The Dish's decision to break away from legacy media fulfills a long-time dream of prominent writers to control their means of distribution
About twenty-five years ago, Jason Epstein, then the editorial director of Random House and one of publishing's most far-sighted visionaries, put forward the notion in conversations that someday prominent authors might decide to create their own portals to sell books, sidestepping publishers and booksellers. At the time, the concept seemed unlikely because the writers would have to subsidize the expensive infrastructures of sales, promotion, and accounting. But as was so often the case with Jason's insights, he was on to something. As a young editor, he had devised what became known as the "quality" or trade paperback. In the 1960s, he was one of the founders of the New York Review of Books. He was a co-founder of the highly regarded Library of America. In addition, a decade ago, he began the company that markets the Espresso Book Machine, which prints books on demand in bookstores and other venues.
Now, Jason's idea of the writer breaking away from a formidable backer to strike out on his own is about to have a major test in a way appropriate to the digital age. Andrew Sullivan's announcement that he will be leaving the Daily Beast, his base since February 2011, to launch an independent site, completely reliant for revenue on reader subscriptions and contributions, caused a mighty stir in the media world--as well it should have. Sullivan's blog the Dish is enormously popular, with an average of 1.5 million unique visitors a month during last fall's political season. What's more, his readers tend to stay for longer periods than most digital readers. Sullivan's concept of a community of loyal fans willing to pay $19.99 a year (or more if they choose) for total access to his blog on politics and whatever else he fancies is an important breakthrough in the emergence of personal "brands" that have no need for association with a major (i.e., corporate) parent.