Not long after I posted my essay about how hard it is to make any money blogging, Bloomberg View has an article showing that even the major tech industry blogs face the same problem. Noting that Kara Swisher and Walter Mossberg’s Re/Code just sold itself to The Verge operator Vox Media after only 18 months, Bloomberg columnist Katie Benner suggests that the subscription or paywall model might be a better strategy for tech news sites in the long run.
According to the article, Re/Code is only able to pull in 1.5 million unique views per month—not enough to satisfy its advertisers. (For comparison, GigaOm still pulls in 80,000 hits per day—that’s 2.5 million per month—despite having produced no new content in three months.) But subscription services—Benner uses the examples of The Information ($399/year) and Stratechery ($100/year)—aren’t reliant on low-revenue ads.
[Stratechery’s Ben] Thompson wanted to avoid the scale and high overhead necessary to run an ad-based business. “At $100, my revenue per user is really high,” he says. By comparison, the research firm eMarketer says that the average CPM — or the cost-per-thousand viewers that advertisers pay — was about $11 in the first quarter of 2014, and this masks the much lower rates that display ads command. Thompson says: “Instead of getting lots of customers, I maximize the revenue from the customers who really like what I do.”
Paywalls take a lot of flak for walling readers off from the content, and often seem to be hit or miss for publications that try to hit the mass market. Recent years have seen papers like the Dallas Morning News and the Toronto Star take their paywalls down. But for publications that intentionally eschew the mass market and focus on delivering content that a small core of customers will find valuable enough to pay for, it seems as though subscriptions could be a better strategy.