Kirk Parker said...

Aridog,

Sorry I wasn't clear, I was wondering more of the general opinion about Al-J and Al-J English, not the response to this specific news.

Kirk Parker said...

And I would be interested to compare the Dearborn view of Al-J to the situation with the Iranians I know, who absolutely want to know what's being said by the Iranian media, but just as absolutely don't take what is said at face value.

Mitchell Cardwell said...

The market forces at work here will be Sully's endless tacking to the left or right to inflame the other side to stimulate subscriptions.

Aridog said...

Kirk Parker said...

Aridog, ... Sorry I wasn't clear, I was wondering more of the general opinion about Al-J and Al-J English

In a nutshell, I don't think they give a dang. Those I've spoken to today, that I know very well, laughed. The local Arabs don't care about Al-J English at all. They take Al-J Arabic (serious content differences) with varying grains of salt..."Gutter" [Qatar] being a Wahabbist state of Sunni Muslims primarily. The local Arabs around me are mostly Shiite.

Al-J English, which will morph in to a second cable outlet Al-J America [dual outlets as I understand it] will warm the hearts mostly of the wobbly white liberal dilettantes....who want to be liked by brown people...without, you know, actually having to know them or associate with them. Etc. :-))

IMO...It's relevance to reality in the Middle East is similar to the Mad Hatter and Alice.

Aridog said...

Kirk Parker said...

And I would be interested to compare the Dearborn view of Al-J to the situation with the Iranians I know,...

Pretty much the same I'd say...they want to know everything from everywhere, then argue about it for hours. Good Lord, they regularly peruse Haaretz for information to add to the blend.

I am pretty sure if you tied an Arab's arms to his side, he or she would be mute.

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