Let's start with the Dish. Andrew Sullivan's massively successful blog has taken a grand tour of old-school media, from Time, to The Atlantic, to Newsweek/Daily Beast. Flying solo, it will have to bring in somewhere around $1 million every year. Andrew's strategy is to junk the ads and raise the money entirely through subscriptions. Like NYTimes.com, the model is a meter: After a certain number of internal clicks, you hit a limit -- no more click-throughs! -- and you're asked to pay (links from other articles around the Web don't count toward the limit). Andrew lays out 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.
I don't doubt Andrew's sincerity, but this is a core principle motivated or reinforced by economic necessity. It's possible that the Dish could attract some independent advertising, but it would require a sales and marketing team, which has never been a part of Sully's stable. Furthermore, it's possible that the very thing that makes Andrew compulsively readable makes him a challenge to advertise. Fiercely independent, hyper-personal, and often unpredictable essays and amuse-bouche-links about politics and culture are not in the highest demand among tony advertisers, who have historically spent most of their money on sites and channels dedicated to business, technology, consumer products, or local needs -- none of which are really Andrew's forte. But all that doesn't matter a lick if readers are willing to pay. And they are. Twelve thousand readers subscribed at $28 on average through yesterday, bringing the Dish roughly 30% toward its one-year goal.
It's probable that the Dish can live a year on subs alone. It's
plausible that the Dish can live for two years on subs alone, or three,
or 30. But practically everything else -- the vast majority of journalism, from the New York Times
to the pop culture blogs that specialize in bikini shots -- cannot
survive on the good will and generosity of their readership, and there
is no expectation that they will. Advertising is what makes news and entertainment -- first in 19th-century newspapers, then on early 20th-century radio, then on late-20th-century television, and now on early-21st-century Web and mobile -- affordable at a mass scale. The news needs
successful advertising to breathe.
That's why BuzzFeed's story matters. It's commonly understood that Web advertising stinks, quarantined as it is in miserable banners and squares around article pages. BuzzFeed's approach is different: It designs ads for companies that aim to be as funny and sharable as their other stories. Jonah Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed, told the Guardian's Heidi Moore
that he attributed nearly all the company's revenues to this sort of "social"
advertising. "We work with brands to help them speak the language of the
web," Peretti said. "I think there's an opportunity to create a golden
age of advertising, like another Mad Men age of advertising, where
people are really creative and take it seriously."