Last week’s announcement that Andrew Sullivan is leaving The Daily Beast to create his own metered paywall sparked a debate across the media world about what this means for journalism and whether others will follow suit. Complex’s Foster Kamer sees Sullivan’s move as a sales pitch to other big media outlets. (It wouldn’t be the first time a major media outlet acquired a blog; Andy Borowitz sold The Borowitz Report to The New Yorker in 2011.) Meanwhile, GigaOM’s Matthew Ingram calls it a “flag of hope for every writer who has dreamed of building his own mini media empire.”
Whatever the case, Sullivan does have an impressive following (in fact, in the time that Sullivan blogged for the Beast, the site’s traffic jumped from 2.8 million unique visitors to 5.7 million). Within 24 hours of his announcement, he said he’d attracted close to 12,000 paid subscribers, generating over $300,000 in revenue.
Sullivan may be among the most prominent bloggers and freelance writers to create his own paywalled site, but he’s not the only one to eschew advertising and charge readers directly for content. Ebyline looked at several others who have used or are currently using paywall or similar subscription models.
Founded by former TechCrunch contributed Paul Carr and funded by Crunchfund and Zappos’ Tony Hsieh, the Las Vegas-based Not Safe for Work charges subscribers $3 a month for access to the entire archives and Desknotes, the discussion system where NSFWCORP writers and editors discuss the day’s news. (The latter reminds us of a virtual and perhaps racier version of The Register Citizen’s Newsroom Café.) Subscribers also get access to content via RSS, e-readers and offline reader services. Between its launch last July and a Betabeat article that ran in September, Carr said the site had picked up 3,000 subscribers.
Jesse Waites, founder of a Boston web/software development firm, blogs about what he calls “notable things for intelligent people” on his blog Particle3. In his January 7 announcement about his own paywall, Waites echoed Sullivan’s sentiments about online advertising, writing “I don’t want to participate in a morally bankrupt system wherein I am motivated to write bullshit drama-filled clickbait articles so I can tell advertisers about my millions of monthly pageviews.” Waites is using TinyPass, the same service that Sullivan will use for his own paywall.
Washington, DC-based career and tech blogger Rebecca Thorman experimented with a paywall on Kontrary.com between March and June 2011, initially charging subscribers $5 a month before raising it to $7. “I believe so strongly that writers deserve to get paid,” she explains. “I don’t agree with that content farm mentality. I think it cheapens the whole media landscape, which makes it more difficult to find great content.” Thorman had built up a following through her earlier blog Modite, so Kontrary reached about 80 or 90 paid subscribers. However, she ultimately ditched the paywall because she missed the virality of sharing content. “I don’t think my writing was able to breathe [when it was behind a paywall],” she explains. “There’s something very powerful about when you publish a blog post that it kind of takes on a life of its own. Books and newspapers, you have that pass-along factor, and I think the internet amplifies that.” At the time, Thorman couldn’t find any services that allowed for a metered paywall, so none of her content was accessible to non-subscribers. Now that services like TinyPass allow for more flexibility, she says she may experiment with new revenue models in the future.
The Brooks Review
Seattle-based tech blogger Ben Brooks moved his blog from advertising to a membership model last year, charging $4 per month or $40 per year through Stripe. Instead of a metered paywall, though, he gives members immediate access to posts and makes non-members wait seven days, a move that he justifies because he’s not a news site like NYTimes.com. Members can also link their website to any posts and give their readers access to content behind the paywall. In December, Brooks posted a detailed analysis of his experiences with advertising vs. a paywall. Although Brooks fell short of his 500 member goal (he had about 255 as of December), he wrote that “the membership is great because it’s no extra work, but it is growing really slowly—yet very stable. I’d recommend it to anyone out there, but temper your expectations.”
Photo via Creative Commons license courtesy of Stuckincustoms.com.