Andrew Sullivan is taking The Dish independent, funding it with a paywall1, and going ad-free (at the beginning, at least):
Here’s the core principle: 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.
The decision on advertising was the hardest, because obviously it provides a vital revenue stream for almost all media products.
Ads for web content are usually considered a requirement — almost nobody operates a blog or news site profitably without them. Generally, a site can make much more money selling ads than charging readers for access because advertisers are willing to pay more than most audiences, among other reasons.
The bigger challenge of staying ad-free is that the audience generally doesn’t mind ads when implemented tastefully. I launched The Magazine ad-free, but hardly anyone has noticed. I’m definitely leaving money on the table — I don’t like double-dipping, but most people are happy to pay for services that also include ads. And given the choice to pay for ad-less content or get that same content for free with ads, most people will choose the free option.
And The Magazine is on iOS, where payments are very easy and people are accustomed to paying. On the web, it’s much harder and less common. It could be a significant challenge for a web-only publication with a paywall and nontrivial costs (like any full-time staff) to remain ad-free.
The New York Times internally has a fantastic euphemism for “paywall” that I can’t remember. “Paywalls” have a negative connotation because they fail or frustrate readers so often, but I don’t think the Times needs to obfuscate their new, most important business model — it’s working. ↩