If 2012 was the year when crowdfunding appeared to cross into the Internet mainstream via services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, 2013 may be the year when the mainstream media starts investigating whether it can convince its customers to fund its projects as well. First up, perhaps, is blogger and journalist Andrew Sullivan who announced Wednesday that he is leaving his corporate berth at The Daily Beast to go it alone with a new reader-supported business model.
In one of his final posts for the Daily Beast, Sullivan explains his rationale:
“As [he and the team that works on his Daily Dish blog] 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.”
That new ground isn’t entirely new; as Sullivan admits earlier in the piece, he started out solo (“On my own for nothing but two pledge drives for six years”) before partnering with Time and The Atlantic for short stints before landing with the Daily Beast in April 2011. This latest version of independence is something different, however, with readers asked to pay for the “salaries, health insurance, and legal, technological and accounting expenses” for the entire seven-person team that comprises the Daily Dish. “Here’s the core principle,” Sullivan wrote. “We want to create a place where readers – and readers alone – sustain the site. No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way.”
Readers offered a $20 annual subscription fee to have unlimited access to content on the site; readers who don’t subscribe will have limited access to full articles before they’re prompted to sign up once a certain number of articles are read. Those who want to pay more will be able to; Sullivan says that “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.”
It’ll be interesting to see what the response to this move ends up being; old media has been criticized in the past for setting up paywalls to its content, and that’s essentially what Sullivan is doing here. Also, by removing the majority of the Daily Dish’s content from anyone other than his core audience, it’s possible that Sullivan is removing himself from the middle of the political conversation. If it proves to be a sustainable business model, however, it’s not impossible that other high-profile journalists and writers could end up following suit. Is this another sign of the collapse of media as we know it, or just another birthing pain when it comes to the media of tomorrow?