The real parallel here is not media paywalls so much as it is Kickstarter projects. It feels good to support something you love and admire — it feels much better, indeed, than paying some kind of sticker price for the same thing. Sullivan's price point of $20/year is very close to the $25/year cost of subscribing to Newsweek, which Sullivan is now leaving. But the two payments feel different: it’s the difference between paying an individual and paying a faceless corporation.
As if to drive that point home, nearly 12,000 of Sullivan's readers contributed a combined $333,000within the first 24 hours. Ann Friedman points out that Sullivan's readers were willing to contribute because "they are invested in him as a person, not just as a conduit for 'unbiased' reporting."
Whether or not the phrase "personal brand" grosses you out, it's something any journalist who wants to be employed in another 10 years should be thinking about. Having a direct, dedicated following—a readership invested in you, not just the publication you're primarily associated with—is like a career insurance policy.
It was just a year ago that BuzzFeed hired Ben Smith, a star reporter from Politico, to be its editor in chief, and raised $15.5 million in venture capital financing. Money from that round, its Series C round, essentially hasn’t been touched yet — the site’s traffic and revenue growth has helped to pay for some of the now 70 reporters and editors the site employs. But the board of BuzzFeed wanted to invest more now.
Its previous round of venture capital funding remains untouched largely because it has been so successful at making money by blurring the line between editorial and advertising, explains Heidi Moore:
All media advertising is about selling real estate, but BuzzFeed's differs by custom-designing the parcels and sometimes letting the brands move into the house for a short stay. Among BuzzFeed's social advertising gambits were creating a slideshow of "the 20 coolest hybrid animals" for Toyota's Prius, a hybrid vehicle, as well as a "Deck the Web" feature for Old Navy that allowed users to decorate the website and others with Christmas decorations. Another ad campaign, for General Electric, made the BuzzFeed site a kind of time machine where users could pick a decade and see what BuzzFeed's content would look like in that decade.
But while BuzzFeed is often held up as an example of "new media" success, that's not the whole story, says Tom Gara:
What gets overlooked in much of this analysis is that the company is notably old-school in one significant way: it’s a people-heavy business — loaded with technology, to be sure — whose fundamental approach to making money is based on hiring human beings, from creative talent to account managers. In a lot of ways, the company is more 1960s Madison Avenue than 2010s Silicon Valley.
This collaborative effort proves that internet "blogs," once derided as mere time-wasting trifles containing the aimless ramblings of fools, are in fact time-wasting trifles containing the aimless ramblings of fools that can make a lot of money for Nick Denton.