Editor’s Note: Ken Doctor of Newsonomics will be a featured speaker at the 2013 ONA Convention, Feb. 13-14 in Columbus.
Folly. Gigantic mistake. Rearview-mirror strategy.
Paywalls have taken their share of abuse since The New York Times reopened the digital circulation debate three years ago. But in those three years, my, how things have changed. Charging for digital access has gone from experimental to mainstream. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many daily newspapers in the U.S., Canada, Scandinavia, or Germany that won’t be charging something for digital access by the time 2015 rolls around.
But as 2013 begins, we see a new twist: Now it’s digital-only news and magazine sites and journalists who are about to launch their own digital circulation strategies. Yes, it’s one of few times that old, tired legacy media — newspaper companies — are the leaders and digital-only media the followers. There’s an irony to be appreciated in that, if only briefly. It’s also another reminder that anything you think you know about our digitally disrupted media future may be wrong.
It’s Andrew Sullivan’s bold independent move — untethering his work and his business from a media company (The Daily Beast) — to go reader-direct and paid that has gotten the most notice. In the first 24 hours after he declared The Dish’s independence, he took in $333,000. That’s about a third of his $900,000 target, the amount he says he’ll need to sustain his small group of five staffers and two paid interns. Among digital-native media, Sullivan’s not alone. Just in recent weeks, we’ve heard of coming pay moves from The Daily Beast itself and The Atlantic, two stalwarts of the new scene. I’m sure even The Huffington Post — which quickly aborted its own 2012 pay experiment with Huffington, the tablet magazine — is trying to figure out anew how to get reader revenue. (For your archive: Arianna’s April Fool’s sarcastic take on the Times’ paywall.)
These moves are not unexpected. The nature of the web means that all news and magazine companies — whether six months or 200 years old — are competitive with one other for audience and advertisers. In that competition, one timeless golden rule applies: Two revenue streams — advertising and circulation — are better than one. ”Circulation” — until recently a 20th-century term that looked like it was going the way of printing presses and coinboxes — is back, digitally enhanced for your viewing enjoyment.