A Million Dollar Blog Without Ads? Subscriptions Aren't Just For Big Publishers

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Joe Andrews

Sr. Director, Marketing


Just a few years ago, no one thought that readers would pay for online content. Then the media industry woke up and realized “free” was not a sustainable business model. The NY Times and WSJ put up paywalls. Readers did start to pay, but, as many titles closed their doors, the myth propogated that only the largest publishers could charge for content. Today, some independent publishers are proving that customers will pay for worthwhile content – as a result, subscriptions are emerging as the future model of success.


Andrew Sullivan, the pedigreed former editor of the New Republic, decided this year to leave the mainstream media behind and publish The Dish with paid subscriptions as its sole source of income. Sullivan has written a commercially successful blog, The Daily Dish, since 2000 and it’s resided on prominent publishers such as Time, the Atlantic Monthly, and The Daily Beast. Why did he make this switch to a subscription-only model?


Sullivan said he reached a point where he had to stop being beholden to advertisers. “It was either quit blogging or suck it up and become a businessman,” he told NPR in an interview story published last week. He now charges readers $19.99 a year to get full access to his content. This new business model funds a staff of eight who can focus the content on topics they believe appeal most to its readers. His posts range from light social commentary to meaty political essays.


Sullivan’s strategy seems to be working for both editorial and business. He has noticed a surge in clicks to subscribe on his longer posts. His monetary goal is to reach a million dollars in paid subscriptions by the end of the year – and he’s just over halfway there after 2 months. According to Metro.uk, The Dish ranks in the top 10 ten of money making blogs and is the only one that does not have paid advertising.


Yet, there’s a tradeoff and calculated risk – he says he tracks thousands of readers who hit the paywall and leave without subscribing. However, his readership is more focused and loyal than on an advertising-based site. He’s banking on this loyalty to build and maintain a healthy subscriber base over time.


They key to subscription success is building customer relationships. Instead of wringing their hands over whether they should build paywalls, publishers should focus on delivering content that readers covet and surprise, they will pay. We at Zuora applaud Andrew Sullivan for embracing the Subscription Economy and wish him future success.

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