Three weeks in, it may be time for Andrew Sullivan to tweak The Dish’s metered paywall

When Andrew Sullivan announced that he was taking his immensely popular blog, The Dish, independent and behind a metered paywall, he raised $333,000 in 24 hours. In the remainder of January, The Dish raised an additional $185,000. Then, on February 21, the site turned on its paywall, and so far this month it’s raised $93,000, Sullivan wrote Monday. That’s a total of $611,000 in a little under two months — about two-thirds of the $900,000 Sullivan believes the site needs to operate in its first year.

The pace of subscriptions is clearly slowing — it took a day to reach the first third of the funding The Dish needs in 2013, and nearly two months to raise the second third. How long will it take to raise that remaining $300,000 or so? Sullivan, who will be speaking about paid content models at the pC Live conference on April 17, 2013, took a look at the number of readers who’ve maxed out their limit of free “read on” stories (seven per month; short posts that are primarily links aren’t counted) and noted that 91 percent of them haven’t yet hit that limit:

Andrew Sullivan The Dish meter

The challenge now is for The Dish to get those people who are reading regularly but haven’t yet subscribed to do so. “If you’re reading the Dish, and are part of that 20,000 group who’ve clicked on more than four ‘read-ons’ in three weeks, you’re a real, solid reader of the Dish. You’ve proven it,” Sullivan wrote — so, he said, it’s time for that group to pay up. (Blogger Jay Pinho further analyzed the number of “read-on” posts on the Dish.)

How do you convert the next wave of readers?

It’s possible that those 21,000 readers Sullivan is identifying as Dish regulars will simply hit the meter — at seven stories — and subscribe. It’s also possible February could end up being an unusually low subscription month because it’s only 28 days long, and the meter resets every thirty days, so some readers might get in under the wire this month. But if the pace of new subscriptions is a little slower than The Dish would like, here are a couple ideas:

  • Nag more. Sullivan writes, “[We] don’t want to nag you or interrupt your reading experience if we can avoid it with those annoying pop-up blocks that every meter needs to have. Of course, nagging is an integral part to pay-meters’ success. They wear you down.” Right now, readers only start seeing a notice nagging them to subscribe after they’ve hit seven read-on stories — which is also the maximum number of stories they can read free. In other words, they don’t get nagged until the eighth story. Nagging earlier, before readers actually hit the limit, might help — at the fifth story, perhaps.
  • End the free RSS access. The entire Dish is still free if you’re reading it on RSS. (That’s a possible explanation why, as Sullivan mentions in today’s post, 5,000 subscribers haven’t yet logged into the site — it may be because, like me, they subscribed but are still only reading through RSS.) If it’s true that a lot of Dish subscribers prefer to read it through RSS, The Dish risks annoying them by ending its full RSS feed and forcing them to the site instead. On the other hand, if a lot of those people have already subscribed, they obviously value The Dish already. One other option (but I don’t know if it’s technically possible with RSS): Keep the stuff that’s already free through RSS; abridge only the stories that are metered on the site.
  • Set the meter lower. An obvious one, but if a large number of Dish readers are reading four read-on stories a month, maybe the meter should kick in sooner.