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March 15, 2013

Andrew Sullivan’s US Dish serves up web funding solution

By Dominic Ponsford

While The New York Times has proved that online paywalls can work for big mainstream newspaper websites, Andrew Sullivan’s US political blog The Dish appears to be proving the same for blogs.

Sullivan left the Daily Beast in January to relaunch his blog, The Dish, as an independent subscription-funded site.

With seven staff and two interns to support, it was a bold move.

Mimicking the NYT and Financial Times model, readers are allowed seven articles free per month and then are encouraged to take out a subscription.

Describing the move as a “new experiment in web economics” The Dish tells would-be subscribers the model is: “no ads; no corporate owners; just readers paying for content they enjoy and value. For unlimited access to every post in its entirety (well over 200 a week), we’re asking for a subscription of $19.99 a year – or more if you really love us.”

One month on the results have been encouraging. Subscriptions have totalled $100,000 in 30 days. So that’s around 5,000 subscribers (though fewer than that if some paid more than $20) and just $270,000 short of the goal for the whole year. The Dish has attracted a further $500,000 in pre-subscriptions from people who signed up before the metered paywall went live. If subs continue at the current rate The Dish will generate $1.2m in its first year.

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The Dish reveals that in the first month of its metered paywall system going live, 180,000 readers clicked through to one story, 38,000 read two articles, 17,000 three articles and so on down to just under 10,000 readers who reached the seven views limit which would trigger a subscription request.

A further 683,000 landed on the home page and read the free snippets of stories without clicking on a read-on button.

Explaining why he opted for this payment model, Sullivan told Reuters: “This is not a tip jar. And it is not a pledge drive. It is a subscription. And that makes it a different proposition. It’s telling people I’m not an amateur, and I’m not a charity. I’m doing work that I’m asking people to pay for. And it seems to me that at some point we have to say that in new media. Or else it is not going to continue to exist…

“I had two pledge drives early on, in 2002 and 2003, which netted a certain amount of money. But this is a different model. This is trying to make it sustainable, long term: don’t give it money just because you like me. We are trying to create an actual site that is news and opinion that people value and pay for, and become associated with in the long run. We could have done a tip jar. We decided no. We wanted to be a business. And do it the right way.”

The Dish also makes money from affiliate links to Amazon for books mentioned in editorial.

The first month brought in $1,253 for 1048 books sold by Amazon. Which works out at around the cost of covering the health insurance ($6,396 each) for Sullivan’s two interns apparently.

Where American media goes, the UK often follows – that has certainly been the case for print decline. With luck perhaps it will also prove true when it comes to monetising online.

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