When Andrew Sullivan announced last month that he would leave The Daily Beast and produce his blog, The Dish, independently, the move sparked shock in media circles.
If anyone can pull it off, it’s someone like Sullivan, one of the few Internet brands in political media who can drive a news cycle with his opinions.
On the other hand, it’s risky — Sullivan leaves the institutional umbrella of The Daily Beast that provided him with more immediate financial security.
“It’s hard to compare,” Sullivan told Business Insider this week. “It’s unprecedented. We don’t really have anything to measure ourselves against.”
The closest comparison to Sullivan is The Drudge Report, whose founder, Matt Drudge, Sullivan says he admires for his simplicity and influence on the political narrative.
But while Drudge’s site relies on aggregation and ads, Sullivan is taking a different path. He combines aggregation and original content and relies on user subscriptions for revenue.
If his project works — which Sullivan concedes is still a big if — he sees some of the bigger names in the media world following suit. Nate Silver was one name that popped up as a possibility.
“Individual brands with individual names who have earned readership with consistency and quality have a structural advantage over institutions on the web,” Sullivan said. “The web is place where people have historically connected best with other people. … They don’t tend to interact with institutions.”
Sullivan told Business Insider that he has raised about $575,000 total for his new venture thus far. That includes $57,000 in the first 11 days of February.
The Dish’s model follows that of the New York Times‘ paywall. Readers are allowed to view a certain amount of articles for free (seven) before the site demands payment. Like the Times, readers are not charged for viewing articles when they are brought to the site from external sources.
“We don’t want to penalise other people for linking to us,” Sullivan said.
So far, Sullivan said, not many visitors have hit the meter in just one week. He said somewhere between 300 and 400 readers had hit their limit — of those, about 70 per cent opted not to contribute.
Sullivan stressed that this system could change. He wants to see how it works for at least a month — and probably a few more — before deciding whether to stick with the model.
“It probably takes times to get irritated until they say, ‘F— it,’ and sign up,” Sullivan said. “I don’t quite know the psychology of how it works yet.”
In the meantime, Sullivan plans on continuing to fill the niche that has made his blog one of the most popular in the political sphere — a mix of short takes, aggregation and longer, original stories. He did this on Monday with news of Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement — The Dish posted 18 varied items about the papal resignation alone.
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