The Sullied Media Model


Andrew Sullivan is one of the world’s best known and well-read bloggers. Or is he a journalist. I have no idea. Nor do I really care. He writes things and people read them.

Up until recently, Sullivan has worked on mainstream publishing platforms like Time and The Atlantic and then to the less mainstream Daily Beast. But this year, Sullivan has struck out on his own and he is doing so with a very old-style model for writers. He is going to write and ask people to subscribe to his writing. And the price? $20 $19.99 per year. And that writing is prolific — 200 or so posts per week — probably with the assistance of a writing staff.

But the Sully paywall isn’t tight. You can view up to 7 posts a month without paying (including those coming from sharing). If you want to subscribe using RSS, you can see all the posts. In other words, what you are paying for is the ability to read The Daily Dish on its website in its original formatting.

It turns out that that is enough to make this a going concern. There are 30,000 paid subscribers most resulting for the burst of publicity when the new site launched. But there is some nervousness that it may be hard to grow new subscribers.

In terms of long-term viability, there are many theories but no one is really in a position to judge how this will go. What I wanted to comment on here was what will happen if this does work and Sullivan is able to prove the viability of subscription funded blogging?

The issue is this. Unlike the New York Times, The Daily Dish is not offering a full curation of the news. To be sure, you can learn a lot by just reading The Daily Dish but my guess is that most subscribing readers also consume content elsewhere. And at the moment that content is mostly free. Seen in this light, The Daily Dish is part of a suite of complementary writing that are selected by its consumers. And, at the moment, they are only paying for one element of that complementary set.

But when it comes to complements, consumers will look at the price of the whole set. Thus, if Sullivan is successful, others may well follow. If they follow, the price of the entire set rises. The end result is some consumers will drop the entire set. In this regard, one factor allowing Sullivan to ‘get away with it’ now is the fact that complementary writing is currently free. When that changes the market will become much more difficult.

The solution, of course, is obvious: bundling. Sullivan and others will coordinate pricing into bundles in much the same way as desktop app software often does today. The real question is whether independent outlets will lead the charge of forming bundles or whether this has to be provided by a media site bring bloggers ‘on platform.’ My hope is that we will see the former experimented with but right at the moment the future for paid-content remains very cloudy.

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