Andrew Sullivan, one of the world’s most visible bloggers, is going indie and will try to make a living at it. I wish him luck, but I think maybe he’s thinking about it wrong.

If anyone can make it go, it ought to be Andrew. He’s erudite, passionate, articulate, and has managed, at one time or another, to piss off just about every demographic and politicocultural faction there is.

He’s also, although British, a US resident, and member of a faction that’s terribly important for America’s future: a conservative who’s neither anti-sex nor anti-science.

Disclosure · I like my job at Google, but at some point I’d like to support myself by blogging. If I ever see a plausible strategy for doing it, I’m there. So I’m highly biased. I really hope Andrew makes a go of it, and it’s cool that he’s cooked up a reasonably innovative business model.

But... · I’m not sure that I’d pay the $20 a year. Here’s why: Like everyone else, I used to subscribe to Andrew, but I stopped a few years ago because there was just too much stuff. I’m busy, my time is valuable (to me anyhow) and I gotta filter my input; when Andrew says anything that I really care about, it’ll find me.

Let me excerpt some things from Andrew’s declaration of independence that concern me: “Some people I bump into ask me how we produce 240 posts a week (13,000 separate posts last year alone)”... “the more you give us, the more we will be able to do. It's really as simple as that.”

But I don’t want more. I want less; just the good stuff.

Another Solution · One of the few other bloggers whose stature is up there with Andrew’s is Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo (TPM). He’s taken the indie route for years, ad-supported, and is experimenting with a subscription model.

But they’ve been clever. The whole thing started as Josh’s personal blog, to which I subscribed way back when; as TPM grew, that blog morphed smoothly into what’s now called the TPM Editors’ blog; the volume remains modest. While TPM is now a huge operation and pumps out more than anyone with a life has time to read, I’ve been able to stay subscribed without feeling stressed out.

Maybe Andrew needs a low-volume “Editor’s blog” or some such? For that, I might pay.

Me Too · I blog less these days; partly I’m busy, partly I have short-form outlets like G+ and Twitter, and partly because there’s lots of stuff at work I can’t yet write about. But also in part because my readers are busy too, and I want to respect their time.

A Related Problem · I need to stay on top of what’s up in the technosphere; traditionally, the only good way was good tech blogs. Back in the day that was Slashdot; today, it’s, uh... AllThingsVergeGadgBits for one flavor, MemeCrunch for another, and HNddit for a third. I subscribe to too many, and most days just hit “Mark All as Read” after a quick glance; mostly they’re all reporting the same stories. So a few are gonna go.

It’s Like Miles Davis Said · Less is more.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Alan McCann (Jan 02 2013, at 20:27)

"a conservative who’s neither anti-sex nor anti-science."

No matter how much you tried, you could not fit more incorrect statements in one line.

Andrew Sullivan is not a conservative. Conservatives are not "anti-sex" nor "anti-science".

How did you come by these views? They are pure fabrications.

You must not know any conservatives.

I don't care if you post this. I'm just reaching out to let you know that your understanding is incorrect and perhaps you need to broaden your horizons.


From: ben (Jan 03 2013, at 04:08)

Perhaps the proprietor was tarring with the wrong brush, but the loudest voices among U.S. conservatives have adopted - with what can only be called zeal - memes like supply-side economics, "shut it down", the sure primacy of the Protestant Work Ethic over luck, Intelligent Design, and propensity to hysteria in the most literal sense.

All of these memes have gotten at least a foothold in many of the governments of this Republic, while much of the rest of the civilized world looks on and wonders what's in our water.

...And that's before you get into the tinfoil-hat stuff about the President's qualifications and the many -isms that get thrown around.

Voices like Sullivan's are always welcome as an antidote to that kind of nonsense. (...And most of it IS nonsense.)

As for staying on-topic... according to my guesstimate, Sullivan would need to pull in something like $250K a year to keep his site running and to live well while he does it. That would require 12,500 sub payments in the space of a given year at $20 a pop.

I suspect that Sullivan can attract and maintain the interest of an average 1041-and-two-thirds people in any given month at that price point, but there'll need to be some solid community management going on for it to really win.

Related to all of this is the fact that news and advertising, both together and separately, are running on inertia. What we see out of those industries is all being done because at first, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I've long since come to the conclusion that innovation is long since overdue - at least with regard to online user experience - in these areas, and I'm just waiting for my ideas to coalesce at a time when I can present them to someone who can help effect change.


From: Chris B (Jan 03 2013, at 05:40)

Sheesh, looks like the conservative police are out in force! Thanks, Alan... ;)

But to my point - Tim, I don't agree with your overall point. Yes, there is increasingly too much information available to us, and it therefore becomes increasingly important to have a way of filtering that information. But as much as a forum through which to express his own views or analyses, the Daily Dish serves as an aggregator of content (hence the many, many posts). That may not be useful to you, but I expect many Dish readers use it in this way - one of a small number of sources via which they outsource "making sense" of the web.

As you say, time will tell... but for me, that is definitely worth $20 a year!


From: Gordon Haff (Jan 03 2013, at 11:10)

@ben I expect that $250K figure is way low. Jason Pontin, the publisher of Technology Review, was tossing around some figures earlier. Now, you can argue about how many people such a site would need and how much they'd get paid, but it's certainly not zero. Nor are servers, bandwidth, etc. free. But he estimated more like $2.5M/yr. I think you can discount this somewhat for a virtual operation but, for a paid site, you can only discount the costs of maintaining the technology and running the business so far.


From: David Pitkin (Jan 03 2013, at 12:50)

I like the business model that David Warsh uses, he emails subscribers the early weekly article early. 500 paid subscribers at 50 dollars each to keep it going.


From: ben (Jan 03 2013, at 16:35)


Linkage, please.

Maybe—just maybe—my $250K p/a guesstimate is low. However, $2.5M p/a is high beyond the heaving limits of credulity unless he's trying to start a conservative analogue to the HuffPo at a high burn rate, or gets into daily A/V content (which, if you're getting into disembodied-voice podcasting, does not require more expertise than common sense).

My question is, how successful will he be at addressing churn?


From: Gordon Haff (Jan 04 2013, at 06:47)


It was a series of tweets yesterday (@jason_pontin). I agree $2.5M seems on the high side. This is coming from the perspective of a small but well-edited, fairly high gloss print+digital publication. However, having come myself from a small analyst firm that did a fair bit of publishing, costs in the neighborhood of, say, $1M don't seem out of line. I think I read that his current team is 2 or 3 people and that will presumably have to grow as an independent.


From: Gordon Haff (Jan 04 2013, at 07:18)


Your point about churn is a good one. It's the same issue that exists with a lot of these experiments in paying for content. As one-off well-publicized examples, sure, lots of people are willing to part with a few bucks to be part of the "noble experiment." Whether they'll continue to be willing to do so after the initial flush of excitement passes--whether to renew or to sign up for the next person asking for funds down the road--is a very open question IMO.


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