Debate on Pay Walls: Is Andrew Sullivan's Blog an Outlier?

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Ben Cohen
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Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan Andrew Sullivan: Proving a new model online can exist

Emily Bell warns that while Andrew Sullivan has done mightily well from his subscription drive at the newly independent 'Daily Dish', it is a bit of an outlier in the blogosphere given Sullivan's extremely unique reputation and loyal readership:

The economics look a little perilous for the kind of broad political and cultural analysis Sullivan produces, but less so given the loyalty of his following. The only question is whether enough of his daily readership will be motivated to pay. Instinctively, it feels as though a first year target should not be that hard to achieve, but – as with so much funding of new enterprises – it is the maintenance of a steady stream which is more problematic.

If Sullivan does make this work, stand by for imitators. However, the very personal nature of the journalism means that it will be literally impossible to replicate as a business model.

Bell makes a good point here - Sullivan, already a celebrated columnist has years and years of blogging underneath his belt with an army of readers (myself included) who would pay a considerable amount to keep him online and writing every day. There aren't too many other bloggers out there with that type of popularity, and it's a credit to Sullivan's extraordinary writing ability and work ethic that has enabled him to rake in enough cash to start a pretty serious new media venture. Sullivan has what advertising agencies call serious 'brand loyalty' that makes him as necessary to a politics junkie as Starbucks is to a coffee addict. The New York Times has that type of relationship with its readers to a large degree (and that's why I believe its paywall will work and the institution will survive in the long term), and others like 'Gawker' and  blogger Nate Silver could probably get away with the same type of monetization strategy. For others, it could prove difficult given the wealth of free content out there and the relatively short amount of time everyone has been online. It is difficult to build a major media brand in a couple of years and expect readers to pay in the age of free.

Regardless, Sullivan's move does prove that it is possible for media outlets to go out by themselves and become profitable and sustainable. It just might not be as painless a transition for the majority of publishers.