Friday, January 4, 2013

Morning Brief: So far, so good for Andrew Sullivan's new indy venture; Next Issue releases update to its iPad app

Tucked away inside The Daily Beast Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, was something to be commented on only occasionally. But now that Sullivan has announced his return to independence, the journalism community appears to be cheering him on.

Charging readers $19.99, Sullivan has been able to already raise an incredible amount of money, over $300,000 so far, Sullivan claims.

“We felt more and more that getting readers to pay a small amount for content was the only truly solid future for online journalism,” Sullivan wrote in his blog post.

But journalists, most of whom appear to have no business sense, seem to make a lot more out of the move than it deserves. The problem is not that the model won't work, it will and has been proven to work many times in the past, it is that the model is very much limited. If readers were forced to pay 20 bucks for all their content the whole system breaks down. Is every single writer worth the price of a newspaper or magazine subscription? Of course not.

In essence, what Sullivan has created for himself is no different than a magazine subscription. His blog is not a resource for endless news, so the value of content is very much limited to those who find Sullivan wildly entertaining (and as someone who has a long memory, I very much remember how much his name seemed like mud to me during the run up to the Iraq War).

But no one should think that I dismiss the idea that someone can charge for content - the practice has been going on since the beginning of time – the problem is that once the euphoria of the launch is over The Daily Dish simply is what all media outlets are, a business in search of revenue to sustain itself. It's ability to succeed will probably follow the pattern set by Josh Marshall at TRM, grow or die.

Among the small group of media app updates this morning was one for Next Issue, the digital newsstand created by Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines, Meredith, News Corp. and Time Inc.

The update increases the size of the magazine covers inside the app (I guess some complained they couldn't tell which titles were which) and fixed some bugs.

The selection stands at 80 titles and I think Next Issue is running into a wall of sorts. Expanding the selection would be a natural direction to go in, but that would mean that either the price for unlimited access would have to be raised, or it would have to be limited in some fashion.

One option would be for Next Issue to create its own competition by launching another newsstand where independent publishers could have their titles appear – but knowing the companies involved with Next Issue I would find the move unlikely.

Where does Next Issue go from here? That may be the big question of 2013. But for now, with Apple promoting only major publishers and dissing start-ups though its redesign of the App Store, the stars have aligned for the big guys. If they can't make a success of tablet publishing in this environment they never will. Eventually a platform will emerge more friendly to small, independent publishers, or Apple will once again become developer friendly. Either event would be bad news for the big name magazine publishers.